about design dialogues

The Design Dialogues site houses all online publications from the School of Design Strategies at Parsons School of Design.

This site is funded by the Stephan Weiss Lecture Series on Business Strategy, Negotiation and Innovation. This lectureship was launched in 2002 to commemorate the life of the late artist and sculptor Stephan Weiss, husband and business partner of the fashion designer Donna Karan. Weiss co-founded Donna Karan International in 1984, and was instrumental in every significant venture the company undertook: launching and structuring new brands, most notably the Donna Karan Beauty company; signing new licenses; establishing in-house legal and creative departments; devising its computer design technology; orchestrating the company’s initial public offering in 1996; and negotiating its sale to the current owner LVMH Moet Hennessy – Louis Vuitton.

about the school of design strategies


The School of Design Strategies is an experimental educational environment. We advance innovative approaches in design, business and education. In the evolving context of cities, services and ecosystems, we explore design as a capability and a strategy in the environmentally conscious practices of individuals, groups, communities and organizations. For more about the School of Design Strategies, visit the SDS Magazine.

http://sds.parsons.edu/designdialogues
Journal of Design Strategies
Designing W/
The Integral City
New York, Phnom Pehn. Phnom Pehn, New York.
Blog
font
size
font
Georgia
choose font
Arial
Courier New
Georgia
Tahoma
Times New Roman
theme
default
choose theme
default
inverted
sepia

Section 3: Case Studies

DISRUPTION THROUGH DOWNLOAD: BurdaStyle.com and the Home Sewing Community

Rachel Kinnard
Fashion is not created by a single individual, but by everyone involved in the production of fashion, and thus fashion is a collective entity. 1

Today, the practice of home sewing can be seen as a disruption to the mainstream fashion system—a system fueled by fast-paced consumption that typically separates producer from consumer by great distances both geographically and socioeconomically. The online community challenges this global fashion system by encouraging home sewing, while also reimagining the consumption of sewing patterns themselves.
A practice traditionally associated with housewives and homemakers, home sewing is finding new devotees among a younger generation that appreciates the DIY approach to clothing and fashion.

Traditionally, sewing patterns have been designed and produced by a group of designers hired by a publisher (McCalls is an example 2). By contrast, BurdaStyle.com,
launched in 2007 by the German fashion magazine Burda Style, is a website that supplements a standard e-commerce channel for the sale of sewing patterns with an open-source pattern platform for a global audience of home sewers. The combined commercial and non-commercial approach is helping to foster a community of independent designers, restoring a culture of home-based clothing production that represents a genuine alternative to the mainstream fashion system.

A practice traditionally associated with housewives and homemakers, home sewing is finding new devotees among a younger generation that appreciates the DIY approach to clothing and fashion. BurdaStyle.com has carried the tradition of home sewing into the 21st century by exploiting the possibilities of the Internet as a vehicle of distribution and knowledge-sharing. The average age of the BurdaStyle member is 33, with the majority living in the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. A platform for sewing inspiration and knowledge as well as the sale of patterns, the site’s primary value for users consists in its archive of user-generated content, comprising personal sewing projects, recommendations, sewing pattern reviews, and tutorials. Members can also share their own patterns and designs by uploading them. The site thus fosters a more active type of consumption by promoting the practice of home sewing through the collective development of a community-based sewing resource. It is through the socially networked nature of the platform that the tradition of home sewing is being reimagined and made accessible to a wider, younger audience. Moreover, as a commercial business operating on a global scale, BurdaStyle is demonstrating the commercial viability of several concepts previously found only in conceptual fashion projects.

ORIGINS
Hubert Burda Media, one of the largest publishing houses in Germany, began including sewing patterns in Burda Style (formerly Burda Moden) magazine in 1952. The magazine gained prominence as one the most popular home sewing pattern producers in Europe. BurdaStyle.com was founded as an initiative to bring the Burda brand into the US market, especially among younger consumers. According to the company, the aim of the website is “to bring the craft of sewing to a new generation of fashion designers, hobbyists, DIYers as well as inspire fashion enthusiasts.” 3

DISRUPTING TRICKLE-DOWN FASHION
Experimental fashion projects question the hierarchical fashion system by intervening in the production of fashionable goods. Through the social platform BurdaStyle.com, sewing pattern distribution has shifted from a one-directional, top-down affair to a collective enterprise of home sewing knowledge, tips, and lore. The website operates as a social facilitator of fashion, mediating knowledge dissemination and social connections, with member contributions enhancing the online sewing community’s core value. The website approaches the home sewing market in an uncommon way, merging concepts already present on the web but not previously tailored for home sewing enthusiasts. While other creative project sites such as Etsy, Ravelry, Craftsy, and Instructables rely in a similar way on user-generated content, BurdaStyle.com’s focus on the practice of home sewing is unique to its online community. 4
Through social networking, sewing pattern distribution is shifting from a one-directional, top-down affair to a collective enterprise of home sewing knowledge, tips, and lore.

Although free to join, BurdaStyle.com requires that users become members in order to access many of the site’s features. As a member, one can buy and download sewing patterns (most are $5.99), upload homemade sewing patterns to share with other members, upload photos and instructions of personal sewing projects, contribute tutorials to the Learning section (for example, “Cutting Chiffon and Other Slippery Fabrics” 5), or participate in the Discussion section. Facilitating a peer review component, BurdaStyle.com members can also link their projects to the pattern used, thus creating a library of user-generated variations on a single pattern (SEE FIGURES 1-2).

Figure 1

BurdaStyle’s “Franzi” vest project and pattern page.

Figure 2

A selection of member-created variations on BurdaStyle’s “Franzi” pattern.

Figure 1

BurdaStyle’s “Franzi” vest project and pattern page.


BurdaStyle.com members often reimagine mass-produced sewing patterns by altering the patterns in accordance with their personal tastes and specific projects. Community members identify with sewing no longer as just a means to copy fashion trends, but as an outlet for their own creativity and originality.

Fashion theorist Otto von Busch has described traditional home sewing patterns as establishing “a form of controlled action spaces, not primarily aiming to teach sewing as much as reproducing the latest fashion .... Similar to the pattern magazines of today they offered no real possibility to ‘talk back’ or form new communities.” 6 This unidirectional form of idea circulation is complicated by BurdaStyle.com’s interactive functions. Although the site continues the distribution of professionally-created sewing patterns from Burda Style magazine, its most valuable asset lies in the community contributions. When members share their personalized projects using a particular pattern (such as the “Franzi” vest in Figures 1 and 2), new possibilities for the sewing pattern are created. The social-sharing feature of the platform encourages further interpretation and modification of the patterns, a fundamental practice in fashion design.

COMMUNITY LABOR
Home sewing today is an activity taken up through a variety of motivations. But whether as a hobby, passion, or necessity, the practice connects production with consumption in ways that have grown increasingly rare in the era of the globalized fashion industry. In addition to promoting this self-reliant practice, the BurdaStyle.com experience engages members in another level of consumer/producer intermingling. The site gains value through user-generated content, and promotes a community for sharing knowledge and inspiration. The platform publishes original content through blog posts and editorial projects, but the staff’s primary function is to foster community growth and achievement through sharing and learning. The platform is a place for members to build virtual identities and social relationships (SEE FIGURE 3). In her “Featured Member” interview, for example, member mollykatherine explains her relationship to BurdaStyle.com:

I’ve been a BurdaStyle member since January 2010, pretty much the day I started sewing again. I was looking for a free pattern online to practice with and stumbled across BurdaStyle. I was so excited by my discovery that I joined immediately and eagerly got sewing so I could be a part of it and upload my first project. I am now an avid member and stop by several times a day. I find the community so supportive and informative, and gain endless inspiration from all the other members’ creations. 7

In response to mollykatherine’s article, community member Turtlegirl00 wrote, “So happy you were featured! I love your sense of style and your projects are always inspiring!” Pambox, another member, commented, “Molly! Congratulations on being featured. Always love your stuff.” Pampula wrote, “Oh I loved reading your feature article, it was so fun to peek in your life and sewings! Everything you make is so lovely and inspiring :) And I’m so flattered that you chose two of my projects to your top ten favourites, Thank you so much!” 8

Figure 3

mollykatherine’s BurdaStyle.com member profile.


ENGAGED DESIGN: THE MARYY DRESS PATTERN
The extensive catalog of user-generated patterns and modifications represents a genuine alternative to the popular image of the “designer as genius,” and the corresponding top-down distribution system typical of mainstream fashion.

BurdaStyle.com members often reimagine mass-produced sewing patterns by altering the patterns in accordance with their personal tastes and specific projects. Community members identify with sewing no longer as just a means to copy fashion trends, but as an outlet for their own creativity and originality. The platform facilitates the practice of creative home sewing by encouraging engaged design. In 2008, BurdaStyle.com held an open call for the design of their next professionally-produced sewing pattern, an initiative that further extended the community-driven, crowd-sourced design practices promoted within the site. The winning design was the Maryy dress pattern, 9 a personal project shared prior to the open call that was nominated by members of the community. The Maryy dress was eventually made into a free, open-source sewing pattern, available for download: as of November 7, 2011, it had been downloaded 29,294 times, and used as the basis for over 100 new member projects. 10 Member comments on the project include expressions of excitement about their own version, disappointment in specific details of the pattern or instructions, and questions regarding the pattern. Mema79 writes, “I can support DanniiDx. I also had problems with the instructions and in the end I had to cut 8 centimetres from the bust of the dress so that it would fit me. Despite these problems I am very happy with the result and this is a very nice dress.” 11
By supporting a community of knowledge, best practices, and mutual inspiration, experiments like these promote a more active style of consumption, even within the parameters of a commercial, profit-seeking business.

The ability for members to link their modifications of a standard pattern through the site creates an ever-growing catalog of pattern interpretations and variations. This extensive catalog serves as a library as well as a source of inspiration for members’ own versions, and also represents a genuine alternative to the popular image of the “designer as genius,” and the corresponding top-down distribution system typical of mainstream fashion.

CONCLUSION
As the twenty-first century proceeds, the web is transforming the practice of product development and fashion marketing, blurring the line between producers and consumers. Online communities like BurdaStyle.com can to some extent counteract the relentless materialism and consumerism promoted by the mainstream fashion system, above all fast fashion. By supporting a community of knowledge, best practices, and mutual inspiration, experiments like these promote a more active style of consumption, even within the parameters of a commercial, profit-seeking business. This sort of value-added activity may also represent a hopeful example for other industries, in which traditional craft skills and local differences have been replaced by globalized manufacturing and media businesses that together promote the passive consumption of generic products. Through the social functions of the platform, the community reimagines the practice of home sewing as an interactive fashion system. The “Maryy” sewing pattern exemplifies the kind of community-driven design encouraged on the BurdaStyle website. When a pattern is made available on the platform, members reinterpret and enhance the design through their own variations. The community engagement produced through the online platform disrupts the traditional top-down dissemination of sewing patterns and promotes a more engaged kind of fashion that is helping to restore the traditional role of home sewing as an aspect of popular culture.

1

Yuniya Kawamura, Fashionology (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 1.









5

“Cutting Chiffon and other Slippery Fabrics,” last modified November 28, 2011, www.burdastyle.com/techniques/cutting-chiffon-and-other-slippery-fabrics.



6

Otto von Busch, Fashion-able: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design (Gothenburg: Art Monitor, 2008), 46.



7

Molly Katherine, “Featured Member: mollykatherine,” BurdaStyle Blog, last modified October 24, 2011, www.burdastyle.com/blog/featured-member-mollykatherine.



8

Turtlegirl00, October 26, 2011 (4:34 p.m.), Pambox, October 26, 2011 (2:25 a.m), Pampula, October 25, 2011 (12:52 p.m), comments on Molly Katherine, “Featured Member: mollykatherine,” BurdaStyle Blog, last modified October 24, 2011, www.burdastyle.com/blog/featured-member-mollykatherine.







11

Mema79, July 28, 2010 (8:29 p.m), comment on “Maryy,” last modified July 7, 2009, www.burdastyle.com/projects/maryy.

All Rights Reserved © 2019 Parsons The New School for Design