Close your eyes and picture your room. Now picture your wardrobe. Now that cupboard – you know the one – where you stuff the nice pants missing a button, or that dress with the broken zip; those clothes you love and can’t bear to part with but just haven’t got around to fixing. Well, it’s time to clear them out because a Brisbane fashion collective has created a new initiative to breathe new life into your much-loved but seldom-worn clothes.
The Stitchery Collective is a group of fashion academics and practitioners who all came together around the idea that fashion doesn’t have to be a cutthroat world of competition and commodity. “We’ve always been more interested in the personal, joyful aspects of fashion,” says co-founder and Brisbane designer and academic Kiara Bulley. “We all love fashion, but don’t always find the industry a great space – it can be really exclusive, it’s often wasteful and unsustainable, and all about producing and selling.”
To try and slow this buy-use-throw-away cycle, The Stitchery teamed up with West End second-hand clothing institution SWOP to start The Stitch Lounge. It’s held on the last Sunday of every month at SWOP, where The Stitchery has set up top-notch sewing machines and equipment for the public to use.
“We have machinery and equipment you might not have – it’s a lot easier than doing it at home,” co-founder Anna Hickey says. “Going to a specific space motivates people to finish that repair or project that they never got done. It’s not a class where you learn to sew, or a tailoring service, but we [The Stitchery members] are there to offer guidance and advice as well.”
While the Stitchery did run this project for a few years when it first formed in 2010, it’s taken a while for it to find the right place to bring it back. With SWOP’s commitment to sustainable fashion and cutting clothing waste as much as possible, the venue is a perfect match. “The ethos of SWOP and The Stitch Lounge really complement each other,” Hickey says. “We both believe in making clothes work for you – if something rips or a button falls off or it doesn’t fit quite right, don’t just throw or give it away, you can fix it and give it another life. You definitely appreciate your clothes more if you personalise and repair them.”
The community The Stitchery has created around its lounge events is mixed, Bulley says. “There are quite a few young people who’ve heard about it through SWOP or uni and come down to work on their own clothes. Then there are members of The Stitchery family who just come down to sew and hang out. We’ve also had some mums and dads coming in with their kids to get stuff fixed, which is great. The coolest is people who may not know us personally but who are just learning to sew and want support and advice – we’re happy to be there for that.”
Bulley says the central idea behind The Stitchery is to engage with the community. Previously, this has taken the form of discos at bowls clubs celebrating avant-garde Australian performance artist and designer Leigh Bowery; workshops and initiatives with QAGOMA and the State Library; and exploring non-traditional ways to showcase fashion and design. “We see ourselves as part of the global community of people who are getting way more into the non-commercial side of fashion,” Bulley says. “We’re not interested in the ‘hot or not’, ‘who wore it better’ side of fashion, or drawing a line and saying who’s fashionable and who’s not. We’re trying to get people excited and engage them in practical skills – it’s not a magical thing that only some people can do, it’s something anyone can do if you sit down and give it some time.”
The next Sunday Stitch Lounge will be held at SWOP this Sunday August 27 from 12pm to 3.30pm