Leah Dolan, CNN
Troy Warren for CNT
They say the devil finds work for idle hands, but after a year of intermittent lockdowns and social starvation, the hobbies many of us have chosen to busy ourselves with are surprisingly wholesome. Lately, there has been a deluge of crafting content on TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram, as crocheting and knitting shed the senior stereotype and emerge as fashion’s newest fad among Gen Z.
A cursory scroll through YouTube reveals hoards of young people clattering a pair of needles together, sharing patterns and newly acquired tricks. Teens and 20-somethings document their creative process, from inspiration through to completion. Affordability is a top priority, with many replicating garments that would otherwise be well out of their price-range. (“Recreating the $1400 cardigan + bandeau that Kendall Jenner wore for $12” reads one video title.) Some content creators will actually teach you to make something, while others simply take you along for the cosy, satisfying ride.
The vlogs are enjoyably chaotic, as the amatuer knitters weave away with abandon, haphazardly modifying patterns through a dramatic dance of trial and error or freestyling altogether. Either way, there is an infectious motivational quality that comes with watching someone finish an ambitious project through dogged perseverance.
The trend is reactive, too. A fun sweater on the right celebrity can send ripples through the community, as demonstrated by the JW Anderson patchwork cardigan Harry Styles sported during a soundcheck for “The Today Show” last February, igniting a TikTok craze. YouTube searches for “Harry Styles cardigan” peaked in August, and the British label even decided to releasetheir own official tutorial on how to DIY the garment.
From pastime to profession
In February, a knitted capsule collection designed by Ella Emhoff — inauguration It-Girl and now a fresh face in fashion — sold out on independent platform Mall NYC within an hour. This week, the step-daughter to Vice President Kamala Harris released a knitwear and crochet collaboration with American designer and vintage enthusiast Batsheva Hay
Knitting’s cousin, crochet, a weaving technique that uses just one hooked needle, has similarly reached dizzying heights with more than 34 million searches on Instagram and a further 2 billion on TikTok. More than just generating a few how-to guides, the current appetite for crocheted pieces has spawned a flurry of small businesses like El’s Crochet, Vaisseau and Fancy Nancy (@els.crochet, @va1sseau and @fancynancy_crochet), selling their wares on Instagram and second-hand platform Depop.
These small-scale operations are often more sustainable too. Limited production capacity has reinstated low-waste business strategies like waitlists, custom or made-to-order pieces, encouraging shoppers to buy with more intention.
The timing couldn’t be better: for many shoppers, sustainability is now itself an incentive to buy. In 2019, data collected from Forbes revealed that 62% of Gen Z preferred to shop from green brands.
Small businesses aren’t the only ones cashing in on the crochet craze; some fast fashion behemoths have developed whole ranges in order to capitalize on the trend. However, low price points have led some shoppers to question the brands’ authenticity and ethics.
“Just a reminder that crochet can’t be done by a machine,” one 21-year-old student from London posted on TikTok. “It has to be made by hand.”
Nancy Roberts-Smith, a 25-year-old from Bristol, UK learned to crochet in April 2020, at the beginning of the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown. What started as a home-spun hobby to while away the hours quickly turned into a popular venture. Roberts-Smith’s crochet brand, Fancy Nancy Crochet, now boasts 18,000 followers on Instagram — but she feels disgruntled when she sees billion-dollar merchants co-opting the look without the focus on sustainable production.
“The amount of hours that go into even small items and the fact (fast-fashion brands) are selling them at crazy low prices means the wage of the garment workers must be pennies,” she said over email. “With so many amazing small crocheter businesses,now you can get something completely customized to you while supporting a small artist, which is so much more worthwhile.”
But the tension between ethical manufacturers and large-scale retailers extends beyond newbie crochet artists on social media. The “craftcore” movement has come at a time when the entire fashion industry is being forced to confront the true cost of overproduction, and customers at home are reevaluating their consumption habits. While eco-conscious clothing still has a long way to go — by 2023 it’s predicted to reach a global value of $8.25 billion, nearly $30 billion less than the expected worth of fast fashion — greener companies are catching up. And, in less than two years, it’s forecast that sustainable fashion will achieve a higher annual growth rate than its mass-market counterparts, signaling that perhaps slow and steady can win the race for a better fashion future.
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