The Genteel
February 28, 2021



I recycle, I buy local, shoot, I'm so averse to over-consumption that the very idea of entering Zara sends me into fits of retail panic. But the whole do-it-yourself movement stresses me out just the same, confounding me because I can't muster up the energy to even try getting on board. Am I the only one?

Given our environmental awareness these days, you'd think our culture - and people like me - would be prime to start thinking about clothes the way we do our reusable grocery bags. With more fashion labels claiming to go green every year, being conscientious about the environment through what we wear is becoming as top of mind as buying organic or sparing the air from pollution. But something is holding us back from taking that next step - the DIY step - making me wonder if the movement toward homemade fashion is as realistic as some might hope.

Frankly My Dear Handmade Craft DIY
Brooklyn Morgan, founder of Frankly, My Dear
repurposes everything from curtains  
to her husband's old clothes.
Source: Frankly, My Dear.

I suppose we weren't always so lazy. Well, I was, and maybe you were too, but our mothers and grandmothers weren't. They whipped up homespun masterpieces before it became more practical - both in terms of money and time - to buy clothes from department stores. And everything could be revived back to life: clothes were handed down through the generations before being woven into carpets, ripped into dusters and twisted into hair curlers. 

But somewhere along the way we changed, shifting from a society of make your own dinner, mow your own lawn, and sew your own threads, to one that outsources tasks so that we can efficiently jam-pack every waking minute. Not only do we expect to get whatever we want, but we expect to get it quickly, with one swipe of a card, click of a mouse, or tap of an iPhone screen. 

I, like most, relish the access and convenience modern society affords, however the consequences - environmental and ethical - of an overly stuff-driven economy are starting to settle in. And, ironically, the lack of personalisation of our "stuff" might just be what drives us to yearn for a return to basics. In an interview with TODAY Style, its editor Bobbie Thomas explained that, "As a culture, we sort of hit overload in the late '90s and early 2000s, with 'fast fashion' stores dominating the scene and the Internet providing instant access to all things style and beauty. And it's of course wonderful for everyone to have these things, but naturally there's been a reaction - we're all craving items that feel personal or special."

And, ironically, the very thing that may have encouraged our mothers and grandmothers to start shopping at department stores in the first place might be exactly what drives us to return to our creative roots.

Not surprisingly, websites like Etsy, one of the world's largest online marketplaces for handmade goods, are thriving thanks to the growth of maverick consumers. The company's goal is to "reconnect producer and consumer, and swing the pendulum back to a time when we bought our bread from the baker, food from the farmer, and shoes from the cobbler." In June 2012, consumers bought over US$62 million worth of items from the sustainable e-commerce site. And if people aren't purchasing, then they're pinning on sites like Pinterest, stockpiling a list of future hypothetical projects that they may or may not ever get around to. So even though many consumers have yet to embrace their crafty capabilities, there seems to be a growing curiosity and appreciation towards quality craftsmanship and an organic construction process. 

Those who do dabble in DIY find that going "homemade" might not actually be quite so daunting after all. Brooklyn Morgan, who began her own up-cycled children's fashion line, Frankly, My Dear, repurposes everything from curtains to vintage athletic tees and her husband's old dress shirts, and believes that making things on one's own isn't just doable, but easy. "With the current technology available to us, learning how to sew and do other trades has become almost a 'no-brainer,'" she says, adding that sewing machines "now can practically run by themselves." 

Not only do we now have instant and free access to tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere, but a whole catalogue of sites and services make finding the answers to our "how to?" questions far simpler than sewing on a button. From Sublime Stitching, which provides "hip embroidery" patterns for "cool crafters," to ThreadBanger's quirky videos "for people who make their own style," you don't just find techniques online, you're also able to find pre-packaged, purchasable creativity too. Morgan adds, "I don't have to drive an hour to my grandmother's house and sit next to her [so that she can] teach me [how] to crochet." 

DIY Sublime Stitching Handmade Craft
Personalised embroidery makes a lovely gift,
whilst also helping to save the environment. 

And the very thing that may have encouraged our mothers and grandmothers to start shopping at department stores in the first place might be exactly what drives us to return to our creative roots. During tough economic times, as our budgets tighten and old clothes literally wear thin, we must consider reinventing and repurposing old pieces, discovering a DIY approach whether we want to or not. Morgan explains, "My grandmother once told me she would put cardboard in her shoes when her soles wore through. Pillowcase dresses were invented as a way to make your child a piece of clothing from an old linen." Indeed, she adds, "out of sacrifice comes creativity."

In the end, it still comes down to finding the desire - that little obstacle that has kept me from actually "doing it myself." Motivation isn't something I can easily acquire with the swipe of a card, click of a mouse, or tap of an iPhone screen. "You have to want to invest in this creative talent - or any - to truly reap the artistic and fashionable benefits," clarifies Morgan. But perhaps as we realise just how doable DIY is, wanting it will become just that much more realistic.



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