Early in 2014 I noticed the appearance of ‘Sew it Again’, a fascinating 365-day blogging project established by Jane Milburn of Textile Beat, based in Brisbane Australia. Now, nearly nine months later, I was keen to know how publishing her daily blog has impacted her life. Here is her story.
Jane Milburn, an agricultural scientist by training and a communications consultant by practice, has always loved sewing and upcycling natural fibres for pleasure, reward and sustainability.
Now two-thirds through a 365-day Sew it Again project which she commenced on 1 January 2014, Jane aims to inspire creative upcycling of existing clothing, demonstrate ‘slow fashion’ and revive home-sewing as a life skill akin to home-cooking.
Jane is making a daily practice of upcycling garments from her own and others’ wardrobes as a means of sharing creative ways of dressing that reuse existing clothing. As Jane describes it, Sew it Again is a ‘journey into creativity, empowerment, thrift, sustainability, ecological health and wellbeing – woven with threads of childhood, professional expertise, networks and nature’.
Jane’s earliest memories are of growing up on a farm in crisp, cool South Otago, New Zealand, amidst a community of women who valued cooking, sewing, handcrafts and self-sufficiency. She pursued a professional career but always loved sewing and fabrics – and the two have now merged and evolved into a higher-level passion to impart global social change by providing a creative, sustainable and resourceful model for conscious and ethical clothing.
A background knowledge of farming and sustainable agricultural industries forms part of Jane’s desire to increase the use and reuse of natural fibres.
Jane’s research uncovered the startling statistic that two-thirds of clothing in the world is made from synthetic fibres based on non-renewable petroleum. Current consumption of clothing equates to 11kg per person per annum, a rate that has increased by 80% in the past two decades.
As a result, the level of non-biodegradable clothing waste in Western countries which bow to the fashion gods is enormous and unsustainable – with figures from the United Kingdom showing that one-third of clothing ends up as landfill.
Jane’s mission now is to raise awareness and travel the world inspiring the creative upcycling of natural fibres – and she has the goods to achieve just that. Her career highlights include rural journalism, sub-editing and media adviser and communication consultant roles as well as eight years’ building up the Rural Press Club of Queensland which continues to flourish as a leading agribusiness network.
Jane’s participation in the Australian Rural Leadership Program in 2009-2010 increased her confidence and desire to step out and become an influential voice in a larger arena.
In dealing with her brother’s death in 2013, Jane knew it was her time to do something with heart, meaning and impact. She sought to carve out a fresh leadership space with a compelling cause for action around her abiding passion for natural fibres, and has set about establishing credentials and a body of work as an upcycler.
So on 1 January 2014, Jane kicked off her 365-day Sew it Again project – with an accompanying blog forming a social media platform to share her work and engage people beyond her local community.
The results so far
Jane’s blog has attracted as many international followers as Australians, from countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and many others. Via social media, she has become part of an international fashion revolution which has a world-view of increasing sustainable fashion through reuse and recycling.
From a standing start, so far this year Jane has mounted an Upcycled exhibition in Coolah, New South Wales, and been invited to speak and/or run workshops in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland.
With her commitment to ongoing research and engagement, Jane herself follows the amazing work of other designers and upcyclers documented by Sass Brown, Acting Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, in her book ‘Refashioned’.
Clothing and textiles have traditionally been recycled through charitable organisations and opportunity shops but as consumption has accelerated in recent years, new avenues for reuse are emerging. Some local councils – such as San Francisco – have adopted zero textile waste policies and set up waste collection programs similar to those for paper, glass and metal recycling. This is an area Jane is interested in pursuing when her Sew it Again year is completed.
Of her 365-day blogging, Jane says: “All I know is that I have to keep going until December, no matter what. It requires self-discipline and organisation to create, photograph and upload an upcycled garment on sewitagain.com every day – and involve and engage others along the way.
“By blogging, I am also revisiting and refining my messages regularly and that keeps me focused and on-track regarding my purpose and goals in making this commitment.”
The Sew it Again blog brings home Jane’s key message – existing clothes are our greenest clothes. There will be much more focus on where clothes come from, what they are made from, and what footprint they make on the planet in future because it is early days in this space.