Clothing, and how I feel about it.

Made-to-measure in Hong Kong.

A Twitter thread popped up on my account today. It asked for female steroetypes that you don’t conform to. I owned up to having ditched make-up (apart from my trusty lippy) but it got me thinking. Yesterday, I visited a Repair Cafe (I’ll talk about that later) to get a pair of my daughter’s jeans repaired and I was so happy to be able to get this done. I don’t really like clothes shopping, that’s the other female stereotype I have ditched, but I like nice clothes. I like clothes that fit me and that I feel comfortable wearing regardless of whether they are fancy clothes or every day clothes.

One of the things I miss most about living in Hong Kong is being able to pop over the border into mainland China, specifically the district of Shenzen, and visit the Lo Wu shopping area. It was only an hour on the train. Lo Wu is famous for its fakes but I loved it for the tailoring you could get done there. The Lo Wu Commercial Centre (shopping mall) has five floors and is a real Aladdin’s cave just waiting to be explored.

The top floor is haberdashery heaven. It is full of stalls selling all sorts of fabric from silks and cottons to wool, cashmere and denim. Plus there are stalls selling ribbons, lace, buttons and all sorts of trimmings. The quality is superb and the range is huge. You can buy not only material for clothing but soft furnishing fabrics too. I’ve not got many photos, I always felt a bit awkward and it was back in the day before EVERYTHING got photographed!

I got to know one tailor quite well. Nancy and her sister could measure you up at a glance, although they wrote copious notes too. They could make garments from scratch or copy and adjust items you brought in. You know when you buy something and you wish the arms were a bit longer or shorter, or the waist could fit just that bit better? These ladies could work miracles and finally I had clothes that fitted me properly. It’s not easy having a western shape in the Far East, clothes are made for a completely different body shape to mine. I’m not an odd shape but I’m quite tall and so adding that extra length really worked for me. Plus, when you chose your own fabrics you can have your favourite clothes made in any colour you want. I own up to having had the same pair of linen trousers made in at least five colours! I had clothing altered and made from scratch with Nancy, including a beautiful winter coat I had made ready for my return to the harsh winters of the UK.

Nancy and me.

Repair and altering in the UK.

On my return to the UK I did find it easier to buy clothes that fitted me, after all I am back in the West where clothes are designed for my body shape and size. However, I still missed that snug fit that my clothes from Hong Kong had after Nancy had woven her magic. I took a few items to local tailors and discovered that dry cleaners will often do small alterations but it all seemed so expensive compared to the cost of the item of clothing. I realise that its all politics, cheap clothing is often made in sweat shops and repairs in the UK are done where employees are earning a proper wage but paying £10 to get a zip repaired on a garment that only cost £9.99 in the first place seemed bizarre.

Recently there has been a beacon of light pop up on my Facebook page. A local Repair Cafe has started up. Repair Cafes are an international foundation (click here for details) and a village not far from me is now hosting a monthly drop-in centre.

Yesterday I took the oppotunity to visit and took along three items for repair. The first was a Welsh dragon that belongs to my husband and that he has had for over 40 years. The dragon’s wing had been broken and needed a better glue that we have at home. The second was a pearl earring of mine that had come away from its post, again needing better solvent that I have access to. Both were attended to by a wonderful woman, the earring there and then and she is taking the dragon away to her workshop and will return him next month.

Finally, my daughter’s jeans were called for and a lovely lady told me that the denim itself was poor and had started to fray but she could patch it inside and then top-stitch the outside. The jeans had only been worn a few times and we are careful when loading the washing machine so it was so good to give these jeans another go at life and not add them to the landfill that is clogging up our earth.

Whilst the jeans were being sewn, I sat and had a cuppa and cake and admired the bags on display, made from re-purposed fabric, what a super idea.

It felt good to be amongst talented people who know how things work and how to repair them and sit with others who need their help. There was no charge, just donations accepted but there was no hard sell or obligation, however, how can you not give if you can afford it?

We need to stop throwing things away and make them last longer but in a world where we do not value trades as much as academic honours, we shall struggle. Repair Cafes might just be the answer to part of this problem.

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