Jen Gale is an eco superstar, make and mend warrior, blogger and mum. She lives in Wiltshire with her hubby and two boys who are 7 and 4 and ¾ – the ¾ is very important! Back in September 2012, the family embarked on a year of ‘Buying Nothing New’, and it transformed their lives. We wanted to find out all about Jen’s transformation and share some of her eco expertise.
What originally inspired you to start your make and mend year?
I think it was the kids. William, our eldest, was approaching 4, and I suddenly realised that he was already this mini consumer and had tuned into the message that our society puts out there – that more stuff would make him happier. He wanted new stuff all the time.
Looking back, I can recognise now that is totally normal pre-schooler behaviour, but at the time it really made me stop and think about all the stuff we had, all the stuff we were buying, and the impact that was having.
It was a couple of years ago now, have you kept it up?
Pretty much. We are much less rigid now, and we have bought some new things, but we are so much more considerate now about what we buy, whether we actually need it, and where we get it from. We always try to source things secondhand first, and then if we can’t, we look for the most sustainable and ethical solution.
When we finished our official year, everyone wanted to know if we had rushed straight out and bought loads of new things, and I was always slightly bemused by the question. We learned so much about the impact that our consumption has on the planet during the year that we couldn’t just go back to pretending that we didn’t know about these issues. One of the biggest things I learned was to believe in the power of my actions as an individual to create change. Every time we spend money, we are casting a vote for the kind of world we want. I really believe that, and it’s now what I think about every time I buy something.
You say you weren’t a maker beforehand. What skills have you picked up? Have you surprised yourself with any of them?
I had learned to sew just after William was born, but hadn’t really progressed much beyond cushions and bunting. And even though I could sew, if there were any mending jobs, or hemming etc. to do, I passed them on to my mother in law to do. Even sewing buttons back on!
So I think the thing that surprised me was probably that it’s really not that hard. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t sew a button back on ‘properly’ and that I couldn’t patch trousers. But then I decided I really needed to learn these things, and I made myself have a go. My first attempt at patching needed re-doing about two weeks later, but I learned that it doesn’t really matter. The most important thing is to have a go and learn while you’re doing it. If something is already broken, you are unlikely to make it any worse!
I also got much ‘braver’ at making and refashioning clothes too. I decided to stop aiming for perfect. Perfect is what you get when you buy something from the shops. Homemade embraces all the imperfections and celebrates them!
Magazines and books! I really struggled not to buy magazines for the year, but actually there is so much great content online now that it shouldn’t really have been so difficult.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt?
I mentioned this earlier, that one of the biggest things I learned was about the power of my actions, as one person, to make a difference, and I think that’s also the most valuable lesson I learned.
It’s really easy when thinking about huge issues, like climate change and resource depletion and fast fashion, to think the problem is too big. That there is nothing we can do. I learned over the year that we can do something. In fact, we can do lots of things. They might only be tiny things, and seem inconsequential, but actually if we all did them, what a massive difference it would make!
What are your top tips for someone thinking of giving it a go?
Just make a start.
Pick one area – clothes seems to be quite a good one for lots of people – or just do it for one month, or even one week. Just make a start. Take one step. You do it, and you realise it wasn’t really so hard. And you want to do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
Remember your “Why.”
For me, it’s all about the impact of my choices on the environment. I might see a dress I really like on the High St. But then I stop and think about what it’s made from, who made it, whether they were likely to have been paid a fair wage, how it got here, and all of the resources that have gone into the whole process. And suddenly I don’t want the dress quite so much anymore.
Jen blogs at My Make Do and Mend Life and continues to share her journey towards more conscious consumption and a simpler life. For more updates, like My Make Do & Mend Life on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram.