I honestly couldn’t tell you how many emails from fashion brands and PRs I receive each week which mention the word ‘sustainability’. It’s a favourite buzzword right now, but the problem with buzzwords in fashion is that fashion by its very nature moves on. We cannot afford for sustainability to become just another trend. Further, there’s a great deal of lip service at play, with brands ‘greenwashing’ or simply hashtag-hopping to push yet more product.
When Toast contacted me to let me know about their Renewal scheme*, a free instore repair service to bring new life to cherished Toast garments (regardless of when and where they were bought), I was intrigued: this was something genuinely different and I was eager to learn more. Toast shirks trend and has gathered legions of dedicated fans who have fallen for their authentic, modern aesthetic, using natural fabrics and materials to create lasting simple pieces. Yes, they have several collections a year but this is seasonal reflection rather than an encouragement to buy new, buy more, be on trend. With Renewal they are actively encouraging us to wear our clothes for longer, enhancing their longevity and reducing waste.
I met with Kay (the Oxford branch’s own mistress of the needle) and also Molly Martin, artist, illustrator, writer and professional textile repairer who convinced Toast to embark upon this ambitious project. Both were passionate about their cause, which is not simply to increase the longevity of any garment, but also to encourage us to view our clothes as individual and unique. They showed me examples of visible mending and I was utterly enchanted. Whilst an invisible mend ensures the continuity of the piece is seamless, visible mending makes a virtue of the repair, bringing a new dimension and artistry to the original item. Think of the Japanese process of Kintsugi in which cracked or broken ceramic is mended by using a vivid lacquer mixed with powdered gold. Now imagine a jacket with a worn elbow which has been given a second life by using Sashiko stitching to create an heirloom-worthy repair: the beauty of the boro (a heavily repaired garment).
Of course, both Kay and Molly’s delicate, exquisite stitching skills would make any garment into a work of art, but this is a project designed to encourage a change in attitude, an awareness of the mindfulness of mending and a desire to educate. The branch has run a series of sessions inviting customers to learn the (somewhat lost) art for themselves. And, Molly runs workshops from her Instagram account where she encourages her followers stating, “using our hands creates a feeling of connection. When used often our hands become intelligent”. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
Specialist repair experts are available in-store at Oxford, Bath, Edinburgh, and in London at Notting Hill and Shoreditch and store colleagues in all of Toast’s branches across the country can offer advice on mending.