Maker Culture
Connecting the Dots

'Do Extraordinary Shit'
'Do Extraordinary Shit' | © Gina Robilliard

Across Sydney’s Inner-West, local creatives are setting up small businesses aimed at reconnecting people to their hands, and the possibilities of what they can create with them. It is part of a larger global movement of makers and creators who are mending and up-cycling their way to a more beautiful and sustainable future.

Maker Culture as a movement is fighting against the effects of consumerism, which Jacques Peretti says in his documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend has ‘’divorced us from our hands’’. If consumers don’t know how to make their own clothes, they also won’t know how to distinguish good quality from bad quality and once it breaks they won’t know how to fix it. As a result they will naturally return to the shopping centre and purchase another poor quality garment that will do the exact same thing.

Melissa Tan-Lu, Sew Make Create’s founder is passionate about crafting, fashion and sustainability.
Melissa Tan-Lu, Sew Make Create’s founder is passionate about crafting, fashion and sustainability. | © Gina Robilliard
Founder of Sew Make Create, Melissa Tan-Lu’s love of eco-fashion has had a huge influence on the creation of her business: ‘‘sewing your own clothing is very sustainable because you are creating a well-made garment which you will love until it literally starts to fall apart! It is because you have a special connection with the piece you created and have a memorable experience making it’’. Despite her involvement in the fashion industry she is disappointed with the effects it has on the environment and suggests that the only solution is educating the community about conscious consumerism.

Quite often in the discussions about fast-fashion, the idea of the micro-season pops up. Chain stores cart in a bundle of new styles as frequently as every week. Consumers find it impossible to keep up as their clothing is out of fashion almost as soon as they have bought it. Fashion models and designers will tout the beauty of owning a white shirt as a staple, yet even the ‘classic’ white shirt changes its style from year to year. What people don’t often realize is that this prerogative has been quickening in pace since the 1950s. This was the point where aesthetic was surpassing the value of functionality. In the post-war period it was most common with cars which were slowing down their technological advancements and speeding up the turnover of the appearance of external paneling.

Students learning the art of Amigurumi.
Students learning the art of Amigurumi. | © Gina Robilliard
The affect this had was most aptly stated at the time by General Motors’ head of research, Charles F. Kettering: ‘‘The key to economic prosperity is the organised creation of dissatisfaction’’. The creators of The True Cost, a documentary exploring the environmental impact of the fashion industry, theorises that our economy now depends on this widespread ‘neophilia’ and subsequent frivolous spending.

Millennials live in a disposable world

Far removed from generations born in eras of frugality and endless repair work, millennials live in a highly disposable world where it is far easier and cheaper to replace something than repair it. The daughters of mothers who were expected to learn to sew their own clothes can now purchase an entire outfit for the same price as one hand made garment. All this is at their fingertips, and yet on a Saturday morning in Chippendale’s Sew Make Create studio, four young women sit at a table learning the basics of using a sewing machine. Across from them sit three more women learning the niche Japanese craft of Amigurumi, producing adorable crochet, stuffed animals. Across Sydney’s Inner-West, local creatives are setting up small businesses aimed at reconnecting people to their hands, and the possibilities of what they can create with them. They are part of a larger movement called Maker Culture, which focuses on educating people about how to make and repair the everyday items in their homes.

Amigurumi created by Amanda Jackson.
Amigurumi created by Amanda Jackson. | © Gina Robilliard
Matt Branagan started Work-Shop in 2013 with his friend and co-founder, Chester Garcia. Work-Shop runs short classes taught by local artists, teaching anyone between the age of six and sixty. They can sign up to learn anything from how to brew your own gin to low water immersion garment dyeing. Their company tagline is ‘’Do Extraordinary Shit’’ that provides an indication of their outlook. Matt says one of the aims of the business is to reconnect people to the manufacturing process, ‘‘as our phones get smarter, we are getting dumber and more disconnected from where our food, clothes and furniture are coming from. Now everything is a search away, we don’t need to retain this information.’’

Maker Culture allows disconnect from technology

Despite the time and energy involved in making and repairing, it would seem there is a demand and even a yearning for this knowledge. Melissa says people are searching for activities to do in their spare time that feel productive and get them away from their devices. ‘‘Making something by hand takes the investment of time, but the experience of making something and the sense of achievement when it is finished is priceless’’ says Melissa. This sense of achievement and the experience of creating something with one’s own hands seems to weave its way through so many aspects of maker culture.

Matt Branagan got into maker culture through his appreciation of the democratic power of street art. Hence the Work-Shop's walls are covered in beautiful street art.
Matt Branagan got into maker culture through his appreciation of the democratic power of street art. Hence the Work-Shop's walls are covered in beautiful street art. | © Gina Robilliard
Sew Make Create was established because Melissa saw a gap in Sydney’s creative sphere for a space for people to come together in a social environment and learn the basics of sewing and crafting. ‘‘I have always loved craft and making things by hand. I saw the need for more of this in Sydney but people didn’t have access to creative studio spaces or sewing equipment.’’ This lack of access to equipment is linked to a loss of value in creative pursuits. This has had a profound effect on how we approach tactile activities as adults. Matt says we become self-conscious about creativity as we grow older ‘‘as adults we lose that confident spirit of a child to just dive in head first and try something new […]. We are trying to create a safe space where anyone can pick up a paintbrush or a hammer and try something new.’’

Object Therapy

One major aspect that these two businesses have in common is the combination of fostering community values with an awareness and promotion of sustainable values. Though aesthetically the two workshop spaces are wildly different, they are decked out in retro furniture, beautiful old relics and repurposed objects. What was once a Singer sewing machine table is now Melissa’s desk and Matt and Chester’s workshop- which is itself a converted warehouse- is littered with eclectic street signs, movie theatre seats and intriguing props. Melissa said that the idea of having comfortable, retro-furniture in her studio was to make people feel comfortable and at home.

Object Therapy: The repurposed kimono of a woman who held onto the item as it was worn by her mother when she was born.
Object Therapy: The repurposed kimono of a woman who held onto the item as it was worn by her mother when she was born. | © Gina Robilliard
This idea of repurposing is the driving factor behind the Australian Design Centre’s (ADC) latest exhibition ‘Object Therapy’ where cherished objects that have fallen apart are ’treated and reimagined’ by local artists. One woman, Fi, brought in a kimono which her late mother wore in the 70’s when Fi was a baby. It’s now too delicate to wear so it was repurposed by ‘Corr Blimey’ into a comforting, soft cushion. According to the ADC, the exhibition is designed to ‘‘[encourage] us to rethink our habits of material consumption while exploring and celebrating the role and creative possibilities of repair in society’’. It also has the effect of casting a shadow over cheap, disposable items we pick up on a whim and have no inherent meaning to our lives.

As with any aspect of culture, according to Georg Hegel’s dialectic, it often takes three moves to strike a balance between one extreme and its opposite. This awakening and appreciation for the simple act of making hopefully represents a synthesis. All it takes is a mental recalibration of the value of our hands and possessions. The idea is catching on and the businesses are expanding due to popular demand. Matt and Chester’s ultimate goal is international expansion, ‘‘Adelaide is launching next month, with Fremantle not far behind. We will focus all our energies on these, but we have one eye on London and Mexico. The creative crusade continues!’’

Rescued and recycled retro furniture at Work-Shop.
Rescued and recycled retro furniture at Work-Shop. | © Gina Robilliard

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