The rise in the number of people actually learning to crochet and make their own pieces has led to more and more people realising that crochet and fast fashion cannot mix. Literally.
It’s impossible to crochet by machine. Machines are incapable of creating the transverse chains that are a definitive attribute of hand crochet. High street brands that sell crochet tops, bags and hats are therefore either making imitation crochet fabric which is woven and sewn on machines or dramatically underpaying workers to produce these items by hand.
The fact that there’s no way to automate the fabric makes it feel exploitative enough but it is particularly egregious when independent creators’ designs are stolen and resold by wholesalers which do not pay them for their work.
This happens repeatedly to 24-year-old Evvia, a carer and crochet artist living in Norwich who goes by @loupystudio on Instagram. She makes distinctive, freeform pieces using deadstock or found yarn sourced from charity shops and eBay. The pieces are dramatic: vibrant, intuitively shaped and textured, and entirely unique. People love her work and her Instagram often ends up on the Discover page for many people, not just avid crafters.
Which is how her work ends up getting stolen.
We spoke to Evvia about wholesalers and dropshippers taking advantage of the crochet trend, how people learning these skills are changing our understanding of the industry and what, if anything, we can do to stop it.
"Ever since crochet really started as a ‘trend’ in the last year, it's been so weird to see all of the crochet in fast fashion shops, especially these copies of mine and others' designs. I think so many people have picked it up as a hobby now and can really tell how much skill and time goes into each piece. When you can look at something and immediately know in your gut that that took a person probably a few months of training, and at minimum a few hours to actually make, it's really noticeable.
"When we see things that we assume are machine-made it's a bit easier to dissociate the person making the piece from the piece itself. Unless you're a very good machine-knitter for example, you don't really know how long it takes. But when it has to be handmade you have context... And then you see what it's sold for. I remember last summer seeing these beautifully done, intricate crochet pieces that, honestly, I would never have the patience for popping up in Zara. And it was horrifying! I'm quite a fast crocheter, I've been practising for a long time now, and that would have taken me a full day's worth of work, especially when you see all the tiny, detailed little stitches. It illuminated a lot of greater issues – now people are feeling [the impact of fast fashion] on more of an emotional level rather than just a moral level.
"The copying of my designs by wholesalers and fast fashion brands has been a really big issue for quite some time. I started my Instagram account at the beginning of summer 2021 and as soon as I had semi-viral posts that would find their way onto the explore page, a few weeks later people would be messaging me pictures from little copycat brands using my photos. They would put their own watermark on it and sell their own version. This actually started with that brown stretchy squares top that was most recently copied – there's been copies of it on all sorts of wholesalers since the middle of summer. That one hurt.
"The design is not a completely new concept: Jean Paul Gaultier was doing it all the way back in the '90s and more recently Isa Boulder has been doing a lot of crochet designs, so I was very much inspired by that. It was by no means entirely original but the fact that these wholesalers will be selling a crocheted piece with every detail the same really hurts. The yarn that I found for that top was secondhand acrylic mohair. I'll never find that yarn again so I'll never be able to recreate the piece.
"It's also a piece that I was never super happy about selling because it was a piece I made for my body and my body type, and I was really worried about making more of them or profiting from them. So many people wanted them and I just knew that I wouldn't be able to really make them to suit all body sizes. I was basically super insecure about not being inclusive. That worried me so much. It really hurt to see something that was one of my first posts that got popular, that made me turn around and be so worried about selling it, and then decide not to sell it – even though I had so much demand for it – pop up everywhere a few weeks later. It's very demoralising.
"What’s worse is that I messaged one company and they immediately removed the listing which they got from a wholesaler. That also made me upset. I can't imagine these things are being made to order, I'm sure that they just bulk made a lot of them, so now they're just sitting somewhere and these people probably aren't going to get paid for this work. There’s no solution to this stuff. It’s all over Pinterest in particular – I probably get about one DM a week about a different wholesaler on Pinterest that uses my photos with my face visible and their watermark. I've requested that they take it down and every time they do, then repost it. Apparently there's nothing else that Pinterest can do about that. As a small creator you don't have the time or the energy to be pursuing copyright violations. You feel like they pulled you into this really tricky, wholesale exploitative situation and you feel like you have to do something. But what am I supposed to do?
"This is why supporting small creators if you can is so important. It's so hard to figure out how to stop it because there's never any legitimate contact so there's no way to get in touch, you can only really go in through Pinterest copyright violations. That's one of the only ways I've ever been able to get anything taken down. I used to be upset about it and now I've just realised there's no way of solving it and I think it's such an interesting way to see the scope of the fast fashion industry. You can have a design stolen and it's just lost – you have no more control over it forever. But the fact that my face is attached to all of these scammy sellers is another level."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity