Sharyn and I met while we were both working at BIG. Sharyn and her husband moved back to Taiwan, and Ava came along to complete the family. Since then Sharyn, as she explained on the interview, started sewing for her daughter as a way to re-use nice pieces of textile, as well to express her minimal and Scandinavian-taste on fashion. This is a very inspirational story, a combination of creative skills and no waste.
What is sustainability for you?
Sustainability is about the preservation of the planet Earth that we live on, and ensuring that all living beings, not just humans, can continue to prosper generation after generation. As a single individual, I often feel powerless to change the self-destructive course that mankind is currently headed. But I still have hope inside me that every little action that we as single individuals take—from cutting waste from our daily lives by refusing plastic bags and upcycling unwanted items, etc., to saving gas and electricity by cycling, walking and taking public transportation more and turning lights off when not in use, etc.—will make a positive difference.
You share on your Facebook page clothes that you have customized for Ava. How did the idea start? Why?
I have a minimal and Scandinavian-inspired taste when it comes to clothing, and naturally when my daughter came along I wanted to dress her the same way, but was disappointed to find that baby clothes that are affordable where I live usually come in clashing colors, with too much lace and frills or cartoon characters on them. I thought I’d be better off making the clothes myself, so, equipped with zero sewing skills, a cheap sewing machine I impulsively bought off the internet and the belief that I can teach myself anything by watching Youtube tutorials, I started making clothes for Ava, who was then 7 months old.
Why is the re-usage of clothes are so important, in your opinion?
In the USA alone, 13 million tons of clothes are thrown away each year, at a rate faster than charity organizations and second-hand clothing shops can handle, so most of the clothes end up in the dump, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste*. The fact is, these unwanted clothes can be given a new life with just a bit of creativity and basic sewing know-how. I deliberately choose to make clothes for Ava from old clothes instead of new fabric because I simply don’t like to waste. Many of the clothes that we never want to wear again may be out of style, but their fabrics are not. It would be a pity for all that good fabric to be buried in a dump!
Where do you get the textiles from?
I started out using fabric from my own clothes that I didn’t want to wear anymore. Since people found out that I was making clothes for Ava, I’ve gotten several “donations” of old clothing from friends who used this a great excuse to clean out their closets! I take anything people give me, even fabrics and colours that may seem challenging, because sometimes the most difficult ones force me to get really creative, and end up becoming some of my best work ever. For example, my friend gave me two pairs of oversized pants made of stiff fabric, one grey and one neon yellow. For a long time I didn’t know what to do with them—I thought the texture was too coarse for baby skin and there were too many existing pockets, buttons and zippers for there to be enough usable fabric for anything—until one day, I turned these two pairs of pants into one very nice winter jacket for Ava. (See pictures below)
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes mostly from the fabric itself. I almost never set out with a clear idea of what I want to make. When Ava is sleeping and I have some quiet time for myself, I would sit on the floor with my boxes of old clothing spread out around me and through seeing and touching, let the fabrics transform into new designs in my head. In addition, I’m very inspired by Nordic-style aesthetics and my memories of living in Denmark, so I try to reflect that in my work as well.
How many pieces have you customized so far?
After one year of sewing, I have made perhaps close to one hundred pieces! (Not all are successful, I have to admit, but every mistake was a good learning opportunity.)
How does Ava react every time you show her a new garment you made?
When she was younger she’d let me dress her however I wanted, but since Ava turned one, she’s been becoming increasingly opinionated about what she wears. Instead of only working on the clothes when she’s asleep, these days I sometimes let her be my little helper (like hand me pins as I work) and watch me use the sewing machine. I find that by involving her, I make her more interested in the clothes I create for her, and she’s always delighted when I hand her a new dress or shirt to try on.
As she grows up, some clothes do not fit her anymore. What do you do with those pieces? (re-use or donate?!)
Perhaps when I run out of storage space in our apartment I’ll pass them on to friends who want them. I’ll always keep the most special pieces as souvenirs, though. I put a lot of love into them!
How do you see/understand kids fashion world nowadays?
Based on my limited observation currently living in Taiwan, mainstream, affordable children’s clothing here is quite the opposite of my preferred aesthetic (too colorful, too cartoon-y, etc.), whereas the few well-designed, tasteful brands are usually beyond my budget. Perhaps I am one of the rare people here who do not like to see children dressed in overly kiddy styles, and prefer more muted colours and simple, elegant, non-frilly forms. I follow a Nordic kid’s clothing blog called Little Scandinavian, and am so envious of the choices that parents in that part of the world have! Here in Taiwan, I just have to DIY to get what I want. Not complaining! 😉
Sustainable living mode does not have to do only with simplicity and functionality, but with the way you appreciate your lifestyle and care about the planet. How do you think this project can influence a change?
There is so much potential in the “unwanted” materials that we often too easily discard. Not everyone will take an interest in sewing, but I hope my project would at least inspire people to think for a minute before they throw something away and see if it can be repurposed into something else. I once used leftover trimmings from an IKEA curtain in a dress I made for Ava (not in direct contact with her skin)*. I also made covers for my sewing machine and printer from the same curtain trimmings. It made me happy that I produced more functionality from what otherwise would have just ended in the trash. Upcycling is the way to go!
*This is the white dress with colorful dots hanging on the rack in one of the enclosed photos.
Interview by Camila Buschle
Sharyn Hsin-Yu Hwang
Co-Founder and Operations Director at MIIM Office for Architecture / Mom to Ava
Currently living in Taiwan
photos by Sharyn Hwang