Artist and business founder Kristen McCoy has been rethinking the future of fashion for years. Along with her staff at RETHINK Tailoring & Sewing Lounge (3449 Bloomington Ave. S.), she offers an alternative to the cheaply produced, poorly made clothing found abundantly in so many stores. The clothing for sale in her shop has all been upcycled from garments that might have otherwise been thrown away.
McCoy said, “At RETHINK, our mission is to keep as many textiles out of landfills and incinerators as possible. The average American adult throws away 80 pounds of clothing each year.”
“To counter that, we tailor and upcycle used garments – and we empower others to repair and sew their own wardrobes through our classes and other gatherings at our Sewing Lounge.”
The real cost of fast fashion
According to McCoy, “Fast fashion is disposable fashion, and it’s the second worst polluting industry in the world. Only the oil industry is more toxic to the environment. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. That’s more than air travel and maritime shipping combined.”
“As consumers, we need to rethink the actual cost of each garment – because the rise of fast fashion has created an environmental nightmare. Along with the cheap price tag comes a reliance on plastic fabrics, an enormous carbon footprint, and the increasing ill health of people who work in this industry. On average, a piece of clothing is worn only 4-7 times before it is discarded.”
A long thread
McCoy grew up on a Minnesota pig farm and started sewing when she was eight. She taught herself how to use her grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine. Because the nearest fabric store was 20 miles away, she figured out how to repurpose her worn clothes into purses. She said, “I learned my work ethic growing up on the farm, and I learned how to make money stretch.”
Eventually she enrolled in the Apparel Tecnnologies Program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College where she studied garment construction, draping, pattern-making, alterations, and how to work with specialty fabrics.
In textiles classes, McCoy learned that polyester fabric has the same chemical make-up as plastic water bottles. She thought, “We recycle plastic water bottles, why can’t we find a way to recycle plastic fabrics?
“The discarded clothes sit in landfills where they don’t decompose for generations, or they are burned in incinerators. Many garments aren’t made to last on purpose. The clothing industry has developed a disposable mentality because it pays.”
McCoy made a decision early on in her training: moving forward, she would make all her clothes out of pre-used or deadstock fabrics.
Keep calm and sew on
In 2015, McCoy launched RETHINK Tailoring from her home with the goal of making recycled clothing a legitimate shopping option. After her daughter was born that year, Kristen took a pause from tailoring to develop a new concept: resizable baby clothing. A second child was born three years later and in 2019, McCoy began the buildout of her storefront at 3449 Bloomington Ave.
She said, “We had our grand opening on March 14, 2020, and closed the next day due to the COVID-19 lock down. My design and tailoring philosophy has always been to get creative when a project seems impossible. Opening and closing in one day was crushing, but once I got out of the fog, we sewed masks, and made tutorials to help with the community mask-making efforts. We donated hundreds of masks to hospitals, shelters, and other organizations in need. We also took on an emergency project upcycling 200+ hospital gowns for a nursing home facility hit hard by COVID-19.
“Our focus had to change many times to best meet the needs of the community. We are still building our business back to our original vision, but it takes time. We are currently hosting daily classes (following CDC guidelines for health and safety), and upcycling more designs for sale.”
Classes are the focus
McCoy is reflective about the times. She said, “These last couple of years have been strange and challenging, but I feel hopeful. In this polarized world, there’s value in having safe places to gather. Our shop is a place where people can get together and do something creative – we can all use a bit of that.”
There are classes on Visible Mending, Invisible Mending, and Reweaving (where you learn to repair holes in t-shirts and other knit garments). There are Learn to Sew machine classes, and classes for more experienced sewists on alterations, design, and upcycling. Private lessons are available, as well as small group lessons. There are options to learn from home with virtual classes, Q&A sessions, tutorials, private lessons via Zoom, and more.
The regularly scheduled Feminist Stitch and Gab is a pay-what you-can meet up. Anyone can come who is feminist-minded, as long as they wear a mask and practice social distancing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about any of the classes or gatherings. Holiday gift cards are also available for purchase. They can be applied toward class tuition, or upcycled clothing and jewelry for sale in the onsite Green Boutique. Visit the RETHINK website at www.rethinktailoring.com for more information.
McCoy concluded, “People can get overwhelmed by the challenges of being environmentally conscious. As far as clothing goes, I like to say that any change in the right direction is positive change. Go to clothing swaps, shop for used clothes, and repair what’s already in your closet.
“A starting point is something to build from – you don’t have to do everything at once.”
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