Why DIY Details Have Become So Popular in Fashion
An interesting side effect of the internet and other technological advancements from the last 20-odd years has been a renewed interest in all things handmade and, in many cases, quaint. With so many speedy, once-futuristic products on offer, it’s the humbler, less complex items that seem novel today. Nowhere has this been more obvious than on über-popular websites like Pinterest and Etsy, both of which advocate for DIY everything (offering step-by-step tips and a sales platform for what’s sometimes called the maker movement, respectively). And while both sites have always had a heavy fashion component, the last few years have seen the larger industry embracing similar styles and methods of production.
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Beloved denim brand Levi’s has always been ahead of the curve in this sense, having launched its customization services around 2010 with tailor shops that offer not only alterations and repairs but also the addition of patches and embroideries to any item.
“People love being able to customize their denim. It’s self-expression,” Jonathan Cheung, the brand’s head of global design, tells me. “They’ll put a name or some kind of cheeky slogan on [it], and suddenly it becomes more than just a pair of jeans, more than just a denim jacket. It becomes a part of them, and that little touch of personality tells the world a little bit about the owner. It makes the clothing somehow more human, and in this busy, crazy world, to be more human is a good, good thing.”
The durability of denim lends itself especially well to the DIY movement, a fact that Janet Sung was certainly aware of when she launched her customization service, Denim Refinery, in 2011. On top of selling one of the best curations of vintage denim on the internet, the company offers customers a range of “refinements” (from softening to distressing and everything in between) on its previously owned pieces. “Consumers are more educated these days and [thus] have the desire and confidence to customize product to exactly what they're looking for,” Sung explains of the movement’s popularity. There’s a money-saving, eco-friendly bent to this particular process as well: “It’s about customizing something already owned, so there's the factor of shopping from within your own closet and transforming it into something you’d actually wear again.”
But it’s not all about making the old new again. Just this May, Gucci gave DIY luxurious associations when it began offering in-store customizations of its popular Dionysus handbag. Inspired by punk culture and creative director Alessandro Michele’s philosophy that “the way you dress is how you feel, and [people] should feel authentic and free in the expression of themselves,” the service allows customers to add a host of embroideries, trims, hardware, and monograms to the shoulder bags. The brand plans to roll this offering out for other items, including its Ace sneakers and Princetown shoes, sometime in the next year. Marc Jacobs has also recently hopped on the bandwagon with Patchmarc, a collection of iron-on patches that perfectly align with its S/S 16 varsity jackets.
You might think there’s nowhere else to go once you’ve got the luxury market’s attention, but DIY is also making a surprising play for our skivvies. The It girl–beloved label Negative Underwear recently announced plans to offer embroidery on its range of bras, panties, tees, and onesies. When I asked co-founder Marissa Vosper what was behind her decision, she explained, “Now more than ever, people want products that were made just for them or that have some sort of personal demarcation that indicates an item’s individuality. We [also] had this childhood sweet memory of summer camp, when your mom had to hand-sew your initials into all your packed clothes (including your underwear!) so that you’d know what was yours in the mess of a camp dorm. There’s something really intimate about having personalized underwear, [given that] it’s a garment most people never see.” Vosper also cites the explosion of wedding culture as a reason for the launch, with women constantly “on the hunt for the most thoughtful bridesmaid gift or the perfect pair of underwear to wear on their wedding day.” To get things started, the brand will debut an inspiration gallery on its website filled with references for what’s possible: cheeky, embroidered icons; subtle cursive phrases on a tee or back waistband; etc. They plan to offer two forms of embroidery, as well—a machine-based option that’s easier to scale as well as the pricier work of a local hand-embroiderer.
Having been gifted with a pair of its underwear with “love yourself” inscribed subtly on the back waistband, I can attest that it’s a really fun, secretive touch. I get the same little thrill from my Levi’s jacket with “Jessica” inscribed on the front, proving, perhaps, that in matters of DIY, it’s all worth trying out.