Creating a sustainable approach to fashion

Six Manchester women have launched the city’s first co-operative sewing cafe. Stitched Up aims to inspire a sustainable, creative approach to clothing and the issues surrounding the garment...

Six Manchester women have launched the city’s first co-operative sewing cafe. Stitched Up aims to inspire a sustainable, creative approach to clothing and the issues surrounding the garment industry.

Stitched Up in Chorlton, Manchester, is a place to share skills and resources, learn the tricks of the trade and get creative. It combines co-working space for amateur and professional sewers with a shop selling reclaimed fabrics and haberdashery. There is a marketplace for ethical fashion and a calendar of workshops and events, from how to make a children’s superhero costume to sewing machine driving tests.

Stitched Up also leads the north west region’s Labour Behind the Label campaign, a drive to secure a living wage for garment workers worldwide.

To include local people who cannot afford sewing machine rental and tuition, Stitched Up has secured £1,000 from Forever Manchester for free ‘Fix it Friday’ workshops, aimed at people on benefits. It also offers a mending service for individuals and organisations including fellow co-op the Unicorn Grocery, which has supported Stitched Up by match-funding its bike store.

“We want to encourage people to bring in a jumper with a hole in it, but we turn away people who want dresses resizing,” says Emily. “It’s not what we set up for.”

“We’re like a team of superheroes, trying to save the world, all with alter-egos,” says Alice Brierley, an arts and crafts tutor at the Factory Youth Zone in Harpurhey, Manchester. “Community and art is my background, I’m a designer maker, but my skill set rests in sharing skills and inspiring others.”

Emily repairs garments from worker co-op Unicorn Grocery
Emily repairs garments from worker co-op Unicorn Grocery

Together, the team has an impressive array of credentials. Knitter and writer Jacky Hall works in Purl City Yarns, a knitting shop in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Kelly Joseph, a fashion graduate, is a product developer for an outdoor clothing company and is training to be a teacher. Bryony Moore, a fine art graduate, is a writer and researcher on corporate responsibility.

Sara Han, sustainable fashion researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University, designer maker and stylist, completes the team. She says: “Stitched up is putting my academic study into practice. The UK produces 1.2 million tonnes of textile waste a year, and 70 per cent of that goes into landfill. At least half of that is clothing, shoes and accessories.

“Its high time we thought about what we’re doing with our waste. Landfill space will run out in under 10 years. We need to think about changing our priorities.”

By making it fun, Stitched Up aims to inspire more recycling and upcycling. Bryony says: “Too often clothes are seen as throw away items. You can buy a dress for the price of a few cocktails, wear it to a party then chuck it away. But really, there’s no such thing as ‘away’. Clothes end up sitting in landfill for decades.”

“We’ve had a fantastic response,” adds Jacky. “We’ve had people of ages popping in, to learn how to repair a button that’s fallen off their favourite jacket or to join in with one of our regular clothing swaps.”

Sara says: “It doesn’t have to be a buy and discard cycle if you buy carefully, choose well, and look after your clothing,” she says. “It’s about acquiring skills to mend and alter your clothing yourself and washing it with care.

“You’re the curator of your wardrobe. There’s a sense of satisfaction in how you acquired it. It has a story and a worth. Fashion is all about consumption but we’re telling people not to consume so much.”

In this article


Join the Conversation