Rejecting fast fashion: Belfast designer Mary Rose McGrath is fixing our clothes

Despite its destructive impact on the planet and dangerous working conditions, fast fashion is accelerating at such a pace that it is now called ultrafast fashion.

Thanks to online shopping habits and the rise of social media, these ultra-fast fashion brands are able to use smart digital marketing techniques to get us to buy more and more clothes – at a time when we are warned to cut spending and cut to waste to help address the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, slow fashion – a revolution against these fleeting, one-off purchases – is also growing in popularity, as a way to rebel against the dominance of fast fashion.

Proponents of slow fashion aim to protect the environment and avoid exploitative work practices by reducing the purchase of new clothing and extending the lifespan of garments to create a more circular economy.

Focusing on quality over quantity, the slow fashion movement encourages us to buy second-hand, rent or change clothes and be creative by using age-old skills, such as sewing, to repair and recycle clothes already in our closets.

Belfast fashion designer Mary Rose McGrath is passionate about slow fashion and is helping to bring back lost sewing skills as a way to create a more sustainable wardrobe.

Armed with 25 years of top experience in the fashion industry, the mother of one child founded a sewing academy that offers classes for adult beginners and a summer fashion academy for children, as well as ‘Mom and I’ classes for adults and children to learn how to sew together.

“What I love to do is teach people what I know,” says Mary Rose.

“Sewing is a phenomenal skill that stimulates imagination and creativity.”


One of Mary Rose’s designs

Sewing re-emerged as a hobby a decade ago thanks to a TV show, Great British sewing bee. But Mary Rose says interest in her classes peaked during the pandemic, when people had more time for hobbies and began to get lost in spending.

“I think we as consumers need to buy less. I don’t need another coat, I don’t need more jeans. I think we need to go back in terms of trends and that was definitely something that is talked about in the industry, as opposed to rattling these hundreds of trends every year.

“Yes, have your key piece, but also your basic sewing skills, so if you need to pick up that pair of pants, you can do it.

“If you find a beautiful, vintage ’60s vintage jacket in a used shop and it’s not the wrong size, you can tuck it in the side seams or you can take that amazing’ 60s pearl collar and put it on something else to remodel, adjust and reuse.” she says.

“It’s not just sewing, it’s creativity. People will – in the future – as predicted – be anti-fast fashionistas. We will go back to the old skills of making yourself or less buying and customizing.

“There is definitely a movement towards a return to individuality, instead it will be much colder in the years to come to be seen with something that is unique or something that you have created yourself.”

Mary Rose is passionate about rebelling against fast fashion, and sewing your own clothes is a way to ensure you enjoy fashion without feeling guilty. “I’m committed to understanding that people have to work on a budget and I fully understand that, but that’s why I think we could all be a little more creative and think about the environment and think about landfills,” she says.

“If it’s £ 5 for a dress, maybe something is wrong with that factory.

“And I think it’s really good to recognize, ‘You know what, there’s this little hole, I’ll fix it myself,’ so it’s sustainable.”

The fashion designer noticed the interest of people from all spheres – young and old. She is passionate about instilling a love for sewing in the younger generation, because it is a skill that is not taught in the school curriculum.

“I am absolutely thrilled when I see interest in children who want to sew – encouraging them to be creative from an early age.

“And instead of following the herd in terms of fast fashion – be unique, be a leader, not a follower.

“These are girls and boys and that’s something I’m absolutely thrilled about, the interest of boys, because why don’t boys know how to sew? There are a lot of guys who are really interested in it and study with me which is amazing. I think all children should be taught this as a basic skill.

“I think that not only takes them away from the screen, but also allows them to spend some time where they are concentrated, where they work. He is full of creativity. It is a return to work with their hands, ”she says.

“I’m great, great for it, and for promoting sewing and crafting with any kids. It conveys a really good message to them, that they can do it, that they can adjust, that they can sew, unlike shopping non-stop.

“That’s why I have a summer camp, which I started last year and which was a great craic. It’s exhausting whenever you have all these little ones in the class, but it’s fun and they’re phenomenal. I think some of the work done is simply amazing! ”


Sewing equipment collection

In addition to the environmental benefits of sewing, Mary Rose points out that a hobby can also be therapeutic – because you have to concentrate on the task, it can be good for mental health.

“Something like therapy that gives you a little free time, if something is going on in your brain. Students need to focus on precision or sequence of work, which distracts their brain from worries, ”she explains.

“I had so much feedback from students – not only did they have the confidence to do it at home, but they also laughed with other students in a small intimate group, and just didn’t think about the things that were going on in their heads.”

Mary Rose keeps the classes small, so by the end of the session, everyone feels confident that they can go home and recycle their clothes – whether it’s repairing a torn shirt, wearing school pants or remodeling a used dress.

With our throwing culture, our instinct in the past has been to throw out a dress or leggings that have been torn, but learning to sew with Mary Rose helps us instill confidence that we can get creative and fix it ourselves.

“You don’t have to be the best sewer in the world, but if you figure out what you can do, and if you have smart skills and tips and tricks … and that’s definitely what I do, I just give people tips and tricks on how to get great looking clothes which looks bought in a store just by customizing, modifying or making it from scratch, ”explains Mary Rose.

“If you learn these smart ways to work and make things look great, the world is your oyster.

“So you don’t always have to buy new ones. There’s an awful lot you can do with remakes, remakes, and love again. ”

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