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  • Writer's picturelauralouisemolloy

Learning to crochet is ending gen-z's fast fashion dependency

This piece was originally published in Sister Magazine's 'Self Issue', available here.

Fast fashion has become completely integral to the adolescent experience of today. First pay cheques are exchanged for pink plastic-wrapped crop tops, smuggled from the postman to wardrobe in a rite-of-passage dodging of parental judgement. Club attire is ordered in bulk, only to be retired on the same day as its Instagram debut, destined for a fleeting lifespan. But increasingly, the generation that forged the success of the fast fashion industry is rejecting it, with 2020’s lockdowns an unlikely opportunity for many to contemplate their role in exploitation and overconsumption, through the age-old craft of crochet.

A cataclysm of culture, crochet married lockdown boredom with brewing climate activism. Perhaps this is partly down to its aesthetic versatility, with garments stitched to an exact body shape, complete with gaping holes offering glimpses of flesh. Or taking the warm and practical route, with bulky sweater vests built to withstand a British winter. But unlike knitting, crochet cannot be machine replicated, meaning every creation is representative of hours of perfected skill — every loop a mark of human, handmade effort. And, as crochet trickled into the trend cycle, casual hobbyists were suddenly met with a stark new understanding of the fast fashion industry. Now, a trend born from isolation has instilled more than a long-lasting image in lookbooks and could be a real incentive to change how we experience fashion.

Cruelly dubbed as a ‘grandma hobby’, crochet has undergone a transformative comeback in the past two years. It’s cropped up everywhere from runways to K-pop music videos, influencer Instagram grids, and inevitably, high street sale racks. Internet creators are at the forefront of this, with TikTok’s #crochettok amassing over 400 million views, and YouTube brimming with teens trading design ideas, encouraging others to DIY their online shopping baskets instead of checking them out. Emma Patterson and Erin Reiko were among the first to capitalise on the newfound popularity of crochet, providing in-depth and accessible lessons on how to transform balls of charity shop yarn into trending silhouettes, on their respective YouTube channels.

Erin’s motivation stemmed from the lack of tutorials catering to her style. ​​“When I first began crocheting, YouTube tutorials and communities were very limited. Other than the crochet pamphlets and magazines that they sold in craft stores, I had no real inspiration to help me create,” she says.

Once there were entry-level and accessible resources like these videos available, the trend exploded. But, despite a clear market for pattern-selling, both Emma and Erin share tutorials for free. For Emma, this is fueled by a desire to encourage others to create a waste-free wardrobe that reduces consumption without sacrificing seasonal trends. “Say cardigans are in style. You make your cardigan, then summertime comes around and everyone's wearing halter dresses. Unravel that guy and you make him into a halter dress. And then, when Christmas comes back around, you make that back into a cardigan,” she says.

This marks a shift in attitude for a generation raised to simply dispose of unwanted clothing. In the past ten years, clothing production has doubled, while utilisation is on the decline. Crochet provides a welcome respite; creators spend a long time on individual garments which they wear more often. It’s a stark change in behaviour for a generation who came of age during the fast fashion boom.

Crocheter Khamisha Khan (@mishcrochet on Instagram) admits that prior to learning the craft, she “never saw the problem” with ordering cheap clothes online, something that has since changed. “I realised the devastating effects that fast fashion has on not only the environment, but on the workers in the sweatshops and factories, and the unethical conditions people have been subjected to just for our overconsumption.”

Emma concurs, hoping that her audience will gain the same understanding of micro-trend culture as she has, saying “Crochet takes a lot of time and by the time you're done making it, the trend is gone.”

This acceleration of the trend cycle warps attitudes towards clothing in the same way diet culture attempts to erase the cultural and community significance of food. Constant sale items that reveal loose threads after one wash begin to create the perception that clothing is disposable, rather than a physical memento of our most cherished memories, or an embodiment of our personalities.

The result? 350,000 tonnes of clothing end up in landfill every year in the UK. For Aja Barber, author of ‘Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism’ this is down to ignorance. "Consumerism is what we're trained to do in our society and we consider it part of our identity, even without understanding why we do. Many refuse to quantify the harm because it doesn't harm them directly. If it did, they'd probably look at it differently,” she says.

The ability for young people to create garments that exist as a reflection of their personalities has introduced a deeper relationship to clothing, with the hours of effort to create overriding the stigma behind posting the same outfit twice. According to Aja, the correlation between crochet and fast fashion awareness is no coincidence.

“It's knowing what sort of labour goes into a garment that changes how we view some of the more exploitative prices we see in today's market. For so long, many of us didn't know what clothing should be priced at. But we know what our own labour is worth and so understanding simple garment construction can really be a game-changer,” Aja says.

Providing insight into garment construction is Evvia Gonzales. Finding solace in stitching amid initial lockdown restrictions, Evvia began sharing her crochet creations on her Instagram page @loupystudio. Since, she's culminated a loyal audience of over 30K keen to see her vibrant, freehand pieces, composed of sustainable materials.

“It's probably a bit of a rebel against fast fashion and having to pay these huge corporations for the privilege of looking on trend,“ Evvia says, explaining her theory behind the flock of newbies to the hobby in the past two years.

Despite their high fashion quality, Evvia’s crochet masterpieces are created from the corner seat of her local pub, where she’s regularly sighted among pints and piles of orange mohair, sourced from endless eBay scouring. For Evvia, this transparency in her process is key in de-anonymising clothing creation. “​​Growing up I thought most of my clothes were made by machine. Getting more to grips with this idea that it is a craft has changed my mindset.”

Crucially, Evvia’s projects are reincarnated from ageing garments, often mohair sweaters from charity shops unravelled to fulfil a new purpose as flesh-exposing crop tops or fuzzy balaclavas.

“Now I'm definitely able to stop myself from getting sucked into trends and just focus on the quality of material instead, and how long it lasts and functions,” she says. But as the influx of crochet hobbyists infiltrates the trend cycle, inevitably fast fashion retailers race to release their own versions, with drastically low price tags in tow.

For Evvia, spotting crochet on the high street was a sobering reality. “It's so rough to see something being sold for £10 that you know would've taken eight hours. It really shows how corrupt and awful fast fashion is. With sewing, it's a bit of a mystery, you don't really know how much was by machine, but with crochet, it's obvious that it was made by a person.”

This newfound awareness has made a mark on the crochet community, with Erin in agreement. “Now when I come across an article of clothing that I admire, my first thought is how I can recreate that with my own hands.”

If crochet is here to stay, it could be a crucial step in mass recognition of the realities of fast fashion. Already, the industry’s attempts to keep up with trends by including crochet in their collections may have had an adverse impact on many of their target consumers.

And for Aja, this is reason enough to be hopeful. “Perhaps we'll think deeper about some of the prices we see on the high street and whether that's actually a fair price for labour done by other humans.”

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