Thursday, 21 February 2013

Why the High-street Can't Compete with 'Make and Mend'

Having recently completed a week's work experience at Lisa Comfort's successful sewing-cafe 'Sew Over It', participated at Newcastle's 'Make and Mend' market and visiting independent local boutique 'Made in Jesmond', I have seen for myself the social positives and community spirit which hand-craft, whether it be making dresses and accessories, or seeing the one-off pieces which independent crafters and designers have handmade brings. At 'Sew Over It', I observed customers coming into the sewing-cafe and sitting at machines next to people they had never met before, immediately striking up conversations over the free tea and cake. There were also women who started the 'Sewing for beginners' class, and by the end all decided to sign up to another class together, showing how socially bonding spending only three hours together in the sewing-cafe can be, and this could be partially what draws people towards craft. Similarly, it has been lovely to watch customers at the 'Make and Mend' market and 'Made in Jesmond' bond over their appreciation of hand-crafted gifts and beautiful vintage clothing, and to hear of their opinions and their own experience of sewing and vintage pieces which have been passed on to them, and it generates more thought-provoking and interesting conversation which the high-street with its focus on fast fashion cannot.

In my interview with Lisa Comfort, owner of 'Sew Over It', she says the increased interest in make and mend could be explained by "that feeling that it’s a past time that’s become lost, and people want to bring that back into today’s culture". This idea of nostalgia and bringing the past into the present is something which is also reflected through programs hosted by Kirstie Allsopp, such as 'Kirstie's Homemade Home', 'Kirstie's Handmade Britain' and 'Kirstie's Vintage Home', which Lisa has participated in. Although the growing popularity is likely to be partly down to the recession and people wanting that homely comfort associated with 'cooking, baking and sewing', it is also a skill which people fear is not getting passed on, as Lisa mentions "there are a lot of young people out there that are feeling that this is an important skill to learn", which is where she comes in with her sewing-cafe, passing on her sewing skills to beginners and customers with more advanced skills alike.

Yve Ngoo, owner of local boutique 'Made in Jesmond', which specializes in vintage and up-cycled handmade pieces, also believes that what she sells provides a more personal and connected experience than what you would usually buy from high-street chain stores. In buying pieces from local designer-makers, "You get quality, you get the personality of the maker", and there is the same allure of nostalgia which Lisa also points out. Yve believes that hand-made and vintage attracts an older audience due to the higher quality, and a younger audience who are looking for something unique. She also believes that it is important to learn traditional techniques such as 'needlework, sewing, felting' as 'that's where the quality comes from', but also to bring in contemporary techniques or materials to encourage creativity. An example of this are accessories she sells by designer-maker Jake Wilson Craw, where he applies traditional leather-work techniques to unwanted tyres, combining both old and new ideas to create something innovative with that same nostalgia and quality of something handmade.

This fusion of old and new is what makes 'make and mend' so special and unique, as you get all of the positive qualities of well-made pieces which support the local economy, by having either bought fabrics or products from local designers, and is also more responsible for workers and the environment as it doesn't involve mass shipping and factories, and is often quite a social experience. It is also the pleasure of owning something which is completely personal which nobody else will have, which may have a history behind it, or could be specifically tailored and personalized for you, which is something which the high-street will never be able compete with.

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