What happened the last time a button popped off of your favorite shirt? Don’t lie. You took it to the tailor or to the dry cleaners to have it sewn back on by an expert in the field, didn’t you? Perhaps you even pushed it to the back of the closet, only unearthing it months later to discover it was no longer on-trend and packing it away to a thrift store.
“You’d be surprised by how many highly successful and capable men and women who’ve said to me, ‘Sew a button? I could never do that, ’” says Erin Bried, author of “How to Sew a Button, ” a guide on domestic wisdom as told by women who grew up during the Great Depression. “In reality, it takes all of two minutes to sew a button, much less time than it’d take you to deliver your shirt to a tailor or buy a new one.”
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College classes in coding and art history, internships at New York-based publishers, Hollywood studios or Silicon Valley tech startups have done little to teach us how to hem our own dresses or make our own curtains. Maybe we thought those skills were too domesticated or that we thought we would be financially well-off enough to pay someone else to handle homely tasks for us.
“I think sewing is intimidating for a lot of people because we spend so much of our days creating our digital lives, cultivating everything from virtual friendships to virtual farms, ” says Bried. “We’ve moved away from creating real, tangible things with our hands, and the further removed from that we get, the more intimidating those activities become.”
As we started to “lean in, ” we may have forgotten that domestic skills that could save us time and money, or even add a little flair to our sense of style. So why have most of us not bothered to learn?
“The simple answer: either reliance or rebellion, ” according to Bried. “If our parents have these skills, we think that we either don’t need them or we don’t want them.”
It wasn’t until the economic crisis of our own time, which began in 2007, that we discovered there might be some use in do-it-yourself fashion.
“Suddenly, money was tighter for most people and eventually paying someone else to do things for us that we could do ourselves became less of a symbol of luxury and more a symbol of irresponsibility, ” says Bried. “Once the DIY movement caught fire and we started taking these simple tasks into our own hands, many of us realized that not only can we do/make/create/fix things ourselves, but doing it is also fun and empowering.”
DIY fashion, also known as the “Maker Movement, ” has been catching on among Millennials for several years now, but over the course of the past 12 months some women have also been aggregating projects online and making a tidy profit. Where once someone would have had to spend an entire evening at a sewing class, now that person can spend an hour after work with a glass of wine and her computer and still make it out for a night on the town for a Tinder date.
Crafting is now a $29 billion industry in the U.S. and investors are taking notice of some of the more tech-minded entrepreneurs in the space. Online platforms have been able to raise a significant amount of funding due in large part to the uptick in interest and the convenience of learning domestic skills online.
Lifestyle company Brit Media raised a stunning $20 million in June to bolster its do-it-yourself crafting site, Brit + Co. The firm’s chief executive, Brit Morin, founded the San Francisco-based startup four years ago as a platform to teach DIY skills to busy modern women with access to technology. Morin, a former employee of Apple and Google, has been called the “Martha Stewart of Silicon Valley.”
“We think community has a big role in what we’re doing, ” says Anjelika Temple, creative director at Brit + Co. “Makers and DIYers are so passionate about sharing and teaching what they’re making, and social media and sites like Brit + Co make it easier than ever to discuss their projects, get inspiration and learn from others. DIY, and the Maker Movement overall, has benefitted from the greater online community and the shared experience of creativity.”
The site now has some 12 million monthly unique users.
“For us, ‘making’ means a lot of different things—cooking, baking, sewing and calligraphy, yes, but also tech hardware hacks and coding and 3D printing—there’s a huge range of things to learn and make, but they all stem from the same desire to be creative, ” Temple says.
The Brit + Co website sells DIY boxes called “Brit Kits” and in March, launched a series of e-classes that for $19.99, allow users to learn how to sew, bake a cake or arrange a bouquet of flowers. The majority of its profits come from advertising on the site, but by next year, revenue from the classes and kits are expected to surpass those ad sales.
“The idea that a reader comes to our site looking for table setting ideas and leaves our site with plans to build a dining table from scratch is super inspiring; we’ll keep aiming to inspire more of that kind of creativity into the future.”
Similarly, Darby Smart, a do-it-yourself crafting startup, raised $6.3 million in Series A funding in 2014. CEO Nicole Shariat Farb, former head of emerging private companies in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, co-founded the DIY platform along with Karl Mendes, a senior software engineer from Eventbrite.
These new companies face stiff competition from existing popular celebrity lifestyle blogs such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and MarthaStewart.com. But while Stewart appeals to a demographic of Baby Boomers and Paltrow to the Generation X crowd, there’s room for these startups to move in on the growing Millennial desire to become makers.
A huge reason for the sudden rise of DIY among the younger generation is, of course, social media. Whether it stems from Pinterest inspiration or Instagram envy, young women are picking up on the trend every time they log on. To wit, Brit + Co’s Pinterest posts are on average repinned a whopping 50, 000 times every day, according to TechCrunch.
“[T]hese social sites, especially visual sites like Instagram and Pinterest, create a natural space for sharing in-progress or completed projects, from which others can learn the how-to’s or just get ideas, ” says Temple. “Sharing sites also create conversations between makers who otherwise may not have been able to connect and share and help bring certain skills or projects to light.”
Darby Smart works with Pinterest designers of DIY accessories, fashion and home items to assist them in the marketing and selling of their projects, complete with materials for the project. The kits range from $15 to $45 each, with the designers receiving a share of the revenue generated from their customers.
Still, it would be all too easy to get inspired by Instagram and buy a sewing machine, only to let it sit woefully in the closet for years, unused, untouched and unloved.
“If you stick with it, I can tell you with full certainty that you’ll eventually save both time and money, ” says Bried. “But what’s even more valuable: You’ll become more capable, confident and self-sufficient, and those are things that are hard to put a price tag on.”
But does the busy modern woman, pushed and pulled in so many directions already, really have the time to add sewing to her to-do list?
“We say we don’t have time to sew a button or make ourselves dinner, but somehow we find time to binge-watch an entire season of OITNB [Orange is the New Black] on Netflix. It’s not time we’re actually short on, ” says Bried.
As someone who has, in fact, binge-watched a season or two of the program (two-and-a-half, but who’s counting), I think Bried might actually be on to something. And really, I don’t see why someone couldn’t put a show on in the background while working on a DIY project.