Alicia Robles grew up watching her mother make wedding dresses and other clothes in southern Mexico. As a girl, she watched and learned, but she didn't get back into sewing until she had her own children.

"When I became a mom, and I can fix stuff for my kids, I feel good about myself," Robles said.

On a recent afternoon, Robles and two other women mended old clothes, packs and linens in the basement of the Franklin Library in Minneapolis. The women are experienced sewers hired by the nonprofit Reuse Minnesota to staff their Mend-It Clinics, a series of events where the public can bring in damaged clothes and other textile goods for free repairs.

The clinics, which started in January with a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), are part of the state's broader effort to cut down on textile waste. Fast fashion and clothing made of fabric blends are contributing to growing piles of textiles that wind up in the trash.

The MPCA is trying to get a handle on the issue and identify buyers and sellers for recycled fabrics, said Susan Heffron, a recycling market coordinator with the agency. The data isn't perfect, but the MPCA estimates that somewhere between 134,000 and 192,000 tons of textiles are thrown away each year in Minnesota.

The best way to prevent that? Getting people to fix and mend what they already own.

"We want to reduce what we buy, and then we want to reuse and fix, then recycle," Heffron said.

The true cost of textiles is hidden to modern Americans, according to Reuse Minnesota executive director Emily Barker. Synthetic fabrics, overseas labor that is often exploited and an online retail culture that allows free deliveries and returns can fog the public's understanding of what goes into producing clothing and other textile products.

"New stuff has gotten so cheap," Barker said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2018 that the nation produced more than 17 million tons of textile waste, nearly double the amount in 2000. The vast majority of the country's textile waste ends up in landfills or is incinerated, according to the EPA. About 2.5 million tons were recycled in 2018.

But older clothing is worth fixing, and Reuse Minnesota hopes its Mend-It Clinics can help people see that.

"A lot of older things are better quality," said Mai Lauer, one of the sewers who works at the Mend-It clinics.

Lauer grew up sewing and has kept up with the hobby for years. Lauer started sewing at Fix-It Clinics hosted by Ramsey and Hennepin counties — where residents can bring in all sorts of non-working items for free repair — and has worked at all six of the Mend-It Clinics this year.

Reuse Minnesota also hosts educational events to teach people how to sew. The organization is hosting a mending and introduction to sewing machines class in Spanish at the Eastside Food Co-Op, 2551 Central Av. NE., in Minneapolis on July 30.

"We will teach you how to do it so you can do it later," said Carolyn Wieland, Reuse Minnesota's communications assistant.

So far, the Mend-It Clinics have mended at least 129 pounds of clothes, bags, curtains and stuffed animals.

About the partnership

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for a free newsletter to receive Sahan's stories in your inbox.