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Haberdashery and sustainable sewing

Lots of sewists want to be more sustainable and are focused on great projects like using up all their scraps, using fabric only from their stash or making a conscious effort to choose deadstock or fabric made from natural fibres. However, one thing that doesn’t get talked about very often is the haberdashery. Often the trims, notions and thread choices are what really make a garment pop – whether that’s topstitching in a gorgeous contrasting coloured thread, or choosing statement buttons. So why is haberdashery overlooked in the quest to be more sustainable?

Sustainable haberdashery can be as simple as using vintage buttons or sorting through your button collection, rather than buying new plastic buttons
Sustainable haberdashery can be as simple as using vintage buttons or sorting through your button collection, rather than buying new plastic buttons

Why is sustainability important in sewing?

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, it accounts for a third of all global pollution, behind only food production and construction. Of this total pollution, it accounts for:

  • 10% of global CO2 emissions – more than international flights and shipping combined
  • 20% of global wastewater – it’s the second largest global polluter of water overall
  • 40 million tonnes of toxic chemicals used in the dyeing and treating of fabrics and clothes

You might be thinking “well, this is why I sew my own clothes, so these statistics don’t apply to me”. Sadly, they absolutely apply to the home sewing community too, as the vast majority of these statistics come from the creation of fabrics, not the clothes themselves.

How does this apply to haberdashery?

Haberdashery is a big part of the fashion problem as a large amount of it is produced from plastics. We don’t usually think about what our elastic is made from – or our ribbons, our zips, or even our thread – when we’re choosing notions and trims, and so haberdashery has become easily overlooked.

When you consider the amount of textile waste sent to landfill, haberdashery is a huge problem. We’re talking about tens of millions of tonnes of clothing per year.

Haberdashery is just as important as fabric when trying to be a more sustainable sewist
This factory in Cambodia diverts hundreds of tonnes of clothing from landfill and sorts it for recycling into new fabric as part of a circular fashion initiative.

What can I do, as an individual sewist?

As shocking as all of these statistics are, I’m not telling you about them to overwhelm you. You, as an individual sewist and garment creator, absolutely can make a difference to these figures simply by being aware of them and making more informed choices.

Think about the haberdashery you use regularly. Do you know what your thread is made from or where it was produced? What about the zips you use, or the elastic? How about the tools you use to create your clothes – the seam rippers, the point turners, the scissors?

Using what you already have before you buy more is one of the best ways you can make a difference. Mending or refashioning makes a difference. Choosing more sustainable haberdashery makes a difference.

I’m not the only one with a sustainable haberdashery business – we’re not common but we are out there – and it is possible to find more sustainable options at “regular” haberdashers too.

What should I be looking for?

It might sound like committing to only buying sustainable haberdashery is limiting, but it really isn’t. There’s so many options that it can be hard to choose – as long as you know what you’re looking for and where to get them!

The first option is to search for deadstock or vintage haberdashery. As with fabric, using what already exists is the best option, as even sustainable options require power, energy, effort to create. There’s a plethora of vintage buttons out there, vintage zips and trims, deadstock elastics and ribbons. As more and more fabric shops stock deadstock fabric, you’ll find they also start stocking these items.

Next is to search for sustainable fabric shops and haberdashers, like my business. I specialise in items that I can trace and have a minimal environmental footprint. I stock items that are intended to last – I don’t want you to buy multiple seam rippers, I want you to have one that you can update as the blade gets blunt and easily recycle the old blade.

Ideally, you want tools and notions made from renewable materials – wood, horn, shell, corozo, metal. If you inherit or are gifted something which is made from plastic, absolutely use it – use what you have before buying more.

Buying sustainable haberdashery is – like sustainable fabrics – more expensive, as it’s representative of the “true” cost of producing the item. However, by using what you have first, and choosing second hand, deadstock or vintage, you’re already being more sustainable – even if you’re working with a tight budget. Beyond this, choosing specific notions like corozo or shell buttons could be your one little treat for a garment that elevates it and is absolutely worth spending the extra on.

If you can afford the extra expense to buy sustainable from the start, what’s stopping you?

Hopefully you have some ideas of what to look for to make your haberdashery choices more informed and more sustainable. If we each make these small choices and do what we can, we will be able to make a dent in the awful statistics above and leave this planet in a better state for future generations.