The Art of Patchwork as a Symbol of Sustainable Development

Many fashion brands are becoming more aware of the climate of our planet and have begun jumping on the same boat as environmental activists in efforts to extend the lifespan of the Earth after decades of contributing to its destruction. It has been years since fashion powerhouse H&M began campaigning for their exclusive collection – H&M Conscious, which promotes the use of recycled materials. However, the game was brought onto a new, fun level in the fashion industry when the patchwork trend started getting more attention early this year. 

There is a long history behind patchwork that can be dated from an estimate of 5,000 years back, so the trend is not entirely brand new. Patchwork is the art of sewing small pieces of excess fabrics from different designs, fabrics and colours together to create a new piece. It was initially used to make quilts but it has expanded to other stuff such as handbags, clothes and more, depending on one’s creativity. Examples of the work can be seen below.

Now comes the question: Why is it a symbol of sustainable development?

Sustainable development can be defined as building or creating something new by using available resources to reduce the impact on the environment from the perspective of economic growth, environmental protection and social inclusion, which fits the description of what patchwork is all about. From the lens of economic growth, brands get to cut the cost of materials used as they will be using the excess fabrics, as described above. By doing this, it will automatically contribute to the course of protecting the environment. This is one way of managing our waste, especially when the increasing problem of clothes dumping in landfills has become one of the major components of today’s waste. The application of social inclusion can be controversial in this context because one can argue that this is one of the trends that everyone from various economic backgrounds could hop onto, but another can argue that many trends were actually created by the regular people, mainly the lower and middle classes that try to make the most out of what they have, and were then robbed by big brands to capitalize on what were once their identities. Patchwork is one instance of this. Fashion designers have come upfront to explain their side on the matter saying it has become part of their responsibility to uplift pop-culture as politics and the fashion industry are no longer foreign to each other anymore.

La Réunion Studio is one of the brands that deserves all the support they can get, for those who have ever thought of giving the trend a try. The brand is not only known to be sustainable, but the story behind it is heart-warming too. The founder, Sarah Nsikak, was inspired to pick up her art practice after realizing the exorbitant amount of waste generated by the fashion industry. She figured a way out to contribute to curbing the issue by making beautiful quilted pieces using recycled materials. The concept behind this, as written in its official website, is to honour “the vibrant stories of African culture, post-colonial African countries, ideas surrounding reclaimed beauty, togetherness, colour, joy, and inviting oneself back to what was there all along.”

A woman by the beach wearing a dress with patchwork elements

The picture above is one of the designs of their dresses made. The idea came from the Herero women of Namibia who have conveyed nothing but the values of resilience and strength after surviving an attempted genocide in the 19th century under Germany administration as one of the consequences for fighting for their rights to regain justice. More designs of their dresses can be found on their official Instagram page (

For those who are looking for cheaper options, there are many curated thrift stores that are selling similar items to what is currently on trend, or for more fun, you can try giving a new life to your old clothes by remaking new pieces on your own!

Reclaiming What’s Ours

Reclaiming what’s ours is all about taking back our identities that have been capitalized by the fashion industry by supporting small businesses in solidarity to challenge the status quo. There is no denying the pros of having fashion brands jump onto the trend; it helps spread awareness to fashion enthusiasts, or just the general public, on the consequences of consuming clothes that they barely need. However, the business world can be greedy as they start profiting from popular movements that activists have fought for for years. For all we know, these brands could be lying about using recycled materials to make their new pieces in an attempt to increase their sales and support. As consumers, we should be more careful of the purchases we make as it is our responsibility, as individuals, to create a community that is aware of the realities of things such as the nature of businesses and the hidden exploitation that happens within.

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