Welcome back. In Part I, I discussed drafting errors, grafts and crotches in indie patterns. In Part II, I finally utilise my psyc degree for completely useless purposes and share sordid stories of brand loyalty. For those with visual difficulties, there is a GIF at the end of the post.
Indie pattern company lovers: I get the hype, I really do. Being a member of several online communities that have an inclination to cult-like behaviour, I have seen and participated in many trends which were little more than clever marketing campaigns. I have seen knitting lovers fight for the right to purchase $100+ skeins of yarn. On buy swap sell groups, brand lovers will line up to purchase a stained $200 dress, or bid each other upwards of $1000 for a jacket that cost $300 retail. I’ve even sold crotch-stained tights to a diehard Gorman lover.* I’VE SEEN SOME SHIT GUYS.**
I first discovered Asian beauty through its subreddit, and quickly became enamoured with its cutesy packaging, bizarre ingredients, and promises of smooth skin. Sheet masks, bee venom, cosmetically elegant sunscreen – I loved it all. One of the most revered products in AB is Benton’s snail bee essence (and associated products). Adherents claim miraculous results such as the elimination of acne and wrinkles, smoother, and brighter skin.
Inspired by tales of marble-smooth skin, I bought my snail bee essence from eBay, and happily slathered it on my face for a few days. Until one day, when I awoke with a huge rash on my face, with my skin the texture of a kitchen sponge (*voms*). Some panicked Googling led me to discover that I was far from alone. What’s worse, is that the AB community was well aware of the issue, but chose to sweep it under the carpet, so as not to disrupt their worship of the Mighty Sneezus, their snail god. (I’m not joking.)
What really happened: Benton sent out contaminated product, which contained insufficient preservative to prevent bacterial growth. Unsuspecting customers slathered it on their faces, leading to mild dermatitis in the least affected, and full-blown skin infections in others. I was incredibly lucky that my skin cleared up in a few weeks, though the feeling of touching the deformed skin on my face will be difficult to forget. Others had infections lasting months, with permanent damage caused to their skin.
Benton was made aware of these reactions immediately, and chose to do nothing. One popular reviewer was doxxed due to her criticism. Eventually, they agreed to a refund, but remain on the defensive regarding their other products.
The danger of hyping small companies with a cult-like fervour is clearly far more than just a few wasted dollars. If companies are not committed to creating a safe product, and their customers do not demand one, then anyone who purchases their product is at risk.
When I studied psychology at uni, my favourite subject was social psychology. In particular, I was fascinated by groupthink. If you put a group of people who hold similar views in a room for a few hours, they will come out with their views reinforced, and far more extreme than they were previously. The classic case is the poor decision-making process that went on in George Bush’s war cabinet and led to the invasion of Iraq. An example closer to home is the Cronulla riots.
In 2005, tensions were growing between young Lebanese and white Sydney-siders. A fight between surf-lifesavers and youths of Middle-Eastern descent sparked a flame. Conservative commentator and professional scumbag Alan Jones read a text on air: “Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge… get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day,” and encouraged his listeners to attend (he was later convicted of inciting hatred and racial violence).
You can see where this is going. Approximately 5,000 white douchebags convened near the North Cronulla beach and spent the morning drinking and chanting “Fuck off wogs,” before assaulting individual passer-bys who looked vaguely Middle Eastern.
What these rioters did was horrendous, and there is no excuse for their behaviour. But it also seems unlikely that the violent acts committed (which including attacking police officers) would have occurred were the offenders not in a huge crowd of people who shared their beliefs. When discussing the issue in class, I was shocked to hear my fellow class mate state he had received the text, and planned on attending the riots but pulled out at the last minute. How could this student, who seemed like your garden-variety, weight pumping dudebro, consider travelling 6 hours to Sydney to “bash wogs”?
You might think that selling dodgy sewing patterns is a world away from committing terrible acts of violence, or even knowingly giving someone a skin infection. And you’d be right. But the same psychological force is behind all of these examples – groupthink, the force which, driven by the desire to conform, will make any belief extreme.
Groupthink makes fangirls of us all. I have received a private message on Instagram, informing me that my muslin was so fugly, Heidi Klum herself couldn’t make it look good. After buttering me up, the messenger recommended Christine Hayne’s patterns to me, as she was Our Lady of Perpetual Sewing Success. Patterns for Pirates (not a typo) is another brand which seems to have legions of astroturfers, paid or otherwise. Their recommendations for P4P’s PegLeg Pattern which is so ! Good! guys you have to try THEM!!!!!! are found on every sewing forum.
It is highly likely that when you see a blogger raving about how the fit from indie patterns is far superior to that from any “big” company, they believe it. The fact that many consumers are willing to pay $20-30 for a pattern which could be purchased from another company for a few dollars is testament to that belief. And the mental gymnastics which accompany that belief are evident when sewists excoriate themselves for fit issues which are the fault of their pattern, not themselves.
I’m not suggesting you ditch all indie patterns and only sew McCall’s – far from it. I am fully aware that many love sewing with indie patterns (myself included), and that is great! If you are happy with your sewing experience and the finished garment, that is all that matters.
What I wish was that patterns were rated on their merits, not their brand. That unscrupulous companies would stop selling rubbish to unsuspecting newbies which only makes them feel bad about their abilities. And that we as a sewing community felt comfortable discussing criticism of patterns, without being hounded as non-believers or afraid of being “too critical.”
As for me, I’ll stick to my mostly Euro-pattern appetite, with a healthy dose of the Big 4, and some carefully selected indie patterns. I hope that every sewist finds a mix of patterns which is equally as satisfying, doesn’t cost the earth, and most importantly, makes them feel good about their sewing.
*Don’t ask. It wasn’t a weird sex thing, I promise (as far as I know).
**I actually unfollowed a lot of BSS groups as I found the privilege so upsetting. Watching a bunch of women, entirely without self-awareness, scramble over an “essential” garment which costs more than I earn in a month is fucking depressing.