One thread at a time: The Patchwork Initiative aims to mend the gaps in clothing sustainability

The Patchwork Initiative aims to help people understand the fashion industry's pollution and find ways to reuse clothing.
The Patchwork Initiative aims to help people understand the fashion industry's pollution and find ways to reuse clothing.

Story by Sam Moccia

The clothing and textile industry is second only to oil and gas in its global pollution footprint, and with the mega-consumerist fast-fashion culture we see today, it’s no wonder why.

Now, it’s never been easier to produce, order, use and dispose of clothing at a blistering speed far beyond rates sustainable for the planet and often well outside of ethical boundaries for worker health or pay. And with dwindling access to home economics-style classes in schools and communities, fewer and fewer people are familiar with the ins and outs of clothing repair and textile upcycling.

The Patchwork Initiative, a recent addition to CSU and the Fort Collins community, is looking to change this one thread at a time.

The Patchwork is a student-led clothing sustainability collaborative spearheaded by the SoGES Student Sustainability Center (SSC), the Department of Design and Merchandising (DM) and the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising at CSU, with grant support from the President’s Sustainability Commission.

Designed with the goals of reducing clothing consumption and growing a culture of clothing restoration, the project was built off the foundations laid by the SSC’s previous director, Sara VanHatten, and Design and Merchandising associate professor Sonali Diddi.

Now, current SSC Director and The Patchwork Initiative member Sam Moccia is hoping to stitch the initiative permanently into the fabric of CSU and the community, with a team of multiple distinguished and passionate design students at the helm.

“Carrying the torch of sustainability projects, developed by students who’ve come before us, is the only way actual change happens over time,” said Moccia. “It’s what the Student Sustainability Center was created to do, so it’s exciting to build a project like this, especially with the incredible team members we have.”

The Patchwork Initiative shows and teaches people how to preserve clothing.

The Avenir Museum joins the cause

Many of those core members appeared alongside 20 or so CSU students for a special event in April hosted by The Patchwork Initiative’s newest partner, CSU’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising. Students and team members gathered around draped tables where a half dozen objects of historic apparel from the past 150 years awaited careful, white-gloved examination.

Students listened as museum director Doreen Beard shared details about the time period of each object, and how the repeated mending and the alterations that were visible spoke to a different era and understanding about making your clothing last longer. The historic apparel presented on the tables illustrated earlier concepts of practicality and economy in a day before the word ‘sustainability’ would have been applied or understood in today’s sense.

“There was a time even well into the 20th century when you invested in your clothing, even when the original cost was humble, and you made your clothes last by mending them instead of replacing them for only minor wear-and-tear. People were clever and adept with sewing skills (or knew someone else who was) and they could make repeated alterations of the same piece of apparel … perhaps for yourself, perhaps to remake the piece entirely into something new for another person,” Beard said.

Over the course of the 2022 spring semester, The Patchwork Initiative (TPI) has grown rapidly in team size, now boasting a core team of seven primarily DM students and close partnerships with CSU’s Department of DM and the Avenir. Together, they’ve run a half-dozen mending workshops with more than 100 cumulative hours of clothing repair education.

Seen meticulously leading mending workshops is Caelan Chamberlain, a sophomore in DM and TPI’s workshop coordinator. Chamberlain worked tirelessly to develop, test and hone the project’s mending workshops throughout the semester.

“I hope the Patchwork can help the community by teaching and providing resources to mend” said Chamberlain, pointing to something she sees as essential for lowering the amount of clothing waste in the area and “changing people’s mindset about clothing reuse.”

The Patchwork Initiative shows and teaches people how to preserve clothing.

Clothing repairs during Earth Week

Recently, TPI was at CSU’s Earth Week fair with sewing machines in hand, connecting with students and running clothing repairs. They also organized this year’s community mending workshop at the annual Earth Day Fort Collins, where the team made their first purely community-facing appearance.

Kate Ulibarri, a junior in DM and TPI’s communications coordinator, is excited for what comes next.

“I wanna see this reach many people out in the communities,” she said.“Being able to host more social events and include companies or locations in Fort Collins that are not really recognized makes our efforts feel worthwhile.”

Community and campus response to TPI’s events has been overwhelmingly positive, with the initiative filling a long-needed niche.

But despite TPI’s sudden presence, Spring 2022 served mainly as a testing period for the project. Its work officially begins in Fall 2022, and plans include continuing apparel repair workshops, expanding social events and increasing educational opportunities for students and the community.

For more information on TPI, follow the team on instagram @thepatchworkinitative and subscribe to the mailing list here.

Anyone with questions or project inquiries can contact Moccia at