Dyeing to save the planet – Annenberg Media
Our love of fashion weighs heavily on the planet. Americans each shed an average of 70 pounds of clothing per year. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a worldwide movement to change this. Adopt the reuse and repair of our clothes. Can any person, store or event make a dent in this global problem? Sofia Fernandez spoke with practitioners of the movement to find out.
The streets leading to Suay Sew Shop are short and narrow. Suay is a retail store that recycles discarded clothing and hosts community dye baths, where anyone can breathe new life into that once white, now yellow t-shirt.
This is the Elysian Valley neighborhood in Los Angeles, known as Frogtown.
Suay’s parking lot is on a dead end street against the LA river. The storefront has two entrances: one for the retail store where they sell recycled clothing and household furniture. The other door is reserved for repairs, alterations and the sewing workshop.
REBECCA BLAKE THOMPSON: We operate, you know, in a way that invites, welcomes and encourages the local community to participate.
Rebecca Blake Thompson is Suay’s Director of Development.
THOMPSON: We strongly believe that we can create models that could then be implemented by communities around the world.
One of the neighbors who comes to Suay is Nicole P. who prefers to dye her clothes here than at home.
NICOLE P.: I don’t want to do it in my bathroom. So I was like, it’ll be easy. And it will bring new life to some of the things that I have.
The store offers a few different colors for dyeing each month. Cindy Villaseñor, known as Cero Waste Cindy, oversees the taking of clothes for repairs and dye baths on Saturdays.
CINDY VILLASEÑOR: We have Baltic blue right there, we have forest green right there, and then we have lavender.
Villaseñor sits behind a simple wooden table with a scale to weigh and assess the clothes customers bring.
Dyes are different on in-person fabric samples than online. Lavender is prettier than expected, not a retirement home purple.
Villaseñor methodically records clothing information. She assigns them to their color selections and packs them in plastic bags.
VILLASEÑOR: I put them here to keep them confined for now. And then our repair manager usually goes through everyone, takes pictures, uh, with a ticket number. So, like that, we have an actual description of it. It all goes together and then they will go to a bin of the color you chose, then they will eventually go to the dye bath.
The cataloging process can take a long time, but no one seems to care. Nicole collects the clothes she left in the last dye bath and can’t wait to see what they donated.
NICOLE P.: I love it. It looks amazing. OK. Impressive.
SOFIA FERNANDEZ: What color was it before?
NICOLE P.: White. It was like a light pink and it looks cool. It was like some kind of whitewashed rose and now it’s really cute. And it was white. And it was supposed to be yellow, but now it’s sort of off-white. OK. OK. Costs. OK.
VILLASEÑOR: You’re ready then.
NICOLE P.: Thank you very much.
VILLASEÑOR: Thank you.
The dyeing of clothes is not a new phenomenon. But after what we have all been through in recent years, the time seems to have come for renewal. The dye bath doesn’t know your policy. He doesn’t care about social media followers, income, or trends. Its goal is transformation.
Visible mending, the art of creating something new through repair, follows a similar philosophy. The point is the story. It invites conversation. It heals ruptures.
HAVEN LIN-KIRK: I don’t think it’s a trend, I think it’s going to become a necessity.
Haven Lin-Kirk, dean of USC’s Roski School of Art and Design, leads a series of mending and sewing workshops here on campus. When we first met she was wearing a sweater with two visible stitch patches.
LIN-KIRK: When you talk about something that is precious to you, it’s an object. A lot of times it’s something that, you know, either has a personal connection, like it belongs to, you know, your mother or your father or your grandmother, or somebody gave it to you.
You won’t get the same energy from the last disposable gown at the mall.
LIN-KIRK: The new products that we buy don’t have that personal attachment. And so I think part of what’s going on right now, you know, whatever you want to call it, it just makes men not just recycle and reuse anymore, it’s kind of hold on to the things we really value.
Consumption is the American way of business. But individual decisions are also powerful. Suay’s Rebecca Blake Thompson says it starts with each of us.
THOMPSON: As consumers, we have the power to say that I can work with what I have. I can take responsibility for what I already have. I can fix the things I have, and I can feel good about that, that’s important. And that does something good. I can take responsibility for my choices, responsibility for my consumption.
Nicole, a regular at Suay, joins the movement.
NICOLE P.: I want to minimize my impact as much as possible.
Nicole is doing her part to make up for the continual churn of fast fashion and its overwhelming waste.
NICOLE P.: I am not participating. And I don’t want to participate in things that are like, you know, damaging the earth.
Revitalizing clothes is more than the clothes we wear, it goes to the heart of who we are and our core values.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting us, author and poet Sonya Renee Taylor reminds us “we should be back soon, my friends. We are given the opportunity to sew a new garment. The one suitable for all mankind and nature.
Visit USC’s Visions and Voices website to learn more about Roski School’s mending and dyeing workshops. The next event will take place on December 6 in the courtyard of the USC Fisher Museum.