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Nannas on the mend aim to prolong the life of clothes through free sewing lessons

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Nannas on the mend aim to prolong the life of clothes through free sewing lessons

In short: 

In a bid to reduce textile waste, a group of women is educating others on how to prolong the life of their clothes.

The Australia Institute released a report showing we are the highest consumers of clothing per person in the world.

What next?

Nannas on the Mend hosts sewing lessons once a week to help curb the fast-fashion trend.

In a farm shed in WA’s South West, a group of local grandmothers is determined to curb the spread of fast fashion by providing free sewing lessons for the community. 

The “Nannas on the Mend” group started weekly sessions teaching people how to repair and reuse clothes to encourage a move towards “slow clothing” and keeping textiles out of landfill.

Woman helps children with craft

The nifty nannas also enjoy making sustainable craft with the children who attend their sessions.(ABC South West: Ethan French)

In May, Australia surpassed the United States to become the largest consumer of clothing per person, according to a report from The Australia Institute.

On average, Australians are purchasing 56 new items of clothing per year, putting us ahead of the US (53), UK (33), and China (30).

Nannas on the Mend member Nirala Hunt said knowing how to repair your own clothes was an essential part of reducing textile waste.

“It’s going to save you money. It’s going to prolong the life of items that you really love and want to keep forever,” she said.

Sewing sessions in the shed

At their weekly sessions, the nannas provide a sewing machine and a box full of recycled fabric. 

Participants are encouraged to bring their own damaged clothing, so they can learn how to mend them by sewing, darning, and patching.

Nanna fabric

Australians put more than 200,000 tonnes of textiles into landfill annually.(ABC South West: Ethan French)

Ms Hunt said many members of the Margaret River community were now engaging with the nannas, with their sessions having consistent weekly turnouts.

“It’s just wonderful — it’s like all our skills are called upon, and more,” she said.

Ms Hunt said the events were helping multiple generations learn the basics of sewing.

“It doesn’t happen in schools as much as when I was at school. These children have never done a lot of the sewing that I was taught as a very young child,” she said.

“A lot of the mothers here can’t sew; they can’t mend the kids’ clothes. We’re teaching two generations, which makes it worthwhile.”

A group of boys, one is holding the tentacles of a red crochet octopus

Many “Nannas on the Mend” participants use the sessions as a sustainable way to learn embroidery and crochet.(ABC South West: Ethan French)

Australia’s textile problem

The Australia Institute’s circular economy and waste program director Nina Gbor said if more Australians knew how to sew, it might change their spending habits.

“We are so distanced from the amount of time it takes to make a shirt, dress, or a pair of pants,” Ms Gbor said.

“From the labour that’s involved to sourcing the materials, we are so distant from it that we just take it for granted.”

Despite many Australians saying they are concerned about the environmental impacts of textiles, Ms Gbor said most people’s buying habits did not reflect that.

“Our clothes are the least expensive in the world, and we’re buying the most — that’s not a good reputation to have.”

Australians are spending the lowest average amount on clothing items in the world, with an average of $13 per piece. This is significantly lower than averages from the UK ($40) and US ($23).

Data from the report shows 71 per cent of Australians believe clothing businesses should be responsible for eliminating clothing waste, while only 57 per cent said consumers should be more responsible. 

Ms Gbor said every Australian needed to take more responsibility.

Eco-stylist Nina Gbor at a Canberra clothing swap.

The Australia Institute’s circular economy and waste program director Nina Gbor says sustainable clothing does not have to be expensive.(ABC Radio Canberra: Louise Maher)

“You can tell we do not like taking accountability in Australia. We just want to push it on to somebody else,” she said. 

“With the looming climate crisis, my view is that everybody needs to take action — consumers, businesses, and government. 

“We don’t have time to point fingers that somebody else should do it.”

Some Australian clothes retailers are now required to pay a levy of $0.04 per item sold as of July 1, 2024. 

Ms Gbor said this amount was more likely to allow companies to “greenwash” instead of making progress towards a zero-waste circular system by 2030.

“We recommend it should be $0.50. That’s a more realistic price to pay.”

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