Handmade Wear Meets Art: How Slow Fashion Is Inspiring Today’s Cutting-Edge Artists

Emily Watlington

BY EMILY WATLINGTONPlus IconMay 14, 2021 12:35pm

Left, an airbrushed drawing of a
Screengrab from Min Ji Son’s website, www.minjison.com.

These days, brands such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, and others dominate the market with low-priced takes on designer wear. Because these lines allegedly rely on sweatshops, manufacture garments not meant to last, and base their business on quickly fading trends, their offerings have been termed fast fashion. In response, another movement has developed: slow fashion, which makes use of craft techniques, aspires toward a more ethical form of production, and is intended to have greater longevity. The model Ella Emhoff, with her one-of-a-kind knitwear that looks charmingly handmade, has become something of a poster child for the movement, and many hobbyists have picked up knitting, crocheting, and sewing to pass the time during quarantine. There are countless makers, and increasingly, many are selling their work on Instagram or at boutiques like Café Forgot in New York. In fact, the New York Times recently called handmade clothes the opposite of “cheugy”—the Gen Z adjective that describes out-of-date trends. A number of these makers have art practices, too. Take a look at the artists whose work moves seamlessly between painting and sculpture, jewelry and garments.

Left, a Black person with triangle hair wears a yellow shirt with a hand drawn smiley sun on it. PRODA is written below the sun. Right, three plush figures with huge eyes, frown, and bunny costumes congregate around a bird bath. It's an art installation, and there is an astroturf floor, blue walls, and a bunch of plush lady bugs and bunnies.
Photo : Courtesy Larrie, New York.

Sean-Kierre Lyons

Left: Vita Kurland wears Sean-Kierre Lyons’s PRODA shirt. Right: View of Lyons’s exhibition “Mmhhmm,” 2019, at Larrie, New York.

In plush sculptures and colored pencil drawings, the self-taught New York–based artist creates a fantasy world of flower warriors in a realm where “everything is a Black figure, and everything has consciousness.” Lyons’s latest flower warrior shirts, currently for sale via Nguyen Inc., are follow-ups to their 2019 collection launch with fictional collaborators PRODA and GUCCHY. For New York Fashion Week in 2020, Lyons partnered with designer Collina Strada to create 11 limited-edition T-shirts, with 70 percent of proceeds going to G.L.I.T.S, a nonprofit that provides support and essential care to trans sex workers. Lyons’s collabs are sewn by machines, but the artist’s drawn images give their vivacious garments the feeling that they’re made by hand.

Read an essay about the artist here

Left, 5 or so pairs of translucent dagger earrings in pastel purples, pinks, and blues. RIght, a white, square chainlink fence with ribbons wrapped around the edges. There are 5 white lamb sculptures and a dozen or so opalescent and pink smiling apple sculptures affixed to the chain. Whtie ribbons drape below.
Photo : Left: courtesy the artist. Right: Courtesy Mickey, Chicago.


Left: Emma Pryde’s Scimitar Earrings. Right: Aspirational Lamb Gate, 2020,
epoxy dough, galvanized fence, resin, wire, metal hardware, glass, crystal, plastic tiaras, house paint, ribbon, 60 by 36½ by 4 inches.

This Wisconsin-based jeweler and sculptor casts emblems of innocence and girlhood—bows, butterflies, angles, poodles—in pastel pinks, purples, and blues. They’re almost nauseatingly sweet, and that’s the point. Pryde’s sculptures are composed of porcelain, plastic, and found objects; her one-of-a-kind jewelry is typically made of laser-cut plastic. She’s best known for her dangling dagger earrings.

Read an interview with Emma Pryde

Left, 8 garments with airbrushed paintings in a grid. Right: two fashionable, anime-esque figures pose against an abstract, airbrush background. One holds a gloopy, digitally rendered, green flower.
Photo : Courtesy the artist.

Min Ji Son

Left: Screengrab from Min Ji Son’s website, www.minjison.com. Right: Today Too, digital drawing, dimensions variable. 

Son’s airbrushed and digital paintings, often incorporating anime-esque figures against hazy, pastel backgrounds, are just as likely to appear on garments as they are on canvases. The Los Angeles–based artist upcycles secondhand garments by airbrushing feminine figures onto them.

A photo of a tattoo and a separate image of painting. The tattoo is of a spikey vine wrapping around someone's arms that includes spindly flowers and two red devlish figures. The painting is an airbrushed spiderweb with hints of primary colors but mostly against a dark, spooky background. There are a few twinkles and a heart in the middle of the web.
Photo : Courtesy the artist.

Will Sheldon

Left: a tattoo by Will Sheldon. Right: Will Sheldon, Web, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 69 by 55 inches.

Sheldon is based in New York, where he is best known as a tattoo artist, though he also paints. His fantastical images—spindly Gothic fairies, dragons, and skeletons—show up in both his paintings and tattoos, which he says can be worn just like clothes. He’s inspired by mall art and the trading card game Magic the Gathering.

Read an interview with Will Sheldon here.


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