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The Essential Fixings

Caroline McCarthy

In the midst of winter holiday mayhem, Museum of Modern Art senior curator Paola Antonelli seemed to have had enough. She took to Twitter: “‘Food hacks?’ Really? That’s how cooking with leftovers is now called? Then my grandma was a ninja outlaw swashbuckling pirate!”

Indeed, much of our supposed rediscovery of do-it-yourself creativity and “life hack” thriftiness involves skills that were considered necessary ones in life not all that long ago. And among the ones most sorely missing involve our basic command of repairing and maintaining the things we wear. We became addicted to replacing one cheap piece of apparel with another, assuming that it would be more cost- and time-effective just to throw the damaged piece away than to repair it – after all, we figured it would be out of style in a few months anyway.

But as the “slow fashion” movement grows and we commit to purchasing fewer pieces of clothing, at higher quality, that we intend to own for years, we need to rediscover those supposed “life hacks” of repair and maintenance. But you may be wondering where on earth to start. So here’s your basic arsenal for what you’ll want to have on hand to commit to the slow fashion life. Your grandmother would be proud.

A catch-all box for those buttons and sequins and threads

You’re not the only person who’s taken to throwing out the little packets of spare buttons and loops of thread that come with new garments. Separate them in tiny clear plastic bags if they aren’t in them already, and label them so that you’re not forced to guess which slightly-different shade of black thread goes with which sweater. Purchase a spacious box to store them in; if your living space is short on extra storage, this box can double as a decorative piece. (No one has to know it’s full of buttons!)

A good rolodex

You’ll want to have the right people on call for both the routine repairs – a hole in the knee of a pair of jeans, a boot in need of resoling – and the more stubborn problems like a damaged leather handbag. Yelp is a fairly reliable source for reviews of tailors, cobblers, and cleaners wherever you live (and you’ll want to have the contact information of all three of those on hand), but if it’s available in your city, also consider odd-job marketplace TaskRabbit; you may discover a hidden gem like a red wine stain removal expert there. For the really big stuff, consider mail-it-in repair experts like The Leather Spa.

A collapsible drying rack

If you have been hosted in a house or apartment in most parts of Europe, you may have been surprised to find that while the home had a washing machine, there was no clothes dryer. Even in the era of fast fashion, many Europeans consider the dryer to be a short-sighted American phenomenon that trades the long-term viability of clothes for instant convenience. Consider hanging your clothes to dry on a wooden rack (like this made-in-the-USA one); it’ll add years of life to them.

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A leather cleaning kit

Protect, weather-proof, and meticulously maintain all your leathers and suedes! Many leather manufacturers, like Frye, sell their own conditioners and weatherproofers; make sure you have any additional products on hand for cleaning suedes, nubucks, and whatever other leathers you’ve purchased. You shouldn’t try to repair torn leather (or resole leather shoes) on your own unless you’re an expert, but cleaning it is almost always within your purview.

A stockpile of (natural) stain removal essentials

Removing a stain is best done as soon as possible, so you’ll want to have the substances necessary to tackle them on hand even if you’re positive you’ll never spill a glass of red wine on that white silk shirt. Yet many household stain removers – especially the quick-fix kind – are packed with chemicals that should never be used on high-quality fabrics. There are plenty of options out there for gentler and more natural (yet effective) substitutes, but in short, lemon essential oil and white vinegar are going to be two of your best friends.

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A sewing kit, and the basics for using it. It doesn’t need to be fancy

And you can get your sewing expertise from YouTube tutorial videos. But the ability to repair basic wear and tear on your clothes – even if it’s temporary while you wait until you can get them to the tailor – is an essential first step in moving past our addiction to fast, cheap fashion.

Currently the Vice President at Communications and Content at true[X] media, Caroline McCarthy has been a journalist since the age of 21, covering a smattering of digital media, social networking, marketing, entrepreneurship, and innovation.