The explosion of the DIY movement
By Monica Watson
It’s a sunny afternoon and West State Street is busy when I walk into Tuff Soul, local clothing store owned by Autumn Newell. The store is bright and organic, with an eclectic décorand funky music playing in the background. It carries vintage, local designers and reconstructed clothes. An elegant vintage lace dress recalls the style of Audrey Hepburn. Reconstructed shirts by Dee Lux, a local designer, give a rock and roll vibe. Through their support of independent designers, Tuff Soul represents the phenomenon of the recent DIY movement.
Do-it-yourself, or DIY, has seen a growing interest among consumers in the past few years. With support from online communities and local retailers, DIY has become an emerging force in the fashion industry.
Some choose a DIY lifestyle to be independent from the practices of big business. While a fashion design major, Newell became discouraged by the fashion industry. She broke away after seeing the unfair working conditions, chemical and textile waste, and the treatment of people who may not be the industry’s preferred size.
Newell also thought the throwaway culture of “buying something for $2.99 at Old Navy and then throwing it away the next season” as a disgrace.
An article in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal discussed the effects of “fast fashion,” or clothes that, like fast food, are made quickly and cheaply. The clothes are so cheap that people are able to buy as much as they want without having to worry about throwing out the product or it getting ruined. This takes a heavy toll on the environment because demands for man-made fibers like polyester have nearly doubled in the past 15 years. According to the article, the process of creating polyester, which is made from petroleum, uses a mass amount of energy. The process also requires large amounts of crude oil and releases dangerous by-products such as “volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride.” Not to mention the chemicals from the wastewater produced during the manufacturing process.
Recently, there has been a surge in the number of people who want to have a say in how their clothes are made. These people have turned to DIY to revitalize their wardrobes. ThreadBanger, a YouTube channel and online community, has responded to and fueled this new interest. The channel has over 28,000 subscribers and 224 videos with instructions on how to turn everyday clothes into personalized fashion. One tutorial provided by ThreadBanger showed an easy and inexpensive way to get tinted, distressed jeans. The same jeans could cost over $90 and be made with harmful chemicals by people paid next to nothing in medically and physically dangerous jobs. There is even a demo on making your own flip-flops out of an old yoga mat instead of relying on the mass-produced, plastic nightmare of Old Navy’s colorful line. ThreadBangers’ tutorials range from easy introductory level projects to difficult couture. Instead of buying something new to follow a trend, or even buying new fabric to create clothes, the channel supports using what has already been produced to create much more personal, one-of-a-kind, greener options.
Etsy.com and BuyOlympia.com are two web sites that have inspired DIYers to start selling products and make a living through handmade pieces. There is even an online oath at BuyHandmade.org where almost 38,000 people have pledged to buy handmade and encourage others to do the same for them. Craftster.org is another online community where crafters and DIYers can discuss projects and exchange tips and ideas. BurdaStyle.com is an open-source sewing site that offers many free or inexpensive printable patterns and projects along with a community like the ones offered at Craftser and ThreadBanger’s Web page. Burda has patterns for party dresses, accessories, stuffed animals and everything that any consumer could want. These online resources make it easier for consumers to create handmade products and claim independence from the wasteful fashion industry.
Mainstream culture has begun to find more eco-friendly options for fashion due to cultural demand. Urban Outfitters has the Urban Renewal line of clothes where each item is one-of-a-kind and handmade from vintage, surplus materials and deadstock, or unworn vintage. Surprisingly, the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton is Wal-Mart, which offers several organic lines of clothes and bedding. Haute couture is even going green, with designers like Versace turning to plant-based dyes such as Ingeo, which is made from corn by-products.
Locally, there are options for aspiring DIY-ers through Sew Green, a not-for-profit organization in Ithaca coordinated by Wendy Skinner at the Women’s Community Building on 100 W. Seneca St. According to Sew Green’s Web site, the program “promotes sustainability through the creative reuse of fabric, fiber and fashion, as well as responsible consumerism and a rediscovery of self-reliant skills.” Sew Green offers classes each month for beginner sewers and special classes for more advanced DIYers. The organization also works to stay sustainable by reusing and conserving already-made materials while not relying on environmentally harmful textiles. On April 3, Sew Green is hosting a fashion and gallery show at the Community School of Music and Arts that will showcase the reuse of fabrics and fiber art. The show is themed “Respect for our planet, its workers, and our independent creative abilities.”
Skinner sees the recent rise in DIY as a call from consumers for more creativity and socially- and environmentally-responsible options when it comes to fashion.
“I think, in part, it’s about declaring fashion independence,” she said. “People are tired of being fed by retail stores what they’re supposed to be wearing; they’re interested in being more creative and taking more control over their appearance. They get to have more fun with clothes, and the end result is fabulous. It’s also easier on the environment.”
Heidi Brown, a 23-year-old Ithaca resident, began making clothes at a young age when she and her friends made their own version of Jenco jeans in sixth grade. Brown has continued to alter clothes since then. She now has her own line of clothes under the name Heidala, sold online at Etsy.com and in stores such as Tuff Soul. She said that she also thinks people are starting to catch on to DIY because of financial restraints. She is excited to see how the movement progresses.
“I think people are starting to see that they can do this, or people aren’t willing to pay anymore because of the economy,” she said. “I like to see people making their own things. I don’t like the mass-marketed, made-in-sweatshops and big-business cliché.”
With hard economic times falling on the shoulders of people across the globe, people are more frugal about the way they spend their money. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo discussed the somber feeling of the fashion industry. With 7.6 percent of Americans out of work, $3,000 ball gowns are not in high demand. Magazines are touting new “bargain” buys, cheaply-made clothes at cheap prices. Instead, some consumers are turning to reconstructing their old clothes or buying classic, well-made handcrafted clothes that will last. DIY is a way to update outdated clothes to match current trends or create your own couture. Skinner calls DIY “the new thrift.”
“It’s being thrifty without pinching pennies; by deciding how to spend your money and making wise choices,” she said. “I’d rather see you buy a fabulous wool coat that will last you for years than 20 items you’re going to leave on the floor of your dorm room when you go home in the spring. It’s still about having fun with fashion and shopping to a certain extent, but it’s about really thinking about what you’re doing with your money without feeding into a system that contributes to possible mistreatment of workers and environmental destruction for a very petty reason.”
Newell sees DIY as a way for consumers to celebrate fashion while also taking a step back to the days where clothes were meant to last.
“I never want to give up fashion,” she said. “Even when I’m dead broke I’ll still go to the Salvation Army and buy something because it makes me feel good. I think that in hard times, people become more creative. People are looking at what they’ve got and saying, ‘How can I make this better?’ I think DIY will force the industry to move back to the traditional way of manufacturing where there are tailors and things are custom-made because stuff like that lasts longer.”
Monica Watson is a freshman English major. E-mail her at email@example.com.