The Sustainability Office has introduced Sew What, a pilot program that provides the student body with free clothing tailoring and mending, as an extension of the University’s free store WesThrift. Since its launch in early March which came after a clean-out event for WesThrift at the College of the Environment (COE), the program has garnered much success, offering several tailoring services, including sewing new buttons, repairing holes, changing hems, and more.
Eco Facilitator and Sew What Coordinator Isadora Leviton ’25 previously hosted a sustainable market in collaboration with WesThrift in October 2022 which included free clothing repair. Julia Noriega ’24 was one of two tailors for the market, and later joined the Sew What team after the market’s feedback form received over 300 requests for a permanent mending service on campus.
“There was no way for us to know there would be so much interest in this program. We really expected 10 people to drop off stuff the first week, and we got 55,” Leviton said.
Through Sew What, Leviton and Noriega are addressing a fundamental issue in the fashion industry, encouraging the Wesleyan community to reexamine their relationships with the clothing they already have and repair damaged clothes as opposed to throwing pieces out.
“There’s something really interesting and wonderful about having a two-fold success,” Leviton said. “We are both fixing clothes and keeping stuff from landfills for much longer, but it also makes people feel more confident in their clothing. That’s a way to introduce people to the [sustainability] movement too–not everyone is going to come at sustainability from the same lens.”
As the only tailor currently working for Sew What, Noriega has already completed an astounding 80% of the checked-in items. Noriega’s background in sewing is influenced by both of her grandmothers, who inspired her to start quilting. She has brought her own sewing machine to the position, and has helped to find a beginner-friendly machine to increase accessibility to the Sew What program. Noriega, who is a Connecticut native, also hopes that the Sew What program can eventually expand into the Middletown community.
“The hope with that is that, one, when I graduate, it will be here for the next person, and two, if someone wants to learn how to sew, we can show them how to use the machine,” Noriega said. The most enjoyable part of the process for Noriega is watching people receive their items back. “It was a relatively easy process to fix [the clothing], but it makes such a big impact.”
While she understands the stigma against accepting free services, Leviton hopes that Sew What will overcome the barriers posed by mainstream consumerist mentalities throughout the U.S.
“Because of the society we live in, under the power of capitalism, we are under a pressure to consume, and the idea of free is the idea of charity, and there’s a lot of shame in charity, which isn’t how it should be,” Leviton said. “Sustainability and equity has to be one and the same for us to make any social progress. We have an opportunity at Wesleyan to create equity in everything that we do, and it is a choice not to.”
The volume of students who have had items repaired through Sew What speaks to the campus-wide need for such a program. The service has already received glowing reviews from students, including Lily Krug ’24 and Vivian Redmond ’24.
“I found out about Sew What through advertising around campus and because I work at the Sustainability Office,” Krug said. “I had a pair of pants repaired that had ripped and they were repaired incredibly and in a very timely manner. The service was phenomenal and it meant that I didn’t have to find someone off campus to fix my pants, find time and transportation to get there and pick them up. Essentially, having the service on campus made it easier and not stressful which I greatly appreciate. I highly recommend this service to anyone and everyone!”
Redmond added that the convenience of Sew What was one of its biggest draws.
“I loved Sew What! They repaired my sweater quickly, easily, and were incredibly kind and professional. It’s honestly just such an amazing privilege to have a free and easy clothing repair service and I will never take it for granted,” said Redmond.
To encourage their fellow Wesleyan students to take active steps towards sustainability in fashion, Sew What will be distributing 200 free sewing kits at Talia Zitner’s senior thesis presentation. The event takes place this Friday, April 21, from 3-10 pm behind Russell House. Sew What can also be contacted through their Instagram page, @wes_sewwhat.
Rose Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.