The Rise of D.I.Y. Culture

Jaime Faulkner, Editor In Chief, 2012-2013

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Author Maxine Hong Kingston once said, “In a time of destruction, create something.” Our generation has taken this to heart, and in spite of rising global tension and an uncertain future, we are daring to create. “Do-It-Yourself” (D.I.Y) culture is re-emerging from its punk roots to fight against a world of materialism and encourage independence.

What exactly is D.I.Y.? It’s an attitude that morphed into a subculture, an approach of innovation within the everyday and an aversion to taking the easy way out. It’s making your own stuff like music, clothing, and publications, or modifying something to fit your whims. It was originally a way of life born out of necessity; most people who consider themselves part of a D.I.Y. lifestyle started out trying to save money. Shopping at thrift stores didn’t become a trend until the core group of thrifters rose out of the politically charged 60s and 70s. These people were activists, musicians, and people with alternative lifestyles: the punks.

The D.I.Y. ethic fit in seamlessly with punk culture; by rejecting “the man” of big business and reusing old styles, thrifting became and continues to be one of the easiest ways to reject corporate control over trends, resources, and the future of fashion. The movement has always been mostly popular with teenagers and young adults, perhaps because of the appeal of the independence it offers. It’s about the defiance of unrealistic expectations set by authority figures and replacing consumption with creation. The skills learned from thrifting and making your own repairs such as resourcefulness, improved judgement, and increased focus are empowering. In the crucial character-building years of adolescence, learning how to create is a step towards becoming a happy and whole person. There’s power in figuring out how to provide for yourself; through this you can establish your identity free from the expectations and influences of the forces around you. D.I.Y. is about coming of age; it’s an act of defiance, a celebration of the individual, and a movement towards independence.

This radical movement became a core part of punk ideology, but was only embraced by the fringes. Grunge culture thrived under the radar, but the quality of thriftiness went largely underrated by the majority. The mainstream became more and more obsessed with new products, commercialism, and pleasure purchases. In the early 90s and 2000s, thrift shopping lost its appeal for the masses, because the economy was doing well. It took a global economic nosedive a few years ago to revamp the movement; most people couldn’t afford to keep up and no longer wanted to. While the thrifters on the fringe continued fighting consumerism, the culture began creeping into the mainstream; suddenly, a new generation was being introduced to an unorthodox method of political protest that was easy to take part in and would save them money. Add this to the fact that these young adults were growing up without the security or affluence of their parents, and the movement was reborn. It’s no wonder that the idea of teaching yourself skills to enhance independence became popular.

The Internet is largely responsible for the rebirth of D.I.Y. culture. With an Internet connection and willpower, a person can learn how to do almost anything. Websites like Wikipedia encourage direct participation by having readers submit and share knowledge on different subjects to build a vast network of mostly accurate and constantly shifting information. Instructables and Youtube have millions of user-submitted tutorials for anything from building a kite to cutting hair to coding for a website.  An explosion of blogging, thanks to platforms like Tumblr, Blogspot, and WordPress, has dramatically increased the number of online space dedicated to the D.I.Y. ethic. Thrift Core, a blogspot and online shop, outlined both its purpose and, really, the greater purpose of thrifting: they “strive to inspire, educate, and unite a community of thrifters, interior-design lovers, crafters, vintage collectors, and creatives of all kinds.” Carla Sinclair, Editor-in-Chief of the underground D.I.Y. magazine Craft, said “This DIY renaissance embraces crafts while pushing them beyond traditional boundaries, either through technology, irony, irreverence, and creative recycling, or by using innovating materials and processes…the new craft movement encourages people to make things themselves rather than buy what thousands of others already own. It provides new venues for crafters to show and sell their wares, and it offers original, unusual, alternative, and better-made goods to consumers who choose not to fall in step with mainstream commerce.” These venues are getting a special highlight through the Internet, allowing small businesses to flourish without corporate sponsorship or control. One of these websites is Etsy, which is akin to an online flea market where individuals or small businesses can sell vintage or handmade items. The site encourages the growth of small business and an emphasis on quality, not quantity. It’s not the only site of its kind; online markets like ArtFire, DaWanda, and Folksy offer the same idea on different platforms. The rising popularity of such sites proves that doing it yourself is here to stay.

In a move completely steeped in irony, the corporate world has taken notice of the rise in thrifters and responded accordingly. Most runways this past year were filled with clothing of the movement – grungy plaids, combat boots, oversized sweaters, and deliberate “throwback” accessories. Clothing that looks deliberately worn in and frayed is coming directly off factory lines, and this has spawned a new generation of “hipsters” – young adults who want a thrifted aesthetic but aren’t concerned about saving money. They want the coolness of the D.I.Y. punk approach without the work or personalization of creation, and the sky-high price tags of the season reflect their apathy toward bargain hunting.

Lucky for us, thrift culture has recently come to Horizon without pretension. Most students here seem rather interested in creating a personal look and teaching themselves skills to gain independence. Perhaps it’s because as a student body we are intrinsically  motivated to succeed, or maybe it’s Horizon’s emphasis on problem solving. Either way, the idea of readapting trends and working with what we have has struck a chord among Horizon students. Senior Stephanie Yamamoto, who’s going to be featured in the yearbook for her exceptionally cool sense of fashion, explained her approach to getting dressed: “I don’t really get rid of clothes ever, I just modify them when they get boring…sometimes I cut up t-shirts. I really only shop the sales racks, and recently I brought out my mom’s and my old clothes from the garage to wear- mostly just the weird stuff like her rainbow suspenders and my old red leather vest.”

Mykah Hernandez, 8th grader, has a similar approach. “I prefer thrift stores, but you learn over time which ones have gold or not. Shopping at thrift stores doesn’t necessarily mean bad quality or cheap clothes so it’s always worth a chance. You’re not confined to the certain genre of clothing, so to speak, when you go to a thrift store.” Interest isn’t limited only to the crafty; our most recent Spirit Week included “Thrifty Thursday,” a day where students were encouraged to show off their favorite thrift store finds. Student Council hosted a version of “The Price Is Right” at lunch and had students guess on the prices of random thrift store items to win them. The Horizon interest is also reflected in our music choices; underground rapper Macklemore recently became wildly popular online and at our school due to his insanely catchy single, “Thrift Shop.” It’s become somewhat of an anthem among thrifters at school, and most students could hum it if you sang the hook for them.

I’ve learned about D.I.Y. culture first hand from my experiences at school and the experiences I’ve created for myself. As I’ve grown older, I’ve leaned heavily on D.I.Y. inspiration online while developing a personal style. For a while, I dismissed fashion as vapid and frivolous. As I began exploring subcultures, especially punk culture, I learned fashion is a powerful tool of communication and self expression. I began to experiment with new looks and presentations, and by creating and altering clothing, I was able to better understand myself.  By thrifting, I’ve saved money and gained confidence, in both my appearance and my ability to make wise choices financially. I’ve been through intense periods of personal growth throughout the last two years and struggled a lot to become secure in my sense of self. By teaching myself independence through making my own necessities and embracing alternative fashion, I’ve become a better person.  I was also pleased by the political effect of my choices. As I’ve grown up, I’ve been able to spot the uneven distribution of power that corporations have over consumers and our culture. I felt powerless in the face of global greed, and I didn’t know how to make a difference. It seemed like nothing I could do would result in a significant change, but I realized something as simple as recycling clothing would dent their profits and improve my state of mind. The rich punk history of D.I.Y. and its welcoming and fiercely cool presence online only made it more appealing. The D.I.Y. ethic is fascinating, timely, and here to stay. So next time you’re by a Goodwill or thinking of tossing an old shirt, why not try something new? You might end up embracing an empowering and hardcore mentality.