There’s no doubt that crocheting is the current craze and has earned its rightful place as a beloved lock-in activity. Handcrafted pieces can be found all over Instagram and TikTok: plaid crochet tote bags, bucket hats, tank tops and cardigans. A sense of youthful spirit has reinvigorated the craft, turning what was once considered a hobby more suited to your grandmother into a bright and colorful expression of style. However, fast fashion’s entry into the crochet scene presents broader ethical issues.
Since the start of the pandemic, as many have turned to arts and crafts as a form of escapism, handmade and slow fashion have taken center stage. Activities traditionally associated with domesticity became an art form during lockdown; while spending more time at home, we found new hobbies and adopted a slower lifestyle. I tried crochet for the first time and was immediately fascinated by how mindful and therapeutic it could be, first complementing a pink ruched summer crop top and then trying on a cardigan.
“Activities traditionally associated with domesticity have become an art form during confinement”
Designer brands have also picked up the trend and introduced crochet patterns into their collections. Last year, Harry Styles’ rainbow patchwork JW Anderson cardigan went viral after it appeared on the Today Pin up. Since most couldn’t afford the $1,500 knit, a DIY craze was sparked and fans everywhere decided to replicate Harry’s style. The cardigan, like most things that adorn Harry, has become so iconic that its designer, Jonathan Anderson, shared the design on Instagram.
This summer, crochet even made its way to the Tokyo Olympics. Tom Daley – Britain’s national treasure – captured the hearts and minds of the world as he sat in the Olympic stands knitting and crocheting between events. His healthy dedication to craftsmanship, which he resumed during lockdown, can be seen on his Instagram page @madewithlovebytomdaley which has amassed over 1.4 million followers. He showcases all of his DIY projects, including a cozy Union Jack medal for his golden victory and his impressive Olympic cardigan he recently modeled for the cover of Wonderland magazine.
Naturally, fast fashion brands took on the crochet trend, which seemed paradoxical and ingenious. How can a craft based on a slow mode cycle work on the scale and business model that fast mode is based on? Crocheting cannot be done by machine, unlike other processes, which means the time required to produce a crocheted item is lengthened. The lock picking process requires careful attention to detail and meticulous attention from the producers, as everything is done by hand. Despite this elaborate process, Boohoo’s crochet dresses are still £6, H&M’s crochet bag is £12.99 and Pretty Little Thing’s crochet cardigan is currently just £7. When the cost of design, materials, shipping, and packaging are combined, the low prices make us question the ethics behind the crochet pieces produced by fast fashion.
“How can a business based on a slow fashion cycle work at the scale and on the business model that fast fashion is based on?”
TikTok creator @dreas_hook highlights the issue in a series in seven episodes analyzing a crochet bikini top from Target, retailing for $22. Drea deconstructs the Target product and replicates her own sample of it, revealing it to be a “tedious” and “labour-intensive” project that could only have been done by hand . She estimates that the whole top would take about three hours to make and points out that the garment worker could not have been fairly compensated for the effort. Given the ethical issues of production already inherent in the operation of fast fashion brands, the problem is even more acute when crocheted pieces enter the scene.
Fast fashion crochet also devalues the work of ethical independent brands. The low prices offered by companies like PLT and Boohoo are normalizing, discouraging consumers from buying from independent designers. This in turn forces smaller businesses to lower their own prices to stay competitive with their corporate-funded competitors. More alarmingly, fast fashion brands have become infamous for stealing creations from independent designers. An exact replica of designer Elexiay’s crochet sweater was sold on Shein in July, leaving her feeling ‘crushed’ as she took Twitter to write: “I spent hours designing and thinking about this design and it takes days to crochet each sweater.” Unfortunately, these design theft opportunities extend far beyond the realm of crochet.
In the hands of fast fashion brands, crochet items become disposable pieces for those who can afford to keep buying and throwing trends as and when they want. Crochet emerged as a healthy trend, a conscious escape from lockdown and a fun expression of individuality. It still has that unique power in the hands of DIYers and independent creators. The darker side of the trend, however, cannot be ignored as fast fashion retailers shatter the positive sense of crochet. Ultimately, the underlying issue of garment worker exploitation cannot be left out of the crochet conversation.
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