Sewing sustainability with love

A love affair with sewing has turned into a social enterprise teaching sustainability for keen up-cycler Sarah Lancaster.

Known across the country for her colourful bum bags made from repurposed fabric, Sarah shares her passion for slow fashion at her winter sewing workshops at the Raglan Community House on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

“I feel inspired by my students and seeing how they are tackling their sewing projects, and seeing how good it makes them feel. And how good it makes them feel wearing clothes that they have made,” she says.

It was ten years ago when she first began holding outreach sewing workshops in community houses around Auckland. She was at the beginning stages of finding out where sewing would take her.

And she remembers the chore of lugging sewing machines into community rooms, setting up stations and then the tired packing up late at night. At the time she was desperate for a shop she could call her own.

She laughs when she recalls this and realises, ironically, how much joy it brings her now.

“I absolutely love it now. I love giving money to the community house and renting from them rather than renting spaces full time that I don’t use full time. I love those shared facilities and the shared resources we have available with the tool library sewing machines.”

After a year of carting sewing machines from community house to community house, Sarah realised her dream of setting up a sewing studio at St Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road in Auckland. At the time the arcade was a mecca for op shoppers and Sarah’s studio offered sewing machines for hire and workshops.

The move towards gentrifying K’ Rd and a rise in rents propelled Sarah on another sewing journey, this time in Cecil, a campervan/sewing workshop.

“I didn’t want to work seven days a week in the heart of the city through summer. I thought, how can I do my mahi, and go to the beach. I wanted to be a sewing lounge on wheels.”

Taking Cecil across the country, Sarah was able to combine travelling Aotearoa, beach time and teaching sustainability through sewing pop-ups.

Raglan was on her itinerary for summer 2017 and she set up shop outside The Herbal Dispensary and what was WOK in Electric Avenue.

Looking for somewhere to settle, Sarah came back in 2018. It was a toss-up between Wanaka and Raglan but the closeness to family in the Coromandel helped cement her decision.

As well as doing the sewing workshops, Sarah sells her bum bags through her online shop; she also gives towels a new lease of life as surf ponchos.

During Covid her online shop proved to be a lifesaver and her sales tripled; she made the most of social media strategies, like Instagram reels, to engage her followers with fun snippets of her sewing life. She may have even turned her cat Forrest into a bit of an online celebrity.

“It’s been awesome to see the increase in supporting New Zealand made products last year and I am grateful to be able to continue my mahi sewing and dancing at home,” she says.

She’s currently working on ‘Puffy Jackets’, a reworking of vintage sleeping bags into stunning winter jackets. In the future she hopes to offer online courses, kits and digital downloads of her sewing patterns.

Sarah’s passion for sustainability might have started with sewing but here in Raglan it has morphed into a role as Xtreme Zero Waste’s communication and behaviour change person, and Plastic Free Raglan coordinator. 

Much like slow fashion, which advocates for manufacturing clothing in respect to people, environment, and animals, Sarah’s role at Xtreme looks at how to support the community to move towards zero waste.

“My role is to normalise waste minimisation and providing as many opportunities as possible help this happen. Like having ugly mug libraries around town where people can see them and borrow a mug instead of a single-use cup.” 

Just like her own philosophy towards the clothing industry and waste, a Sarah Sew Love class is all about slow fashion; taking the time to appreciate the process and finding joy in something you have created.

“I always remember one of my students saying, ‘we’ve just spent the night creating together instead of consuming together’. And we are all making friends and connections, and meeting other crafty people in the community. I just feel so stoked that I can host that for people.”

Sarah loves creating opportunities to give the things we buy a long life.

Scouring Kaahu’s Nest and other op shops to find material she can repurpose, nearly every scrap of fabric that Sarah uses is getting a second lease of life. 

The beginner classes get to trawl through Sarah’s stash of fabrics to make their snackage packages.

Another nod to sustainability, the beginner’s snackage package project holds a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, and straw to avoid the need for single-use cutlery. 

“I love cheerleading people and supporting them to feel confident in their bodies, to learn new skills and connect with people in our community. What’s also great is that I get to teach sustainability through sewing lessons in a fun and social way.”

Find out more about Sarah by checking out                   @sewlovenz on Facebook, Instagram or email hello@sewlove.nz

by Janine Jackson