BurdaStyle readers, a question: Since so many of us live in parts of the world where clothes can be purchased relatively cheaply and few people are forced by economic necessity to make their own, why are we doing it?
I had this conversation with a friend recently. We agreed that there is a growing do-it-yourself crafts movement afoot and wondered what might be fueling it. My friend wisely pointed out that few of us are doing work that actually involves making anything anymore; we’re writing at a computer, or processing numbers, or providing services. It feels good to create something with our own hands. It’s a form of self-expression.
Thinking more about it this week, I began to realize that for me there is also an element of protest in my choice to make my own clothes, of resistance to the way clothing is manufactured in the world today.
It comes out of the awareness that companies generally pursue a strategy of chasing the lowest labor costs they can find — first within the USA, and then wherever in the world they can go. Many have no qualms about outsourcing jobs to countries that use child labor, have weak environmental regulation, are virulently anti-union, and maintain unsafe working conditions. It means they can increase profits faster, which is what corporate stockholders demand.
Outsourcing of jobs in the USA is done without regard to the effects these practices might have on the communities that have watched so many industries move from northern to southern states (where labor was cheaper), and then out of the country entirely. You can see the effects of this everywhere, in nearly every American city that used to rely on private industry for jobs. Many formerly thriving urban centers are today hollowed out, some literally in ruins.
I don’t want to support these practices anymore. Obviously, 100% purity can be difficult to maintain. Sometimes you need a pair of underwear and there’s no other option than to buy something imported from a low-wage country. Or you purchase a few yards of cheap imported cotton knit and you don’t want to know who wove it or under what conditions.
It’s a lot like food. Do you ever wonder how those grapes ended up in your fruit salad, under what conditions they were picked, sorted, and shipped, and by whom? The answer can be alarming.
Clothing manufacturers have, furthermore, branded us to death, marketing their products as symbols of sex, youth, escape — even, paradoxically, anti-consumerism! The message is that if we wear a certain pair of jeans we’ll look like Che Guevara or John Lennon or James Dean.
I don’t want to care what someone may or may not think of me based on my brand of sneakers or underwear or sunglasses. I am not a brand and neither are you.
It can be hard to resist consumer culture and it can be pleasurable to participate. But it’s nice to know that my jeans are originals, made by me, and that just weeks ago my T-shirt was just generic knit yardage on a bolt.
Readers, how about you? Do you sew just to have a great-fitting pair of pants or skirt, or are you also making a statement about who you are and what you believe in?
When you wear your own handiwork, are you hoping simply to blend in or, on some level, are you making a statement of resistance about the status quo?
When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.
“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”