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Tumblr. Snapchat. Instagram. Emojis. Millennials are nothing if not quick studies. Still, there’s at least one thing Generation Y has been slow to embrace: caring for their clothing. As increasing numbers of schools across the Untied States abandon home-economics programs because of spending cuts or shifting priorities, many students are entering adulthood with a “significant gap” in their knowledge of garment care and repair, according to Pamela Norum, a textiles and apparel professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Norum, who surveyed more than 500 American baby boomers and millennials about their clothing consumption, found an overall diminishment in the ability to sew, hem, repair, and launder across generations.
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Although Norum says the results of her study, which featured in the December issue of Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, didn’t surprise her, they’re concerning in light of the fabric waste we generate every year.
“In 2012, Americans created more than 14.3 million tons of textile waste,” she says in a statement. “Much of this waste is due to clothes being discarded due to minor tears or stains–easily repairable damages if the owners have the skills and knowledge to fix them. If we, as a nation, want to move toward more sustainable practices in all aspects, we need to evaluate not only how we take care of our clothes, but how we educate younger generations to do so, as well.”
While the baby boomers she interviewed typically had more knowledge of clothing repair and laundry than millennials, millennials who said they learned to sew from a family member or an instructor had a better handle on garment care than those with zero education on the subject.
This, Norum says, indicates a need for increased education on what was once considered “common knowledge.”
“Traditionally, these skills were learned in the home or in secondary school,” Norum says. “With the increase of women in the labor force and the decrease in funding for family and consumer sciences programs, the opportunity to acquire such skills has diminished for young Americans. Existing FACS curriculum may want to tie in sewing/mending skills with sustainable consumption as a way of appealing to younger generations while providing the skills they need.”
Instruction doesn’t have to be confined to classroom walls, either, she adds. “Using fashion blogs to capture the attention of students prior to introducing sewing skills may be one approach,” Norum says. “Students can use websites like Pinterest to gather ideas for in-class repurposing projects and then repurpose items from home using techniques gained in class. This could improve skills that are important for any consumer to possess as well as promote sustainable recycling practices.”