Sustainable fashion: How to customise the clothes you own

Fashionista with a conscience Kate McGuire helps us customise our old clothes instead of buying new ones. First up: learn how to embellish jumpers with detachable elements...


Sustainable fashion: How to embellish your knitwear

It’s easy to feel uninspired by an item of clothing. Perhaps it doesn’t look exactly how you pictured it would, or maybe your style has simply changed. However, with a few detachable elements, you can take switch up the garment to suit your style, a dress code or your mood! Learn how to live the sustainable fashion lifestyle with these top tips on how to customise your clothes…

Expressing yourself through fashion

After falling down the stairs and breaking her neck, Heidi Herkes was paralysed from the chest down. She now runs a personal style consultancy for women with physical limitations. ‘After my accident, I lost my identity and confidence.

‘I knew I was destined to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t want it to define me. I want people to see Heidi, not “Heidi in a chair”. Clothes were a huge part of that journey – finding the right styles and colours gave me the power to express the “new” me.’

Customising the clothes you already own

With this in mind, Kate set out to help Heidi give her old clothes a makeover to reflect her true style and self. Let’s take the pink jumper (pictured above) as an example. Heidi explained: ‘I love the vivid colour of this M&S jumper. However, the neckline looks a bit frumpy so I don’t wear it much.’ So, while this garment had some good parts, like its fit, colour and cosiness, the not-so-good parts meant Heidi wasn’t including it in the rotation.

Instead of chucking the jumper out – after all, the fit was perfect – Kate decided to customise the jumper with a few jazzy additions including elasticated cuffs and epaulettes. However, as Heidi still wanted the ability to choose this jumper when in need of a cosy lounging option, Kate made the additions detachable. This meant Heidi could style her jumper up or down, depending on how she was feeling.

How to customise your clothes with detachable elements

To customise the jumper, Kate bought wide elastic to create the base of the slip-on cuffs and added some Chanel-esque ribbons from her haberdashery heaven, VV Rouleaux. As Kate explains, ‘I cut the elastic so it was tight around Heidi’s wrists and sewed on the ribbon in the non-stretchy direction. This will allow for easy expansion, enabling Heidi to slide them on and position them over her jumper cuffs.

‘For the epaulettes, I made the base out of leftover elastic, covered them in ribbon and created button holes. Sewing gold buttons onto the shoulders means Heidi can button on her epaulettes to dial up her look, or display the buttons as they are.

Why you should customise your clothes

Clothes are never just clothes, they are part of our identity and self-expression and Heidi is testament to that. ‘It’s important to keep challenging yourself and be brave in your choices to build your self-worth,’ she says. Converting and customising your clothes helps us push our boundaries and discover new ways of expressing ourselves in a sustainable way.’

After receiving her newly customised jumper, Heidi told us: ‘I feel so glamorous! The embellishments deflect perfectly from the neckline and are a real conversation piece. I love the fact that my jumper is now a one-off garment that feels very me.’

Sustainable fashion: How to embellish your knitwear

4 tips for customising a tired wool jumper

Kate McGuire shares her top tips for customising tired old jumpers…

  • Turn a crew into a V-neck and sew ribbon on the cut edges to stop fraying.
  • Cut up unwanted jumpers and make striking elbow patches.
  • Add favourite parts of other garments – a shirt collar and cuffs, for example.
  • Sew ribbon along seams, necklines and cuffs to add colour and interest.

Kate McGuire is a sustainable fashion activist and founder of the #conversion movement at

More inspiration: How clothes affect your mood

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