March 27, 2010

The Dressing-Up Phenomenon

When I was a little girl, I didn't need an excuse to dress up, but Easter was when I especially went all-out. My mother even bought me an Easter hat occassionally, which I remember was donned with ruffles and ribbons and everything else girlie and splendid. I loved Easter, when I could prance around in a princess dress and Mary-Jane's, looking for my Easter basket and wearing my hair in curls.

My daughter Mia doesn't need a special occassion to dress up either, which is why I refer to her as an 'everyday diva'. Her wardrobe consists of more princess-gear than I ever owned as a kid, and I owned plenty myself. I was in the habit of changing outfits up to three times a day, and sometimes even slept in a party dress if I felt so inclined. My mom told me that I owned so many dresses that if I didn't put on three a day, I would've grown out of them before I even got a chance to wear them. So we were both pleased with my dressing-up obsession.

Sometimes I wonder if I might be depriving Mia of that extra-special feeling of getting dressed up for something extra-special, instead of just because it's a Tuesday. A special occassion deserves special attention, and what could be more attentive than getting all dolled up! But then I remember, my daughter is the product of my own dress-obsessed loins, so I can hardly deprive her of her own natural desire to dress up whenever she wants to.

It's all about accessorizing, knowing how to not overdress. For example, I am a strong supporter of girls wearing tutus to school, as long as they're dressed down enough, like with a pair of jeans underneath. Personally, I've been known to wear an evening gown with Doc Martens to school. Dressing up doesn't have to be saved for a special occassion - just a Tuesday can, and should, be special enough!

Mia is pretty lucky to have a seamstress for a mom, who can put together a dress fit for an everyday diva pretty much on demand. She only need knock on the door of my studio, pick out all the pink flowery fabrics she likes, wait a bit while I assemble them and voilĂ ! She has a new frock, and I have a happy daughter. Like the new mialeentje patchwork dress - Mia chose all the bits of fabric, so I know she will love it. It's pretty enough for Easter and just about every other Spring day! And best of all, when Mia gets tired of it, I'll just put it up for sale on mialeentje!

So when Easter comes along, I won't need to go out of my way to make sure Mia gets dressed up. She takes care of that on her own. And I am happy to know that the days leading up to and following Easter are considered just as important to her. Every day is a special occassion, every day is to be celebrated, and every day is another excuse to dress-up (for us everyday divas, that is).

March 26, 2010

What's Up with Upcycling?

The term 'upcycling' originates from the book 'Cradle to Cradle - re-inventing the way we use things' that came out in 2002. Since then it's been a sort of guidebook for folks like me, who believe strongly in recycling and re-using all the stuff we already have. To my knowledge, there is no term for 'upcycling' in Dutch, which makes me wonder: what's up with that? Does 'upcycling' even exist in Holland?

I had the advantage growing up that my parents had a very nomadic way of thinking, and our furniture represented that mentality. We moved around, so our belongings had to be easy to take apart and put back together again. We were sort of like our own personal Ikea. We slept on beds made out of old doors, read by lamps made out of styrofoam cups and played on jungle gyms constructed from huge plastic sewage piping, to name but a few examples. So I was raised how to think creatively about building something I wanted or needed out of existing materials. It's no mystery why I am passionate about my business, mialeentje, which is completely based on re-using.

Now that I have been running a business in 'upcycled' kidswear for over six months, I am beginning to understand how Europeans - the Dutch in particular - think about re-using existing materials. I could be wrong, but I get the impression Dutch people just don't like the idea of re-using anything that's already been used. The secondhand stores I frequent are usually empty, the kids in my son and daughter's pre-school class are all wearing the very latest in new kids' fashion, even the houses people want to live in and the cars they want to drive are most preferrably new and very definitely un-used. There seems to be a very prominent desire (in a large percentage of Dutch people anyway) to maintain a certain status, a status that does not include using secondhand anything.

When I spent a month in America last year, I saw a very different mentality. There, upcycling was not only a known phenomenon, it was accepted, it was practised and it was considered an all-round good thing! Maybe the book 'Cradle to Cradle' had more of an impact om Americans than it did on Europeans, but I was thrilled to see how many people were busy creating their own things out of used materials like it was just a normal thing to do. I should probably mention, however, that I am talking about an extremely small slice of America where a community of exceptionally creative people live, so my preconception that all Americans are pro-upcycling might not be completely realistic... In any case, the term is certainly known and accepted by Americans, whether or not they actually read the book.

I ask myself on a regular basis why my products seem to be more popular with Americans than with the Dutch, and the only conclusion I can come up with is that 'upcycling' is simply 'not done' in Holland. The mentality here seems to be that the value of a new garment goes downhill as soon as its purchased, and after it's been worn a few times, it might as well be thrown away. I am lucky to have a few friends and family who still believe in handing down clothing - without them my kids would be forced to go around naked! Sure, I could buy new things for them, but I can't seem to shake the idea that 'upcyling' is better - it doesn't require any production in the far east for starters.

'Upcycling' is also very simply the way to go when it comes to giving our environment a break, which is struggling as it is. By using what we've got right in our own backyards, attics or basements, we won't have to create any extra co2 in the production, importing and exporting of new stuff. And besides all this, 'upcycling' demands creativity. It forces you to come up with a creative solution, challenges you re-invent, rethink and re-use.

So I guess I 'upcycle', therefore I am.