There’s no doubt that crochet is the current craze and has earned its rightful place as a beloved lockdown activity. Handcrafted pieces can be found all over Instagram and TikTok: checkered crochet tote bags, bucket hats, cami tops and cardigans.  A sense of youthful spirit has reinvigorated the craft, transforming what was once viewed as a pastime more fit for your grandmother into a bright and colourful expression of style. However, the entry of fast fashion into the crochet scene presents wider ethical issues. 

Since the start of the pandemic, as many turned to arts and crafts as a form of escapism, hand-made and slow fashion took centre stage. Activities traditionally associated with domesticity became an art form during lockdown; while spending more time at home, we found new hobbies and embraced a slower way of life. I tried crochet for the first time and was immediately hooked by how mindful and therapeutic it could be, first completing a pink ruched summer crop top and then attempting a cardigan.  

“Activities traditionally associated with domesticity became an art form during lockdown”

Designer brands also picked up on the trend and featured crocheted designs in their collections. Last year, Harry Styles’ rainbow patchwork JW Anderson cardigan went viral after his appearance on the Today show.  As most could not afford the $1,500 knit, a DIY craze was sparked, and fans across the world decided to reproduce Harry’s style. The cardigan, like most things which adorn Harry, became so iconic that its designer, Jonathan Anderson, shared the pattern on Instagram.   

This summer, crocheting even made its way to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Tom Daley — Britain’s national treasure — captured the hearts and minds of the world as he sat in the Olympic stands knitting and crocheting between events. His wholesome devotion to the craft, which he took up during lockdown, can be seen on his Instagram page @madewithlovebytomdaley which has amassed over 1.4 million followers. It features all of his DIY projects, including a Union Jack medal cosy for his gold win and his impressive Olympic cardigan which he recently modelled for the cover of Wonderland magazine.  

Naturally, fast fashion brands caught on to the crochet trend, which seemed paradoxical and ingenuine. How can a craft predicated on a slow fashion cycle operate on the scale and business model on which fast fashion is based? Crochet cannot be done by machine, unlike other processes, meaning that the time it takes to produce a crocheted item is lengthened.  The crocheting process requires close attention to detail and meticulous focus from the producers, as everything is handmade. Despite this elaborate process, Boohoo’s crochet dresses are still sold at £6, H&M’s crocheted bag goes for £12.99, and Pretty Little Thing’s crochet cardigan is currently a mere £7. When the cost of design, materials, shipping and packaging are combined, the low price points beg us to question the ethics behind crocheted pieces produced by fast fashion. 

“How can a craft predicated on a slow fashion cycle operate on the scale and business model upon which fast fashion is based?”

TikTok creator @dreas_hook highlights the issue in a seven part series analysing a crochet bikini top from Target, retailed at $22.  Drea deconstructs the Target product and reproduces her own swatch of it, revealing that it is a “tedious” and “labour intensive project” which could only have been made by hand.  She estimates that the whole top would take about three hours to make, and stresses that the garment worker could not have been fairly compensated for this effort. Given the ethical issues of production already inherent in the way fast fashion brands operate, the problem is heightened even further when crocheted pieces enter the picture. 

Fast fashion crochet also devalues the work of ethical independent brands. The low prices offered by the likes of PLT and Boohoo become normalised so consumers are disincentivised from purchasing from independent designers. This in turn compels smaller businesses to lower their own prices to remain competitive with their corporate-funded competitors. More alarmingly, fast fashion brands have become infamous for stealing designs from independent designers. An exact replica of designer Elexiay’s crochet jumper was sold on Shein this July, leaving her feeling “crushed”, as she took to Twitter to write: “Spent hours designing and brainstorming this design and it takes days to crochet each sweater.”  Sadly, these occasions of design theft stretch far beyond the realm of crochet. 


Mountain View

The radical sincerity of Bode

In the hands of fast fashion brands, crochet items become throwaway pieces for those who can afford to keep buying and disposing of trends as and when they desire.  Crochet arose as a wholesome trend, a mindful escape from lockdown, and a fun expression of individuality.  It still has this unique power in the hands of DIY crafters and independent creators.  The trend’s darker side, however, cannot be ignored as fast fashion retailers shatter crochet’s positive meaning.  Ultimately, the underlying issue of garment worker exploitation cannot be left out of the crochet conversation.