Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Recycling should really be a last resort, as indicated by its position in the “three R’s” phrase. This article is part 1 of 2, and I’ll add my “Reuse Part 2” when it’s ready.
This is a little different than a “product review” or some of my other posts–rather, in the interest of minimal and sustainable living, I want to do a post about all the things I’ve had repaired, altered, and upcycled. Which, since maybe sophomore year of college, is a lot of things.
Listen, I am shit at sewing and “upcycling” things myself–I know because I tried–so you don’t have to be crafty or spend a ton of time. Consider this a lazy person’s guide to being better at taking care of your stuff. (On the bright side, lazy = supporting local small businesses!)
Reduce: Fewer, Better
The first word in “the three R’s” is reduce. When it comes to repairing and reusing things, it’s easier when you first have things that are 1) able to be repaired and 2) worth repairing. It often does not make economic sense to repair a $25 shirt for $20, but I have chosen to repair some items like that anyway because they might have sentimental value or purely out of personal principles. Plus, sometimes I’ve “upcycled” clothes and so the resulting garment has added value in a way.
But a higher quality item, which may cost more, will last longer without needing to be repaired in the first place, will last longer after being repaired, and will often be easier for an artisan to work with. Seams are a whole thing that I don’t understand, but apparently higher quality garments are typically sewn with tailors in mind. Higher quality shoes are somewhat similar.
So if you haven’t Kondo’d your life and invested in quality items yet, go read some books on minimalism and do that. It doesn’t have to be a very expensive endeavor or done all at once–I replaced much of my wardrobe while a semi-broke college student. I might write a post on this later, but I’d recommend focusing first on high-quality basics, and then slowly replacing other things as they wear out, etc.
Alter and Repair
Repairing is an easy concept to understand. Here are some things I’ve repaired:
- My Eileen Fisher cardigan; tore a seam and had it resewn
- A defective pajama shirt from Negative Underwear–a button fell off, they let me keep it even with the refund, now I have free fancy sleepwear~
- Countless other shirt/jacket buttons
- A Kit and Ace blouse–tore at the armpit, also had it sewn back up
- My ADAY sports bra–I threw it in the dryer one too many times and the adhesive came off; had the seams sewn together instead.
- The heel came off of my Everlane Modern Point shoes, had it replaced.
Altering, on the other hand, might be just to make a garment fit you better, or in some cases (for me), change the structure and tailoring of the garment entirely. Some traditional alterations I’ve had done include:
- Having multiple jeans taken in at the waist
- My Jesse Kamm coat was a little tight/weird around my hips if I closed it, and a button had fallen off anyway, so I had the buttons replaced and moved slightly to make it roomier. Also had the armpit seam re-sewn.
- There was a whole saga with some pants I ordered from a Senegalese designer in Belgium. Ultimately, I had the elastic replaced so it fit me (seen in the photo above).
But I have also had some more extensive tailoring and non-traditional alterations done:
- Got some Rag & Bone Jeans that were already slightly too big and then stretched out as I wore them. I shipped them to New York for a full hip-waist tailoring, and they fit me beautifully now, can’t recommend this enough. Also, I really liked this specific style and it was discontinued, so tailoring them was the best option.
- In the process of getting some Rag & Bone stretchy/”jegging” jeans rewoven (will come back to this later)
- I had a body-con printed casual dress that was gifted to me cut and tapered so that it’s now a stretchy printed crop top (seen in the photo above).
- I had my Africas a Country shirt cut and hemmed so it fit more like a boxy t-shirt.
- I had patches sewn onto an Everlane men’s bomber jacket as a very unique, customized present for my boyfriend. It cost $10 and looked perfect.
I do basic repairs, like buttons, tears, and hemming at Dresscode Cleaners in Cambridge (I’ll include all my favorite repair services at the end). The price is always very reasonable, and I always ask for my clothes to be dry-cleaned too, so they come back to me feeling good as new. Every time I repair something and get it back fresh and professionally cleaned, it makes me excited to wear the item again. It’s a similar thrill to receiving a new item–but almost better. The clothes I’ve had repaired and tailored are like old friends, and they’re literally made for me now. This process, putting in the little bit of effort to repair, alter, and tailor my clothes, gives me greater appreciation for them, and helps me keep them longer, too.
I have my more difficult repairs or repairs on more expensive clothes (the Eileen Fisher cardigan and Jesse Kamm trench) done at Best Fit Tailoring in Boston–a bit further from me but worth the trek.
There’s a couple additional important things I’d like to note…
The Gospel of Jean Tailoring and Reweaving
Now, for my jeans, there are some complicated things I’ve asked for that Dresscode and even Best Fit wouldn’t do for me, so I turned to some newish online jean services, many of which are based in NYC. Denim Therapy was the one I chose, but there’s also Denim Repair and Indigo Proof. I chose Denim Therapy because they have both tailoring and reweaving services.
Reweaving is some witchcraft, y’all–see the photo above from Denim Therapy’s website. Unlike patching the jean, which frankly does not work, reweaving is literally what it sounds like–interweaving the new threads and the existing threads to give you a flawless, seamless repair. I have yet to receive the jeans I sent in for a reweaving repair (fell down and busted a knee-hole and I’m not really into the “distressed” look) but I’m really excited to see what they will look like in real life. Look at Denim Therapy’s Instagram for more witchcraft.
Tailoring, it turns out, can also be witchcraft. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error when it comes to defining my hip/waist ratio–every time I measure myself, I’m a 29″ waist and a 46″ hip. But asking for a 46″ hip somehow always makes my clothes too large. So instead, I found a pair of jeans that fit me perfectly–Everlane’s Authentic Stretch Skinny in Size 30–and I used their stated measurements (29″ waist, 43″ hip) when I asked for a full hip/waist re-tailoring on some Rag & Bone jeans I have. When I got my box back from Denim Therapy, I held my breath and tried the jeans on. The fit was perfect. Incredible. So. Worth. It. Being a “pear” or “hourglass” or “slim-thick” or whatever ya wanna call it, I have struggled with the both unsightly and uncomfortable “waist gap” all my life, and now, a grown woman, I never have to deal with this again. What’s more, the jeans I’ve already broken in and fit comfortably can hopefully be mine forever thanks to Denim Therapy’s reweaving services (will post pics when my knee hole repair comes back!!)
Anyway, my point is, once you’re done growing, please invest in a good pair of jeans and repair them forever. Even if you lose/gain weight, your jeans can be tailored to fit you more often than you might think! Denim Therapy even has maternity services!!
Cleaning Your Clothes
This post is already long, so I’ll make this quick–a big part of making your clothes last and taking care of them well is cleaning them gently and properly. The most important things are:
- Use the cold or cool cycle on your washing machine
- Use laundry bags for delicate items
- Hang-dry all sports fabrics and other delicate fabrics (I still throw my cotton garments, particularly socks and t-shirts, in the dryer)
- Treat stains IMMEDIATELY. You don’t even need any fancy spot treatments–a dab of dish soap or hand soap will keep the stain from setting as long as you act fast.
The game-changing article for me was this Strategist article on “How to Dry-Clean at Home”. There’s also a good one from NYT called “How to Take Care of Your Clothes”. There are loads more tricks in those two, from taking care of your whites to how to get out Sharpie, among other things. Maybe I’ll write another piece on cleaning later–I also have this whole ritual I go through with my shoes, as some of you might know.
Finally, if you really do have to resort to recycling, repairing and cleaning your items makes them more likely to be useful to the next person. I eventually let go of some Everlane Modern Point shoes that I had, but I hope that the repair I did made it at least a little more likely they wouldn’t end up in the trash after I donated them–if they hadn’t been repaired, they definitely would have been tossed. I try to only donate things that are in reasonably good condition, and these leather flats were a bit too tight for me but otherwise great.
That’s it! As some of you may have noticed, I keep mentioning that I have placed a ban on myself from purchasing non-essential material items until March. This was a great way to remind myself that repairing, reusing, altering, and even proper cleaning is a great way to bring some life back into your clothes and other possessions. Below I’ll list all my favorite local and online repairing services.
Selam’s Repair Services List
As I mentioned earlier, on the bright side, lazy = supporting local small businesses! If you live in Cambridge/Boston here’s some great places, if not, check out reviews online or ask around for tailors and cobblers in your own hometown!
Fight gentrification and get your clothes looking spiffy again at the same time at this excellent place in Cambridge owned by a Vietnamese family. They also run the convenience store next door!
Best Fit Tailoring
Jimmy’s Shoe Repair
Jimmy’s shoe repair Cambridge makes it look easy. They’ll professionally clean and waterproof your shoes for $25 and I got a sole re-glued for just $10. They’re one of the places I went to when still a broke college student, and it is from them that I learned a lot more items can be repaired than you think. All is not lost.
Not only for shoes, Jimmy’s can likely take care of most leather goods you might need repaired.
Ok, not technically a repair destination and not technically a local business. But if you buy some Timbs and take them to a proper Timberlands store (such as the one on Newbury St. in Boston) they’ll clean them for you—for free, for life. I’ve owned my black, waterproof Timbs for three years now, used them as winter boots again and again, and have them cleaned in the spring before I put them away. I know people are into Doc Martens but I’m a Timbs fan myself. I actually kinda like cleaning my shoes now that I have the Jason Markk kit, so maybe I’ll do it myself this year, but this is a great lil secret. Allegedly, Red Wings will do the same.
This is another reason to invest in higher quality items–Jesse Kamm sent me replacement buttons and paid for the repair when I had to have a trench coat repaired only 6 months after I bought it; Negative Underwear let me keep a defective sleep shirt which I repaired and refunded me the full price, and Timberlands cleans my boots. Everlane once sent me a gift card when I reported a counterfeit product of theirs I saw at Lord & Taylor. Often, the customer service alongside these higher quality items is better, and quite valuable.
Jean Repair & Tailoring Services
You can take advantage of these no matter where you live in the continental U.S.–and who knows, maybe you can even ship from Canada! Just make sure your jeans are clean; none of these offer cleaning services and they need to be cleaned to be repaired effectively. So stop being a whiney Selvedge-bro and do it.
Seems the most well-rounded to me–tailoring and reweaving services are both available, as well as artsy chain-stitching and anything creative you might want to do to your denim.
I haven’t tried these others, but Indigo Proof is a woman-owned reweaving service based in Portland, Oregon, and I love her social media presence.
Denim Repair is somewhat similar to Denim Therapy–they offer reweaving services and some tailoring, and also sell some “previously loved jeans” on their site.