Fashion trends come and go every year, leaving a lasting impact on the meaning of style. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, crafting, sewing and repurposing serve as ways to cure the stir-craziness of increased time at home. The result? “Do-it-yourself” fashion paves the way for creativity to flourish and Coloradans are grabbing their sewing machines and craft supplies to express themselves like never before. 

The sewing industry specifically has seen drastic changes resulting from the pandemic. Jack Makovsky, Executive Vice President of Ralph’s Industrial Sewing and Chairman of the Board of Denver’s Design Committee, is busier than ever. Increased demand for domestic sewing supplies, industrial sewing supplies and trainers is skyrocketing his business.

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Photo Courtesy of Ralph’s Industrial Sewing Machine

“If there is a silver lining to COVID, as awful as it is, it’s what it’s done for us, you know in the sewing industry. We were given up for dead and you know … they tried to kill it years ago,” he said. 

The sewing industry faced adversity prior to the spread of COVID-19 when schools that taught sewing were shut down, specialized college programs were canceled and factories housing the sewers were left empty. As a result, many companies sent their products overseas to be sewn or manufactured in order to receive a tax-write off. Local industrial sewing establishments were left for dead. Now, the craft and industrial skills necessary in sewing are once again booming. Demand for industrial sewers and trained artisans is increasing in an age where products aren’t transported overseas due to the virus.

While many locals are reaching for sewing machines, they’re also stocking up on craft supplies. “Last year, 2020 was actually quite busy. We definitely did see an uptick in people getting into crafts for sure. I think it’s a good way to spend your extra time at home,” Jaime Jennings, owner of local craft shop Fancy Tiger Crafts, reflected. 

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Photo Courtesy of Fancy Tiger Crafts

At the beginning of the pandemic, demand for masks led individuals to pull out their sewing machines and create custom face coverings. “We got people trained, we got all around the community and turned out 8,700 masks,” Makovsky recalled. 

The initial mask craze led to increased DIY projects as individuals took advantage of the extra time on their hands. Consequently, the emergence of mask-making paved the way for DIY fashion to thrive during this time. “Making masks [is] a really great way to practice your sewing skills in a very repetitive manner and I think that’s what it takes to become a good seamstress or sewer,” Jennings said. 

Crafting serves a variety of purposes including improvement of mental and emotional health. According to Healthline, crafting is an outlet to reduce anxiety and improve one’s overall wellbeing. Combatting the isolation of quarantine, creating fashionable pieces of clothing or accessories can mend the strain of this difficult time. Stress, worry and uncertainty are major threats to emotional stability, while crafting provides a distraction. 

“I think this is a great time to take up a craft just because it’s meditative and I think it’s a great thing to do with your time at home and it’s a great way to get involved in your community … the beauty of it is you also produce functional items that you get to wear or use or giveaway … I think crafting is a really helpful and beautiful way to spend any additional time someone might have,” Jennings said. 

Making unique garments or accessories may also lead to some extra cash — or an entire brand. Paris Alizaé Osborn, Rework Boutique designer and owner, had always wanted to put her passion for fashion to good use. It wasn’t until quarantine that her creativity turned into a brand. 

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Paris Alizaé Osborn

While spending time at home with her family, Alizaé Osborn and her sister came across a TikTok trend called the “thrift flip.” Creators reworked thrifted garments to create a new, unique and up-scale piece. With ample time at home, the sisters collected items at their nearest thrift shop and got to work. 

“My sister took out a sewing machine my grandma had given her a few years back that she hadn’t used since she received it as a gift. She re-taught herself how to use the machine and then taught me and within that day we were turning old jeans into cute little one-strap crop tops and oversized button-up blouses into two-piece top and skirt sets!” Alizaé Osborn said. 

Now a full brand, Rework Boutique features a variety of repurposed and handmade items. Alizaé Osborn scours local thrift stores to find the perfect piece to create a one-of-a-kind garment. Often, the pieces she finds are left for dead in their respective thrift store. Rework Boutique revives those forgotten pieces.

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I love to rework big brand name pieces such as Nike, Ralph Lauren and Levi’s, and designer brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton,” she said. “My most sold/most popular items are lace-up corset tops reworked from plain old thrifted T-shirts from these big name brands and bucket hats and face masks that I’ve reworked from thrifted designer purses and dust bags … When it comes to fashion these days, people want one-of-a-kind unique pieces that they can show off and stand out in.”

As the everyday fashion lover looks for more unique pieces, the industry as a whole is welcoming designers like Alizaé Osborn with open arms. Fast fashion, a term used to describe the mass production of cheap clothing to align with current trends, is a major issue in the fashion world. According to BBC, “The fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater. And while the environmental impact of flying is now well known, fashion sucks up more energy than both aviation and shipping combined.”

Nowadays consumers are challenging the fashion industry to take on more ethically sustainable practices. After all, the environment depends on it. So while it’s hard to tell if the end of this pandemic is near, many industries will see lasting changes as a result. DIY fashion is just the start. 

“Some advice I would give is if you decide to use this downtime to make your own garments, go all in. I don’t mean spend a lot of money on fancy tools and machines, I mean if you are going to do it, do it right. Really teach yourself the skill before just trying to create these difficult and elaborate garments,” Alizaé Osborn said. 

Alizaé Osborn’s journey to Rework Boutique wasn’t easy. She faced the challenge of learning how to operate a sewing machine, navigating zippers and interfacing and creating patterns. Ultimately, the process paid off and allowed her to overcome obstacles along the way to create beautiful, repurposed pieces.

“I ended up with a lot of mistakes, a lot of long frustrating nights and times where I wanted to give up and threw the piece I was working on in the trash … Take the time to invest in yourself, learn before just jumping in, it will save a lot of headaches,” she said. 

The Denver community has taken advantage of the free time provided by the pandemic to create their own fashion statements. DIY fashion will never go out of style, even if that old sewing machine sitting in your closet hasn’t been touched in years. Now’s the time to get those creative juices flowing and make something that truly expresses you. 

Supporting local gems like Fancy Tiger, Rework Boutique and Ralph’s Power Sewing is crucial during such a difficult time for small businesses. While Fancy Tiger is not open for in-store shopping yet, their website offers complete inventory and virtual classes. Visit Rework Boutique’s booth at Denver Thriftcon in April and like and share their Instagram posts to raise awareness for the brand. Continue to check out Ralph’s for all industrial sewing and machinery needs.