Like a lot of people out there, the past few (has it really only been a few?!) months have seen me switch from an analogue to a digitalised life. Without museums, bars, shops and music venues being thriving hubs of creativity anymore, I've sought to fill a cultural and social void with the internet.
Apps such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube were already massive platforms for self-promotion and advertising pre-pandemic, and they have become go-to places to find creative inspiration from like-minded people.
It is on these apps where I’ve encountered a growing movement of craft-based designers, creating collectible, custom and hand-made pieces of clothing and jewellery deeply grounded in an eco-conscious philosophy. Particularly since the 2020-2021 global health crisis has led us to reassess our views on the systems governing public life, this has impacted our approach to the fashion industry. The sudden slowed down pace of life has allowed for a shift in our mindsets, corresponding with a new interest in slow fashion.
Initially drawn in by explosive colours and playful patterns, I decided to unravel (no pun intended!) the story behind the fantasy-abounding crochet universe and get in touch with a couple of designers doing it on their own terms. Through my conversation with @froot.designs, I was not only able to escape the drabness of lockdown life, but I also learned an awful lot about the anti-fast fashion ethos at the core of these progressive, DIY designers.
Being progressive doesn’t mean having hordes of followers on social media, but rather having a forward-thinking vision. Funnily enough, it seems that the only way we can move forward without risking the destruction of our planet is to take a step back.
This is what the crafty-fingered, free-spirited Tess McAllister, the creative behind @froot.designs, actively does by adopting artisanal methods such as crochet, hand-sewing and beading. In contrast to industrial garments produced in socially as well as environmentally damaging conditions, Tess puts craftsmanship and care before profit. Although she didn’t study fashion design at university, her degree in biology has nevertheless had a significant influence on how she developed her process of making:
“I took a lot of modules about climate change and environmental conservation, and that’s how I became more aware of the current dangers we are facing, which the fashion industry has a lot to do with.”
Upon graduation, Tess decided to combine her knowledge about methods of conservation with her passion for “making quirky, fun, slightly unconventional accessories and garments that my friends would wear, with a focus on sustainability and minimising waste” - and this was how @froot.designs was born.
So what does sustainability actually mean? Well, in a nutshell, it means a waste reduction, by using non-polluting materials to make high-quality products that will last longer. These values are intrinsically woven into the rich heritage of crafts and artisanship, passed on from one generation to the next. Much like a priceless piece of art, the items of jewellery and clothing produced through these practices have stood the test of time more than any fashion trend ever will. In fact, the status of craftsmanship as a legitimate art form was reclaimed again at the beginning of the 20th century by the Bauhaus Movement’s founder, Walter Gropius, after having been more or less relegated into the shadows of ‘intellectual art’. Walter Gropius stated in his Bauhaus Manifesto, that “art and craft are created equal”, and he believed in the Bauhaus movement’s power to “create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between artists and craftsmen”.
This is a really important point to consider, especially when so much almost religious praise is handed over to the name behind a brand without acknowledging the labour and skill performed by the sewers, the embroiderers and the weavers. Crafted goods bridge the gap between designer and manual labourer, and are more sustainable because the materials harnessed in the production process are non-synthetic, locally sourced and much more durable. Admittedly, because they are produced on a smaller scale, their price is also higher. However, knowing that there was no environmental or human exploitation involved in the process of bringing these products to life makes the price difference between a Primark vest and a hand-crocheted one worth it (see @saniya.x ’s vibrant, Bauhaus-inspired creations).
There tends to be a cultural bias which associates the art of crochet, knitting and other similar handy skills with the past: “when you hear crochet, you just think grannies making little frilly old things”, as Tess humorously put it in our conversation. Despite this stereotype of crochet and knitting being ‘old-fashioned’, crafts have, according to Orsola de Castro (the co-founder and creative director of ‘Fashion Revolution’), always been at the forefront of evolution. As an example, she cites the way the geometrical patterns and designs of Varvara Stepanova’s textiles at the start of the 20th century pushed for social change through shapes and prints inspired by the Russian Revolution. It is possible to draw a parallel from Stepanova’s radical ethos and the way these folk practices are being readapted by the contemporary zeitgeist in a move away from consumerism and towards environmental protection.
Although the methodology hasn’t changed much over the course of time, a new generation of craft innovators is shaking up craft’s image among young people. While remaining faithful to local resources and traditions in opposition to industrialisation, young creatives also incorporate strong graphics, dynamic colour palettes, and an intimate understanding of customers’ present needs into their design practice. Instead of purely trying to sell you a product, creatives like @froot.designs work together with their customer, in order to find the one most representative of the customer’s personal preference, size or style. “You can’t find your own style by following trends”, but rather by thinking ‘what do I personally like, what makes me feel most like myself?’.
De Castro sees “the phenomenon of crafts online as a Weapon for Mass Education- a revolutionary mass engagement in making things with meaning”. Tess agrees, as she was herself motivated to open a shop on Instagram after watching countless Youtube tutorials and TikTok videos which she found both inspiring and educational. She instantly recognised how positively these creators and media personalities were using their influence to raise awareness about the fashion industry’s inequalities and frighteningly large problem with waste. Antithetical to the issues of environmental destruction that fast fashion is responsible for, Tess found a community of creators dedicated as much to beautiful designs as to a harmonious relationship with our planet: “It was so satisfying to discover how I could make something so beautiful with quite basic means”.
Charity shops play a big role in how Tess sources her materials, as she would often be spotted digging through old carton boxes for second-hand yarn or discarded jewellery, which she took apart to create something completely brand new. This out of the box thinking in order to imagine a new rapport with our clothes is exactly the message that @froot.designs and others like her weave into their funky apparel. That as well as the fact that any of their customers can pretend to be a character in a Wes Anderson movie.
Tess recommends*: @knottedneon @connies.crochet @northernpicnic
Edited by Bo Nguyen, Fashion Editor and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor