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Make do and mend: sustainability lessons for today’s restoration

During the Second World War (WWII), when resources were scarce and the existing ones were substantially diverted to war effort, the British government launched "Make Do and Mend." This programme urged citizens to repair, reuse, and recycle goods rather than binning them. Today, as we face a climate crisis, the lessons from Make Do and Mend are once again relevant. Particularly in our consuming habits, we can adopt cues from this movement to reduce waste and cultivate sustainable habits.

This is where restoration of used items becomes a solution.

Let’s see how this plays out.

What was “Make Do and Mend”?

In 1943 the British Ministry of Information (MofI) launched a campaign known as the "Make Do and Mend". In a period of necessary rationing and resources scarcity, this initiative advocated for the repair, reuse, and recycling of clothing items rather than discarding them.

By teaching people skills such as sewing and darning to extend the lifespan of clothing and other items, it counterbalanced UK’s efforts to support its military during the war. Make Do and Mend symbolised resilience, resourcefulness, and creativity, shaping a generation's attitudes towards consumption and waste.

This was a Make Do and Mend poster of the time (from National Archives):

Make do and mend campaign original poster

The campaign counted also with booklets published and distributed openly, providing tips and instructions on how to make clothes last longer.

Eventually the WWII would come to and end, freeing people from such dark time. However, its legacy lasted and continue to live through generations to come. These very same lessons can be immensely valuable today, when the planet is facing such fast and radical changes in climate.

First lesson: the historical perspective

The "Make Do and Mend" campaign was a war-time necessity, teaching to individuals’ specific skills to extend the lifespan of their belongings.

In perspective, these skills not only conserved precious resources but also fostered creativity and thriftiness among the population.

Applying this to today’s living, restoration of used items shares similar principles, where the goal is revitalising old or damaged pieces rather than purchasing new ones. As an example, this old triangle school desk was repurposed and now can serve as, for example, a nice vintage desk for quick sessions on the notebook:

Here below some other cases of restored items: the first comes from London, where these antique wooden drawers, originally from Indo Bar London, were completely refreshed.

Before on the left, after on the right:

Another one is this bureau originally from Eton College, oiled in a black sticky substance, and completely different from its original splendour. On the right, after some "make-do", we can see it looking great again:

Second lesson: sustainability for today’s restoration

Restoration, when done properly, can preserve and prolong the life of furniture, reducing the need for new pieces and thereby decreasing production waste and deforestation. Additionally, it reduces the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills.

In addition to this, restored furniture often comes with a unique, vintage character that new pieces simply can't emulate.

Today, "Make Do and Mend" can be more than just a hobby or a cost-saving exercise: it is a valuable step towards a more sustainable lifestyle and a cleaner planet.

By choosing to restore and reuse, we reduce our consumption and contribute less to the ongoing climate crisis. It's a mindset that can help us make more sustainable choices not just in garden, home or office items, but in all aspects of our lives.

Third lesson: the power of community

In the spirit of the 'Make Do and Mend' era, local businesses, particularly those dedicated to restoration, can serve as hubs inside communities, echoing the collective efforts during the WWII period. Much like wartime communities pulled together to maximise resources, modern communities can rally to support restoration shops that breathe new life into forgotten or discarded items.

These are some concrete actions that communities can emulate from Make Do and Mend:

  • patronise local businesses: the most direct way for communities to support restoration is by frequenting them, purchasing restored pieces instead of opting for mass-produced items. This not only sustains the business but reduces the environmental impact, as each restored piece represents less waste going to the landfill and fewer new items being manufactured.

  • spread the word: this can take various forms, from word-of-mouth recommendations and sharing posts on social media, to writing reviews online. Every bit helps to raise awareness about restoration activities, engaging with more people, thus improving sustainability.

  • collaborating with restoration shops: communities can also collaborate with restoration shops in unique ways. Local artists and craftsmen, for instance, can partner with the shop for unique restoration projects. Schools and community centres could organise tours or workshops at the shop, educating the younger generation about the value of restoration.

If you have an item that you want to dispose, but think it can be restored, contact us and check what can be done with it.

Make Do and Mend: an old initiative for our new challenges

The "Make Do and Mend" mentality is a powerful tool in addressing today's climate crisis. As we face the consequences of overconsumption and waste, there's much to learn from the past.

Antiques, vintage, architectural and any other sort of item restoration is a practical and satisfying way to embrace this ethos, bringing both environmental benefits and a sense of personal accomplishment.

The role of community in supporting restoration shops is pivotal. As with the communal spirit during WWII, our collective efforts can revive into the 'Make Do and Mend' ethos. This time, however, our battle is against overconsumption and environmental degradation.

By supporting local restoration stores, we're not only aiding our local economy, but also making strides towards a more sustainable world. On the top of that, by circulating authentic, quality, and functional items for today's life.

Let's revive this spirit of resilience and resourcefulness to make our world a more sustainable place.

Want to know more about Make Do and Mend? You can also read:

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