Nova Scotian skipping factory fashion to make her whole wardrobe from scratch
Making a pair of jeans as easy as assembling a piece of IKEA furniture, Erica Penton says
Erica Penton used to just toss her pyjamas on the floor in the morning. Now she hangs them up.
That's because she made those pyjamas — as well as a number of shirts, skirts, coats and pants — as part of an ambitious project to make her entire wardrobe herself, in just 18 months.
"I've discovered with sewing that nothing is ever as scary as you think it's going to be," she said.
"If you can assemble a piece of IKEA furniture, you can make a pair of jeans."
Penton, 35, started the project last August and has so far made about 20 garments, recording the time and money spent on each item on her blog, myhandmadewardrobe.com.
You just take it seam-by-seam and step-by-step.- Erica Penton
Having worked in the corporate fashion world — doing everything from folding T-shirts to designing window displays — Penton told the CBC's Information Morning she wanted to draw attention to the amount of work required to create fast fashion items, as well as the true costs.
True cost of fashion
Most stores are "not charging you the actual cost of the item," Penton said.
"It's hard for me to make a nice, button-down shirt for under $60," she said — and that only covers her materials, not labour.
Most people wouldn't dream of paying that much for a shirt nowadays, she said.
The last time Penton calculated her overall costs, she found she had spent slightly more than $1,000 on 11 handmade items, including two winter coats.
Not only is making her own wardrobe the ethical thing to do, Penton said, it's a luxury to have clothes that are made to order.
"I'm petite and I also have a curvy body shape so nothing ever fit me well," she said.
"Now I get to have whatever I would like to wear, custom-made to me, in a fashion that I know is ethical," Penton said.
"That's just a win all-around."
From shoes to bras
While she won't attempt to make "extremely technical items" like winter boots, she is prepared to tackle shoes, bras, and even a bathing suit.
Penton is not a professional seamstress.
She said she learned to sew a few years ago by watching tutorials online and gleaning tips from family members and acquaintances, and then she simply "fell in love with it."
She uses a very loud, old, hand-me-down sewing machine from the 1980s, Penton said.
"Everything that I'm making, the average person can make at home," she said. "You just take it seam-by-seam and step-by-step."
Disasters and successes
Things don't always turn out as planned, Penton said.
She recently attempted to make a fitted dress, but ended up with about 20 cm of extra fabric at the back. She decided to forgo the zipper and make a back-less dress instead.
It "looks beautiful," she said.
The most nerve-wracking project thus far involved "distressing" a pair of hand-made jeans.
It was scary, Penton said, "having worked so hard on them and then ripping them up."
Penton said she's pleased with the results. "It felt like the ultimate act of letting go."
With files from the CBC's Information Morning