The public’s interest in fashion's behind-the-scenes process has long been a pillar of reality entertainment. It’s what shows like Project Runway and Making The Cut owe their success to. Now, as fashion communities grow on TikTok, people are using the app to showcase their own kind of reality show via short videos, diving into sewing challenges worthy of a Tim Gunn compliment.
These videos are streaming via the hashtag #SewingTikTok, which has garnered over 725 million views thanks to creators like thrift-flip expert Andriaa Hall and designers John Azzi and Susy Guerreros. More recently, following the boom of archive fashion on the app, creators are DIY-ing their versions of vintage luxury pieces and even couture gowns with small budgets (typical comments express both awe and shock by the fact that a Chanel lookalike could be made for less than £100.)
This community first saw viral success last year, when a JW Anderson crochet cardigan started trending on TikTok after a paparazzi image of Harry Styles made the rounds. Soon afterward, multiple creators began sharing their attempts at making their own versions with the hashtag #HarryStylesCardigan, which now has over 80 million views. The phenomenon reached the designer Jonathan Anderson himself, who not only showed support for the dupes, but released the cardigan’s official pattern for creators to replicate it. The brand even filmed a video tutorial with the help of senior knitwear designer Janni Vepsäläinen. According to Vepsäläinen, the cardigan reached astronomic success because anyone who learns how to make its basic stitches can recreate it at home.
Creator and model Maddie White, a self-taught sewer, is one of #SewingTikTok’s main stars. She first joined the app in February 2021 after her modeling gigs slowed down during the pandemic, and has since gained nearly 400,000 followers. Her formula is simple: She finds outfits and aesthetics she wants to emulate with her own designs, and shows the process behind remaking them on a tight budget and deadline.
At 6.3 million views, her most-watched sewing video yet features her take on a 1992 Chanel haute couture black dress with gold chains, which Lily Rose-Depp wore to the 2019 Met Gala. White made her own mini version in 14 hours for $50 (£36) – the most expensive part of the garment were gold chains from Michael’s that cost $30 (£21). Some of her other notable takes on iconic looks include a glittery butterfly Versace dress worn by Cher and Dua Lipa, a black Cult Gaia flower cut-out top worn by Ariana Grande, and a mini version of the Jean Paul Gaultier white couture gown worn by Bella Hadid at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
While White feels like she’s a rookie, she’s mastering patterns and techniques that challenge even experienced designers. To her audience, she’s a pro. Since she first went viral, White has received requests on a daily basis from people interested in getting a custom-made piece. But White refuses to take orders: “I can do it for myself, but not for other people.”
Other creators on #SewingTikTok are betting the platform will boost their own businesses. Recently, designer Simone Sullivan went viral on the app after she recreated a piece she couldn’t afford: an Alexander McQueen cropped corset top with ruffled sleeves that came with a hefty price tag of almost $2,000 (£1,464). She documented her process of creating a dupe — from patternmaking to final zip-up — on TikTok. “I quickly noticed people were really into this,” she said of her behind-the-scenes footage. While Sullivan, 27, had been sharing her design and sewing process on the app for months, this video was her first to go viral, generating over 700,000 views in less than a month.
The designer also creates videos that show how she recreates luxury pieces. Earlier this month, when she saw stylist Amanda Murray wearing a JW Anderson pom-pom camisole dress, Sullivan couldn’t stop thinking about it. But when she found out the dress was already sold out, Sullivan decided to make a version of it herself. First, she found a similar fabric and made the pattern based on a dress she already owned. She later decided to make it with just one shoulder strap and figured that, if she was going to go through the trouble of making herself this dress, she’d want it to be reversible. For the pom poms, she bought a tool to make them at home. The result? A Sullivan-approved version of the JW Anderson dress that she made to fit not only her budget, but her needs as a working designer who treasures the versatility of two dresses in one garment.
Sullivan doesn’t just create videos of luxury dupes. She also walks her audience through the process of developing her own designs, which hold an aesthetic Sullivan describes as “Miami meets New York,” from fabric shopping and sketching to sewing and final stitches. Thanks to the success of her luxury dupe videos, Sullivan says some clients have knocked on her virtual door to get custom-made pieces from her brand.
With her content, Sullivan hopes that people are inspired to take to sewing themselves. “In this pandemic, when people don’t have jobs, I think it’s great that people can make their own [clothes],” she said. While sewing has long been a resource for people to fulfill their clothing needs, globalisation and fast fashion have put it out of use. These days, sewing is more of a novelty than a skill, though #SewingTikTok is trying to change that. Even Sullivan, who depends on her work as a designer to pay the bills, welcomes more sewers to copy her designs. It’s not just about affordability, but quality: “I’d rather them make it for themselves than [buy one] at Zara,” she says.