Green recycle arrow symbol with clothes

Sustainability Day!

Guinea gold lettering on purple background

Emma Westwood

Guinea Team Blogger

Hip Hip Hooray For Sustainability Day!

When did we become a society that stopped being sustainable? 


You might think, stopped? It's a modern phenomenon, but actually our nation has a long history of sustainability, and it is was once so integral and ingrained into society, remnants linger even now. We still use the term ‘Rag-and-Bone man’, as a catch all phrase, for someone who collects unwanted items, but back in the nineteenth century you literally gave away your rags and bones, which would be turned into paper, and soap or glue respectively. 


Some may remember rag rugs, and everybody will know what a quilt is. Not a scrap was ever wasted. And fabric we would now view as unfit for purpose, would have lived another life in these household items, or even as a duster. 


For hundreds of years, as a nation, we have been sustainably savvy. Let us take the Tudors for example. You may have this image of sustainability being associated with the poor and destitute, desperately eking out what meagre belongings than had, for as long as they could. 


But what if I told you even royalty were keen on sustainability...


Now the motivation of royalty may have been entirely different from that of the lower classes, and sustainability as we know it, would not have existed then, but the reason so little Tudor fashion has survived is because it was reused, repurposed and restyled.


Now the reason for royalty, throughout history, giving away clothing was two-fold. One, they couldn't be seen wearing something more than once, and two, they used clothing as a way of paying courtiers.


So when garments were passed on they were made over into a different style by the new owner.


What links rich and poor alike, is they were not wasteful with fabric. Throughout history, when a garment was no longer of use to the owner it would be passed on. A mother might pass on a dress to a daughter, which no longer fit, or was no longer in fashion. The dress would be remade into a different style or adjusted to fit.


The dress may have then been passed down to an even younger child, or passed onto a servant, when it was terribly out of fashion or the cloth too worn to no longer be fit for purpose for someone of style, but would still be perfectly serviceable as Sunday best for someone of a lower status.


However the life of fabric would not just stop there. If the garment had enough fabric, I'm looking at you Georgian fashion, it could even be used to upholster furniture. Honestly.


There was great excitement within the historic community a few years a go, when it was discovered that a gown owned by Elizabeth I had been discovered, repurposed as an alter cloth! There was an absolutely fascinating process to confirm its provenience which you can read more about here


In more modern history, there was the ‘Make Do and Mend’ movement during World War Two. Where the government actively encourage resourcefulness when clothing was being rationed. Hard to image clothing being rationed in a world of full of fast fashion!



It's not just Britain who were resourceful in times of conflict, crisis and poverty, America and Canada, were well known for their sack dresses. You may well be thinking of it as a cut or style, but no, a sack dress, was literally a dress made from the fabric of food and flour agricultural sacks. This became an integral part of rural life throughout the 20's, into the Great Depression of the 30's and through WWII and into the post war 40's. 


When feed and flour manufacturers realised their sacks were being repurposed for clothing, they printed their sacks, in colourful patterns, with labels which could easily be removed. You can read more about feed sack dresses here.


However, while we are fortunate enough to live in a time of abundance, we should be responsible with our resources and there is a resurgence in recycling awareness. Even the BBC's Great British Sewing Bee features a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle week.


I bet you never realised what a history of sustainability we had - and have unfortunately lost. Like many things, including skills such as sewing, they have been lost in an age of easy requirement. Why take the time to repair or create, when it is so much more easier and convenient to buy. 


However, we can  do our bit for sustainability, even in the smallest capacity. 


While we cannot all be blessed with sewing skills, we can help by reselling or passing on clothing we no longer wear, so it can have a new life with someone else. You can even benefit others on a larger scale by donating clothing to charity. 


Creating a capsule wardrobe is another way to be sustainable, and our blogs below, help guide you in, where to start in your sustainability journey.


Sustainability should not be viewed as something which takes momentous effort, it should simply part of our daily routine, as even the smallest of tweaks and changes can make a big difference.


And after all, shouldn't everyday be sustainability day?


-The Guinea Team xx