Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Written by Abigail Doan

n the ongoing quest to refine the materials and methods of sustainable style and the underpinnings of eco fashion, one must not overlook another persistent force fueling the democratization of contemporary fashion – DIY fashion. For some, the DIY realm rather frightfully necessitates that one be super crafty and adept with sewing kits and bolts of fabric in order to excel, but for others the DIY spirit is merely a matter of learning how to be clever, resourceful and often ritual-like in one’s examination of how to wear and don things more sustainably.

Handmade Nation Graphic

I am reminded of the early days of DIY fashion and the brilliant, groundbreaking blog, fiftyRX3 created in 2005 by Jill Danyelle. For anyone who does not know about Jill’s creative foray into the depths of sustainability and sartorial innovation, this is a primer for all fashion blogging that followed. Created as a 365-day project ‘documenting (Jill’s) goal to average fifty-percent sustainability in the clothing that (she) wore for a year’, the reuse, reduce, recycle mantra was further personalized by the author’s clever and artistic interpretations of ‘the true substance of style’. The Uniform Project of 2009 further plays with this admirable goal, adding an element of theatricality to the multitude of ways that accessories can add mileage to the most basic, covetable garment.

Jill Danyelle fiftyRX3

Perhaps one of the most empowering elements of the DIY fashion movement, particularly in regards to eco fashion, is the practice of thriftiness and trash-to-treasure wizardry. With prospects like e-bay, the increasingly popular swapping and swishing parties, and local flea markets to comb through, a resuscitated “objet d'art”, lovingly rescued from the bin or some one else’s closet, becomes a rewarding gem of a find. Closing the loop on ownership and the possibilities of fashion resuscitation seems to bring us closer to the materiality of our lives and our relationship to the life and death of our garments.

Sublime Stitching Templates

One of my favorite fashion/design blogs to address our day-to-day consumption habits and the upcycling possibilities that might be crafted in our domestic sphere is Swyyne. Founded by the savvy fashion editor and writer Yuka Yoneda, Swynne (pronounced ‘swine’), dishes up the ‘true confessions of a recovering gluttonness’ via an examination of the clothing flotsam and fashion cravings of contemporary life, smartly satiated by Yuka’s DIY recycling projects, ‘freecycle Fridays’, and some refreshing tongue-in-cheek humor.

YY: It seems like there are always haterade-drinkers trying equate eco-fashion with something that is price-prohibitive or only for the bourgeoisie. To that, I just want to respond by saying "Hey, I just ripped apart this old mumu and sewed it into a supercute A-line minidress for the mere $10 it cost me to buy it at a thrift shop and about $20 worth of elbow grease. Isn't that eco-fashion that is both cheap and green?" And I think there are plenty of other DIYers out there who will back me up - just check out

The Uniform Project

In many ways, the DIY movement is eco-fashion at its realest. It's the gritty underbelly of eco-fashion that neither flaunts its organic fabrics nor boasts about its lack of sweatshop labor, because it doesn't need those things to make it environmentally friendly. My "organic fabrics" are old stockings and ripped sweaters and my "fair trade labor" is my own foot on the pedal of my sewing machine in my bedroom. Fashion that you make with your own two hands is proof that you don't need money to participate in the eco-fashion movement.

One of the best ways to get someone to recognize the value of an object is to have them create it with their own two hands. I deconstructed a fabulous floral print dress the other day, figuring it would be simple to put it back together, but it wasn't. It took time, consideration and effort to make it look the way that I wanted it to. And I realized that the construction of the dress was really only one tiny step in producing it from start to finish. What if I had to grow the fibers the cloth was woven from and then paint on the intricate pattern? What if I had to mold the golden button that clasps the collar together or carry the final piece to Asia? All of these thoughts flowed through my mind as I stitched. For me, the act of fabrication bonds me to my creation and infuses me with an appreciation for it and the materials it is made of. Hopefully, that is true for other DIYers, too.” - YY

There is no doubt that the rise of online DIY retailing venues like etsy has fueled a revolution in the handmade aesthetic of handcrafted, hands-on fashion. At perhaps no other time in history have artisans, designers, and new fashion labels been able to create, share, and sell their latest designs as a one-person enterprise via the vast open market of the Internet. The rise of handicraft, fueled in part by Faythe Levine’s hugely popular film, Handmade Nation has also been a grassroots way of reaching out to the community, while also becoming more grounded when times are tough. DIY projects and the communities that support them often soften the blow of challenging times.

Ekovaruhuset Crochet

It is not so much how DIY projects liberate us but perhaps how they bring us together that should be the point of fascination for us all. I am reminded of Jenny Hart’s Sublime Stitching initiative, where embroidery patterns can be easily acquired online, to embellish and humor one’s day and flouncy apron. Threadbanger DIY projects are fun to watch on video, but I for one, am not able to follow their rather complex instructions conveyed at lightening speed. The idea of stitching a cute bumblebee on my lapel, though, somehow seems so fashion-forward in ways that surely have nothing to do with the trendier preoccupations of eco fashion.

My uber-talented friends at The House of Organic and Eko-Lab spend long afternoons conversing together - collaborating, sharing, and discussing - the pros and cons of crafting sustainably for the fashion realm. It’s an attitude that seems to permeate all that they create and market, from free-form crochet collars to the hand-dyed ecouture dresses that they send down the runway. In this instance, DIY becomes DIO (do-it-ourselves) as a new way to bolster the independent labels of fashion craftivity as well as models for sourcing, producing, and marketing one’s unique collections and designs. With more and more venues like The Ethical Fashion Forum’s social networking site as well as open source blogs like Hiphonest popping up , it seems as if DIY strategies are taking on even more democratic dimensions in the effort to cross-pollinate fashion knowledge and skills for all.


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