Oxfam’s Fashion Upcycling Scheme


Since very young I have always sewed in some form or other.  I also enjoy talking with others and have been part of a women’s group for thirty years.  So, when someone mentioned to me a project run by Oxfam in central Brighton, that consisted of a group of (women) volunteers getting together on a Monday evening to sew and generally play around with donated clothes, I decided to investigate.

In the basement of an Oxfam shop are several ‘mountains’ of plastic sacks filled with donated items.  Spare a thought for the volunteers whose job it is to sort through these. There is a long bench to work at and two sewing machines, bought by Oxfam for the project.  Spilling off the shelves are baskets and tins of motifs, lace, buttons and selections of more unusual pieces of material.

On a Monday evening our project co-ordinator has already sorted, or had given to her by shop staff, items that need either repairing or altering in some way to make them more likely to sell.  Brighton, having both a large student population and “arty’ reputation,  has a long history of selling vintage and second hand clothes.  I still remember, in my first year as a student here in the 1970s, daringly buying a second hand, sapphire blue velvet waistcoat and matching flared skirt with velvet insets.  Bees knees!  

The project is a form of heaven for those who love fabrics and enjoy chatting, whilst sewing and drinking tea.  Some of the volunteers have brilliant ideas for how to jazz up a dull jacket or dress.  It could mean taking a patch from a T-shirt and sewing it onto the back or front of an item.  Shirts can be converted into skirts.  Long tops can be cut down into mini ones, have lace added or a series or buttons.  You can be as imaginative as you want, though it pays to keep an eye on fashions/trends in the local main outlets.  

The project has it’s own label ‘Better the Devil you sew’ that is sewn into an item that has been adapted (see photo).

I find the work satisfying on so many levels:
– it feels good to support Oxfam
– I support the idea of recycling cloth and clothing, that otherwise might be thrown away into the huge mountains of clothes waste (I know some goes abroad but there are issues then about the local manufacturers losing out when clothes are exported to developing countries)
– I learn new skills and practice old ones
– I meet other women who share an interest in material and dressmaking

So,  check out your local Oxfam and, if you enjoy sewing, talk to them.  You don’t know where it might lead.  

​#fashioncustomisation #oxfamfashion #upcycledfashion

Oxfam's fashion upcycling scheme

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