The key to circular fashion? It’s already in your wardrobe

Written by Hannah Cole

Whether you decide to source your own vintage or not, having a few simple sewing skills up your (literal) sleeve is a good idea.

Instagram gets a bad rap most of the time. If the stories are correct, we scroll and consume and lament until we can handle no more, but I’ve found a pocket of the feed that sits aside. Instead of jealous, I’m inspired and open to learning something new. It’s here that I get excited about my wardrobe again — as in, the pieces I already have, which is no mean feat for an obsessive listmaker and buyer like myself. It’s all about circularity, baby. 

Gabrielle Dillon, via her online vintage store Back Here, is almost entirely responsible for this change in my outlook. Every day I am #blessed to uncover a delicacy of new secondhand pieces — revamped, revived, and made to look wholly new — amongst lifestyle and sartorial inspiration. 

I posed a few questions to Gabrielle to kick-start my wardrobe reinvention process. Here’s what I learned:

Look hard for the potential—
Shopping for secondhand clothing can feel like finding that proverbial needle in a haystack at times. When we’re accustomed to neat racks, evenly spaced hangers and a colour-coordinated layout, the chaotic appearance of local op-shops is an energy we could do without. Remember: there are treasures to be found, though. As Gabrielle says, “Finding great pieces involves a lot of digging and, at times, imagination. It’s a lucky day when I find a vintage garment in near-perfect condition.” 

We see moth holes and small stains and run for the hills, where Gabrielle sees the potential. “If the fabric is a good quality natural fibre and still feeling sturdy, or if there is a detail that I love like a great, big collar or puff sleeve, it’s well worth it for me to try and salvage the garment.” Keep your eyes open, petals, because your new favourite piece may just be shrouded in a layer of slight imperfection. (Or, if that sounds too hard, we thankfully have a plethora of stores like Back Here to do the hard work for us).

Learn some necessary sewing skills—
Whether you decide to source your own vintage or not, having a few simple sewing skills up your (literal) sleeve is a good idea. Keep your clothes active and wearable — the next time you lose a button or snag a stitch, spend a few minutes mending instead of tossing them to the wayside. 

The first step Gabrielle recommends is learning to sew a button. “I used to work at a button shop and was amazed at how many people would give up on a garment because a button needed replacing,” she notes. Have fun with it, mix and match, replace the classic plastic fillers with ornate vintage versions, and check out this basic guide as a starting point.

Next, learn how to hem garments, either by hand or machine. Sometimes a slight shortening will make a world of difference and modernise the dowdiest of garments. (Find a couple of helpful tutorials here and here). 

If you’re a fan of knitwear, Gabrielle also suggests gaining some darning skills. “[It is] an invaluable and lifelong skill that will keep your knits good for you and whoever you pass them on to.” 

Once you’ve reached expert status, try your hand at some of Gabrielle’s favourite ways to make vintage new again: embroider or bead over any marks and use kitchen scraps to naturally dye stains. 

Ask your grandma, neighbour or put the call-out on social media for a lesson or two — it’s likely that someone will be more than willing to share their tips. Clothing can start a conversation and build connection; there is something to be said for the way those before us were taught handy skills and shared family knowledge. ‘Fast fashion’ has taken this away from us too, so it’s time we reclaimed the meaningful exchange.

Upcycling is always an option—
As life goes, one day, our favourite tees will be well past their use-by and unfit for a second wardrobe life. “If something is beyond repair, you can cut it up and repurpose into dishcloths and cleaning rags,” Gabrielle recommends. “All my dusting is done with old t-shirts.”

Or, if you haven’t upskilled enough already, consider taking on a quilting project. The ye olde method for reusing fabric rags and scraps allows you to embark on creating a new garment, a quilt, or even a little art project for yourself. Patchwork is making a comeback — hot and heavy — if Bode and TLC are anything to go by. 

Watch this space as the discussion around circular fashion continues to grow in volume. It’s not enough to solely purchase from sustainably-branded labels when there is so much good to be found within our wardrobes already (or our parents’ and grandparents’). As Gabrielle suggests, “choosing secondhand and mending [the] clothes we already own are good, everyday tasks we can undertake to make a difference without getting overwhelmed.” Slow down, take it easy, transport yourself back in time. 


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