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Commentary & Critique – Make do and Mend


Make Do and Mend is an idea born of necessity, something people have done around the world for as long as they have struggled to survive, or prioritized needs above consumption. It was popularized through a Second World War campaign to make things go further in the face of fierce shortages of textiles and other materials. The Utilitarian fashions of the war years were required to adhere to maximum fabric usage, to ensure there was enough fabric to go around. Although fabric could be purchased, most people preferred to use their ration books to buy food and other essentials, meaning everyone had to make do and mend whatever was already in their wardrobe. The unveiling of Christian Dior’s New Look at the end of World War II, flew in the face of what had become a culture of making do, with as much as 25 meters of fabric in a single dress, seeming outrageously and needlessly extravagant, and led to protests.

Nudie Jeans Repair Shop Jakobsbergsgatan_07

The mid 2000’s saw a backlash against the excesses of the 90’s, and the rise of ‘Do It Yourself’ as a viable alternative. Creative freedom free from corporate control became a lifestyle choice, as well as a means of making a living. Handmade Nation by Faythe Levine published in 2009 documents the rise of the skateboard generation, and the beginning of the maker culture, better than anyone. The rise of Ethical Fashion was in lock step with DIY and the maker movement, with much of the ground breaking work coming from young emerging designers, who’s creations expressed their values as well as their aesthetic. Fast forward to 2014, where craftsmanship and tradition are beginning to be revalued at least as highly as that of the established luxury global brands, whether that is the craftsmanship of a leather artisan in US cattle country, or a hand weaver in Tibet. Out of this love of the authentic, the vintage, the beautiful, the hand crafted, comes the need to preserve, and once again make do and mend.


There are few more authentic items in the Western wardrobe than a pair of denim jeans. Their history is embedded in honest, hardwearing, workwear for the working classes, later coopted as a symbol of youth and counter culture. The premium denim market started in Europe in the1970’s with the likes of Francoise Girbaud, and Adriano Goldschmied, the so-called “Godfather of Denim”. The US followed suit, with the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein, and the unforgettable images of then 15 year old Brooke Shields wearing skin tight Calvin’s. A plethora of new premium denim jeans manufacturers arose, such as Lucky Jeans, True Religion, and Seven for All Mankind. Simultaneously, the underground denim connoisseur market, or what I’ve always thought of as the denim snob jean, started emerging. Seven and True Religion are true fashion jeans, with an ever changing panorama of “in” washes, fades, and deconstruction, all changing at the speed of light. True denim snob brands like Nudi Jeans, and Denham the Jeanmaker are the connoisseurs of denim, comparable to a whisky buff, who knows the difference between a malt and bourbon, a 30 and 40-year-old vintage. They are purists who hold onto the heritage and history of real denim, honor its workwear history, and hold hard to the tradition of quality manufacture, and like their denim raw, unwashed, selvedge and made in Japan. Considered the lunatic fringe for a while, espousing not washing your jeans for a period of up to 2 years to get the perfect fade and wear. Like rare wine aficionados, it was an appreciation neither understood nor enjoyed by many.


The coming together of the DIY generation, the realization that water is a precious resource and the fact that consumer washing has a massive impact on water consumption, as well as the monumental rise of the premium denim market, have however catapulted this rare bread of denim connoisseurs into the spotlight. The dedicated investment and patience required to cultivate the perfect fade, has in part resulted in the elevation of make do and mend to a tailoring art, not just to preserve the jeans, but to beautify, personalize and enhance them.


Denim heritage brands, much like the best of the couture labels, build their brand DNA on the lineage of extreme craftsmanship, on the tradition that quality never goes out of style.  When you buy a Kelly bag, a lifetime of service comes with it. You can return it to any store at any time to be expertly cleaned or repaired. The denim connoisseur brands now do the same, not the Lucky’s or the Seven’s, but the Nudi Jeans, and Denham the Jeanmaker’s of the world. Repair to them is not dissimilar to a repair from Gucci, it is honored and revered as an art and a skill. Many stores now dedicate vital selling space to a resident tailor to repair and mend their customer’s jeans. After all, if it takes 2 full years of wear without washing to achieve the perfect fade, wouldn’t you want to preserve them as long as possible?


As homage to the workwear roots of denim jeans, and the history of their make do and mend as a working mans necessity, Nudi Jeans also produce a home repair kit, complete with printed and digital instructional support for the DIY’er.  For those without the dedication to wear a pair of virgin selvedge denim jeans for 2 years without a single wash however, there is RE/DUN, who hand pick artfully worn discarded jeans, take them apart and recut and resew them into one of two timeless cuts, a skinny, and a boy cut. Every pair is one of a kind, with someone else having already done the grunt work of wearing them in. Their tailor, Oscar Hernandez opens a short documentary film about the brand, by introducing himself as an artist. “I create each pair of jeans like I am creating a piece of art. I look at the wash on each pair, and the unique wear from the history, and then I create patches to compliment them. Each pair passes through my hands and each pair is completely unique.”


I’d say Tom of Holland could only be British, but of course, as the name suggests he’s really from the Netherlands, despite residing in Brighton in the UK. Tom is a self-taught knitter, a connoisseur and expert in mending knitwear. His blog has reached a level of popularity rather unexpected considering the topic is mending. Previously considered the territory of your grandmother, or maiden aunt, he has, much like Nudi and Denham, managed to raise the level of repair to an art. He helps to reinforce the relationship between the wearer and the worn, through craftsmanship, labor and love; the same sentiment that is responsible for the rise and revaluing of global craftsmanship, and the DIY generation. Tom’s lively and highly visual blog features invisible, as well as the visible, decorative and creative mending of knitwear, from darning socks to reinforcing elbows on your favorite cardigan, and custom, hand knit projects. He has participated in Wool Week, where he gave a “Darning Master class”, conducts “Darning Clinics”, and has written a variety of papers. As Tom says, “I’m as much about creating as well as repairing: and for me, I almost don’t see repairing as a separate thing, but as something that is part of making. A garment isn’t finished when I cast-off the last stitch or have sewn in the ends. Its finished when it’s a rag and can no longer be repaired.”


In the world of ethical and sustainable fashion, the mantra is buy less and buy better. Cultivate a relationship with your clothing, an investment that directly connects the grower with the maker and the wearer. Repair is an extension of that sentiment, and a deepening of the relationship through wear, and repair, and the honoring of all the embedded stories that led to it.

Nudi Jeans: www.nudiejeans.com

Denham the Jeanmaker: www.denhamthejeanmaker.com

RE/DUN: http://redun.com

RE/DUN film: http://redun.com/pages/film

Tom of Holland: http://tomofholland.com

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