What Happens to “Social Media Makes”?

I just read this piece on the Guardian website by Caryn Franklin who is my all-time fashion writing hero (no, not just because I worshipped her on the Clothes Show in my 80s youth).

The piece is primarily about the phenomenon plaguing online clothing retailers of “snap and send back” whereby shoppers eager to maintain an up-to-the-minute social media profile order the latest fashions, photograph themselves wearing said outfit to post online (mostly Instagram) using the hashtag #ootd (Outfit Of The Day) and then promptly return the whole outfit.

However, it got me thinking about how this “OOTD” phenomenon has an influence in our world of handmade fashion.

Confession time:

  1. I spend a lot of time on social media.
  2. I go through phases of making lots of clothes.

Clarification time:

  1. I don’t post many selfies on social media, even though they’re without exception, always the most popular posts. I’m just not that comfortable in front of the camera.
  2. The majority of the clothes I make are samples for my patterns and books so they’re used a lot in my teaching. I rarely get time to make clothes purely for the joy of making something for myself.

As I’m online so much, I have noticed over recent years that some makers post pictures of more handmade clothes than it’s surely possible to wear more than once (let alone find room to store).

What actually happens to these “social media made” clothes?

And….

Why is under-use (ie. wearing just a handful of times) criticised in fashion and RTW clothing, but seems to be considered acceptable in handmade fashion?

Is it just me that’s noticed this?  Am I noticing something that’s not even there??  I’d love to know what you think.

31 responses to “What Happens to “Social Media Makes”?

  1. Pingback: August MIY Maker – Vote Now! | Wendy Ward

  2. Jenny / ig: silverbellsandcockleshells

    Hi Wendy
    For me, it’s definitely been an evolving journey. When I was very new to sewing, I made a few things I hardly wear and I definitely bought cheap unethical fabric. Now I tend to buy fabric by buying clothes from charity shops, cutting them up and remaking them and if I buy new yardage I do intend to go to the more ethical sources (that you’ve done such a good job of promoting – thank you!). I also often sew to give away, mainly quilts which I think are more straightforward to donate and there are lots of charities that want them, but still give me the same pleasure in sewing and making as making clothing for me. Maybe a good resource would be a list of organisations that want donated sewing (there are loads: from Battersea with their dog bandanas to hospitals wanting child friendly clothing, to sewing bags for sanitary products to keeping girls in school, to all those collecting quilts).
    I think learning to sew changes your views on fast fashion and I wouldn’t want to criticise anyone else who was where I was when I started.
    Thanks for a really interesting discussion.

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    • Hi Jenny, thanks for taking the time to join in the conversation. I completely agree that learning to sew can change attitudes towards “fast fashion”, I see it a lot in my classes (and have to confess I find it really satisfying when I see it happen).
      I don’t think we should criticise anyone’s choices, but I hope anyone who starts to sew and enjoys it, quickly sees the connections and the impacts their decisions have and how they could make a change.
      I agree that craft sewing offers more opportunities to sew for others, it’s hard to sew clothes to give away as clothing is such a personal choice and in general, people tend to value clothes very little.
      The conversations generated in the comments on this post have inspired me a lot and my head is now a-buzz with small solutions which I’m hoping to start working on soon.
      I’m also really pleased to hear you’ve found my post on sustainable fabrics useful, for anyone reading who hasn’t seen it, here it is: https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/where-to-buy-sustainable-fabrics/
      I’ve also previously written about those links between sewing and ethical fashion: https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/does-sustainable-sewing-lead-to-ethical-fashion/

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  3. Hi Sara, thanks for taking the time to post such a thoughtful response. You’re right that it’s hard to have an opinion, especially one that encourages us all to question our own actions and motivations. I totally get the different reasons why people sew and the wide disparity of resources available to people. For what it’s worth, I couldn’t afford to write my books without the extremely generous help I’ve had from fabric companies. I did buy all of the fabrics for my 1st 2 books and those bills on top of the bills for grading my patterns meant that I had almost nothing of my advance left for myself!

    We all have to make decisions based on our own circumstances and based on the values that we believe are most important. There are plenty of great fabric companies out there doing things better (I wrote a post about that too: https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/where-to-buy-sustainable-fabrics/) and I like to support them whenever I’m able. On the upside I also think that working with limited resources (ie. recycled / reused) can make us more creative. I see it in myself too the things I’ve made when the sky’s been the limit and I can use any resources I want, the results haven’t necessarily been better than the things I’ve produced when I’ve had severely limited access to a wider range of materials.

    Are you following Portia’s The Refashioners event? I’ve taken part in previous years and loved it, but sadly wasn’t able to commit myself this time, but if you haven’t seen it yet, I really recommend it: https://makery.co.uk

    Thanks again for joining the conversion :o)

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  4. It’s not just you who’s noticed this! I have also wondered about the way ‘fast’ fashion = bad if it’s been bought, but the same level of rigour doesn’t seem to apply to home-seen clothes. Similarly we are all (rightly) curious about where and how our RTW items are produced, but I don’t hear the same questions being asked about how fabric is manufactured, both in terms of environmental and human cost.

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  5. When I became a sewist I didn’t sign up to a series of political and ethical beliefs. I just wanted to sew my own clothes and share the joy of that because it was fun. But I find that there is an expectation within the sewing community that because we are sewing a garment rather than buying RTW we’re automatically against ‘fast fashion’. I am not, and I am not keen on being judged by others for enjoying expressing myself through a variety of clothes whether these are RTW or handmade.
    I have big concerns about the ethics of production and mass consumption but to me these won’t be changed until we change the economic system. Capitalism only works by creating ever increasing markets and if you work in a small business you are part of that too – you (and I mean ‘you’ in general terms) rely on consumers to buy your books/fabric/patterns.
    I think it’s unfair to judge a single form of consumption as unethical or ‘foolish’ ‘wasteful’ when ever day we all make many choices which dramatically affect our own carbon footprint. Do you eat meat? Do you fly? These are all decisions that heavily impact how much we consume/our impact on the planet and the only person we should be having to justify our decisions to is ourselves.
    I don’t have children and no matter how many garments I sew my carbon footprint will remain smaller than someone who has chosen that path.
    I hope this brings another perspective to the conversation.

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    • Thanks for joining in the conversation Jay! As I’ve replied to other comments – I’m definitely not judging anyone in my post, simply noticing trends and asking questions in the hope of starting a conversation, learning more and maybe coming up with some new ideas. I also don’t assume that anyone who sews has any particular beliefs, we all sew for very different reasons and I see that all the time among the students I teach.

      As for the actions of individuals having the power to change things, I absolutely disagree with you, things can often change as a result of people power. If people didn’t care about the impact of the fashion industry sustainable brands such as People Tree wouldn’t exist as no-one would want to buy what they made. The public outrage about the Rana Plaza disaster moved some big fashion brands to improve their ways of working (https://cleanclothes.org/resources/publications/five-years-since-the-rana-plaza-collapse-what-has-happened-in-the-field-of-prevention-and-remedy/view) arguably nowhere near enough, but it’s a start.

      I also disagree with your comment about small business being part of the problem – small businesses are often those who challenge the status quo and if they are run by people with an ethical mindset are small and flexible enough to make more ethical and sustainable choices in how they operate their businesses than big multi-nationals. We all need to earn a living (unless you’re lucky enough to have private wealth) and I made a deliberate decision to leave the fashion industry exactly because I loathed many of the ways in which it worked and I no longer wanted to be a part of it. I like to think that what I do now is primarily education, not just in teaching people the hows of making their own clothes but also the whys. I’m far happier doing what I do than helping a big multi-national ruin the world.

      Again, I repeat that I am judging no-one in this post and even though intrinsic in that is that I also don’t feel the need to justify my own actions as I’m comfortable in them, to directly answer your questions: no I don’t eat meat, I last flew in 2009, I walk most places when I travel locally, I shop locally as much as possible and I also don’t have children which I agree, are the greatest drain possible on the planet. However, if someone doesn’t have them, who will look after us in our old age?? I thankful that someone is happy to have them!

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  6. Hi Wendy, late to the conversation on this one although I did read the post awhile ago. My starting point was similar to yours, but after a year of banging on about sustainability, my conclusion is that people make stuff for all sorts of reasons and there’s no right or wrong answer. However given the big response to a recent blog post I wrote on sewing and fear of missing out, it seems like social media is indeed fuelling potential overconsumption. What I would like to see is a change in what seems to be a common attitude that by making clothes yourself you exempt yourself from fast fashion. Yes you have removed the garment worker aspect but forgotten the rest of the supply chain. To me you should also be considering that fabric production requires resources – and making your purchasing decisions with that in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for joining in Kate, I know this is a subject close to both our hearts. Your post (and the comments) are fascinating and not that surprising to me. We’re talking about the same things really aren’t we? It’s a tough one as it’s often so tangled up with the emotions connected with making and creativity, however, I don’t think that alone should absolve people from being aware of what definitely seems to be a real problem (albeit not huge on the scale of world issues). Like you say (and I said in an earlier comment), if we’re thinking coldly and rationally about the problem of over-consumption and under-use in clothing, be that RTW or handmade, the only thing that’s cut out by the home dressmaker is the garment factory, there’s still the issue of the fabrics and the proliferation of synthetic fabrics. I’d also argue that one of the proposed solutions of donating unworn handmade clothing to charity could be problematic as it’s likely to be tailored to the individual maker’s proportions rather than a standard size and the making could be much poorer quality than some of the RTW clothes donated to charity. It also doesn’t really change that 1st world mindset of – well, if I don’t wear/use/need it I can just give it away for someone else to deal with. As I did my whole MA about textile recycling I’m definitely going to do some more work on this subject as my brain is now buzzing with ideas!! I’ve made a small start today on Instagram with a hashtag to celebrate makers’ most worn garments #mostwornmakes I’m thinking it could be a nice thing to do at the changing of the seasons.

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  7. I think first we have to ask why some people make so many clothes. If they love making, and the process makes them happy, or if they’re making lots of clothes for family and friends, good on them. If it’s purely to garner more likes on social media, then yes, that’s a worrying trend – but perhaps they’re hoping to make new friends, or to become a pattern designer themselves one day, so a big social media presence is important to them? I do worry about the waste fabric that sewists create, but I usually tell myself that it’s less than we would generate if we were all fast fashion shopaholics. I hope?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you Janet that there are loads of great reasons for being a prolific maker. I’m not so convinced that the waste fabric generated by sewists is less than that from fast fashion. It’s still fabric, often poor quality, often synthetic fibres (some of which are hard to recycle and won’t degrade) and made in the same (often) environmentally damaging ways as the fabrics used in fast fashion. Slower sewing – paying attention to the making process rather than racing to the finish, taking the time to make pieces we know will get lots of wear and being more interested in where our fabrics come from might be some of the things we could all be thinking more about.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Absolutely agree – I found when I went back to making my own clothes again, I was making more than I needed, and while I dont sew that fast, the novelty of the new sew becoming akin to ‘fast fashion’ – which was what I was trying to avoid.
    I do also enjoy sewing – so it is a bit of a conundrum.
    While I dont sew for other people, I given some samples of vintage patterns makes to my hairdresser (as she runs a vintage clothing store).
    I also donated my remakes and upcycled sews to the local charity shop for them to sell in fashion revolution week this year. It seems to have worked well as I used unsaleable donated denim which was due for landfill. I am now thinking of doing the same for 2019 fashion revolution week but concentrating on knits……

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    • You’re right, it’s such a conundrum. One of the solutions I’m desperate to get started on is to make more home textiles. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll have a place of my own to furnish and I’d just love to make all the curtains, cushions, throws, etc and get really creative with them, I’ve got more than enough ideas to keep me busy for years! I’ve also often wondered if a bit of slow-er sewing could be the answer too – a bit of hand sewing and patchwork….

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  9. I love making and ave usually got something on the go. But it’s not always for me. When I am sewing for myself I try to fill the gaps in my wardrobe. I’ll often refashion something if it doesn’t work first time. Currently changing up a Cambie dress that is just not me. My least worn items tend to special occasion wear. I have about 7 different outfits and I just don’t go out that much. But I keep them and wear on rotation. Periodically I have a clothes swap. I pick up pairs of jeans and my friends get handmade dresses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your approach sounds spookily similar to my own. I enjoy making clothes for people that I know will appreciate them. That kind of making can satisfy the creative urge on a whole different level. Usually when I’m designing new patterns they’re based on gaps I have in my own wardrobe, selfish maybe, but hey – perk of the job!!

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  10. I agree with your thinking. I love making and really only make for myself but it’s really easy to churn out item after item just to satisfy that desire to create when I don’t really need anything. Plus there’s always the urge to buy more fabric which is surely just the same as binge buying rtw clothes.
    I try to justify my purchases because the making gives me pleasure as well as the wearing but I’m not always sure if this is right.
    I suppose people who blog or have a significant following on social media have to keep their viewers and readers happy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re absolutely right to feel good about the making as well as the wearing Rachel, me too and otherwise, what’s the point?! I think some interesting ideas are coming from this discussion – the creative challenge of re-using fabric and recycling clothes and maybe there could be some good (ironically) social media challenges in that and in celebrating “most-worn” garments. Perhaps I could make it a focus for next year’s MIY March…?

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  11. I’m not with you on this one Wendy sorry lovely. We all for different reasons. I’d much rather see people making these days than wearing the same old high street stuff. The reason I say this is that from my own experience creativity has been a survival tool for extremely difficult life circumstances. We just can never assume anything. I definitely agree with you on the too much stuff issue generally but making is definitely the way forward, making from all the used clothing is the best thing. I sort of get my kicks from that X

    Liked by 2 people

    • And what a great way to get your kicks, I’m all for a bit of recycling, best of all – recycling those unworn makes!! And I absolutely LOVED what you did with that old band t-shirt by revamping it into a Peak T-shirt recently. I certainly wouldn’t ever knock the power of creativity on people’s lives but it does break my heart a bit to think of piles of unworn handmade clothes :o( it’s a shame they can’t somehow be displayed as “art” or maybe we all need to get more into patchwork. I just don’t understand how under-use seems to be so acceptable, verging on encouraged, in the world of handmade fashion. Making from recycled clothing is much more of a creative challenge so a big hooray for you :o) X

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah thanks Wendy, I’ve found my perfect t-shirt pattern in the Peak! I don’t know about you but I remember having a handful of clothes when I was a teen? stuff that I wore on heavy rotation but now I certainly have more than I truly need. I’m aiming to get back to that appreciation of less stuff but more meaningful making. The wear once and take it back culture surrounding social media is a bit like kids playing dressing up, it may even filter through that way into the sewing community too for a sort of show and tell. I’ve been pondering on it quietly this afternoon and think that what you say is right. There’s just too much stuff discarded and I see more remaking going on these days than a few years ago, that pleases me greatly and hope it will become ingrained into the practices of fellow makers soon so we can all be a bit more thoughtful about what we’re doing. I try to re-evaluate things I make and if they aren’t fitting in then I make them again into something else which admittedly isn’t everyone’s cuppa and I can look costumey sometimes but that’s just my niche taste 😀 Your idea about making those discards into art is fab and patchworking too. Enjoy the rest of your weekend X

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      • Thanks for taking the time to reply Josie. The more I think about this subject, the more I’m realising what a conundrum it is, I think in part because it messily entwines a few conflicting subjects: the right for us all to express our creativity / the part creativity plays in mental health / issues of sustainability and the environment. This subject seems to be right in that dreaded bermuda triangle where emotions clash with rational thinking. I definitely feel that because the sewing community is generally so positive and nurturing that whenever people raise a subject that’s maybe considered “not so nice to think about” that they can get a little shouted down. I really think that there’s a common idea that making our own clothes elevates us to some higher level of saving the planet, as we tell ourselves that we’re consuming less and better simply by virtue of making it ourselves. I suppose I’m playing devil’s advocate by challenging that accepted wisdom. Yes, I think if we sew with sustainably sourced fabrics, work with repurposed textiles and get creative with refashioning, make for others and know that the things we make will get plenty of use then we can definitely say that making is better than buying and plenty of us do that. I love that you’re a champion of re-making and re-working and hey, who wants to look like everyone else?! Thanks so much for the time you’ve taken to add such thoughtful contributions to this discussion. All the comments on this post have definitely made me want to think / write / do more on this subject so hooray for open honest discussion!! I now have lots of recycling / patchwork / home sewing plans in my head. My MA was an exploration into ways to recycle textiles and I finished that 14 years ago, but it’s feeling like a good time to revisit it! Happy weekend to you too :o) xx

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t think we should make judgements about other people’s sewing habits. Making clothes is my hobby and I probably make about 10 items a month, some of which are for my daughters and husband. Yes I do have alot of clothes; but I don’t drink alcohol, drive a car, travel on planes and I’m vegetarian. Some of the vloggers who sew lots of clothes are doing this for a living and will donate to charity or sell on ebay. Anyone who feels the need to make a judgement about other people’s sewing output should take a long hard look at their own impact on the plannet – let he who is without sin cast the first stone

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sarah, it’s a discussion, it’s an interesting subject, it’s a real problem. I’m not judging anyone, merely passing an opinion and noticing a wider trend in the sewing community that I had wondered if other’s had noticed and it seems I’m not the only one and an interesting discussion is being had. Don’t try to close down the conversation as that’s how knowledge progresses – through a civilised exchange of thoughts and ideas.

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      • Sarah Guthrie

        Hi Wendy, thankyou for your reply, it’s a subject that interests me, which is why I read your blog post and left a comment.. I suppose it’s a sensitive issue for people who are sewing to improve their mental health are now starting to feel guilty about their hobby. I didn’t find anything in your blog post judgemental, but certainly have read comments from people who seem to show very little understanding of the complexities of the issue. Since reading your blog post I’ve also heard the subject discussed on the Stitcher’s Brew podcast with guests that are popular vloggers, so clearly it’s a subject that’s starting to grab attention. Like so many things in the world, there are no quick solutions or easy answers

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I certainly had noticed that there are sewist-social media aficionados who seem to be like a mini garment factory pumping out clothing at such a pace as to impress even the Everready bunny. I too wondered how they could possibly wear/use/store all those clothes by a year’s end, never mind over a period of several years.

    I have committed to the 2018RTWFAST which has nudged me to make more (still at about 1 – 2 garments a month) things than I might have if I hadn’t committed myself to this challenge. Even so, I can only use/store so many garments! When I think about the fact I’ll have added about 25 garments to my wardrobe by the end of this year, I’m already feeling a little swamped. Even this rate is not realistically sustainable. One per month is the maximum is you’re not planning on culling your closet every six months which is incredibly wasteful and foolish.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, it’s a conundrum!! The storage issue is a really big thing for me, I’m physically reaching the limit of making more stuff for me as there’s nowhere to put it :o( I like the sound of the RTW fast though – sounds like a great motivation for making everyday well used items.

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  14. Beginners who are excited and chronic pattern testers seem, to me, to do this most. I know when I started sewing I was sewing a ton trying to figure out what my style was. Now I’m prepping to purge/donate (because I saved most of them) and to make more of the things that come out of the wash every week. I also live where there are 4 seasons so I have to sew layering/transitional pieces, full blown winter and hotter than hell summer pieces too.

    That being said, my output is pretty small 1-3 pieces a month if that. The rising costs of sewing may see a change in the more is more mentality too.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I like your approach Alex – I’m a big fan of the “price per wear” approach and love to make things that I know I’ll be reaching for on a regular basis. Seasonal weather makes the sewing interesting too – it’s good to stretch your skills from coats to bikinis!!
      I’ve heard others talk about donating makes they don’t wear to charity too, my worry with this approach (and I’m totally not saying that this specifically applies to you!) is how re-saleable are handmade clothes that might be: a) tailored to fit our own particular body shapes rather than a standard dress size, or b) clothes from early in a maker’s journey that might not be very well made and so considered poor quality by those shopping in charity shops? Again, just to reiterate, this last comment is not directed at you personally, just my continuing thoughts on the subject!!

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  15. I have often wondered this very thing. I don’t see how some sewists produce a couple of garments a week without a lot of needless and downright wasteful sewing.

    Liked by 2 people

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