The importance of involving children in the creation of clothing
Children and their place in fashion is an often overlooked element in a world dominated by adult-centric design. However, a new wave of DIY trends has sparked a home craft revival that keeps people of all ages busy. Maija Nygren is one of those who have fully embraced this trend in her one-woman design studio, Almaborealis, launching an innovative self-assembly project that puts children’s creativity at the wheel.
Puzzleware, which was launched by the Edinburgh-based mother-of-one last year, has since been shortlisted for Dezeen’s 2021 Awards in its wearable design category. Speaking to FashionUnited, Nygren said the response has been “mental” since that recognition. “I’ve never been in such a caliber before,” she said, adding that the backlash has resulted in an extremely busy Christmas period for her.
The project, which she described as “a different clothing zone”, involves a bundle of puzzle-like fabric pieces that children can put together to make their own clothes. “Being shortlisted really demonstrated the strength of the concept,” she said. “It’s been a tough thing to market. It’s hard to pin down because it’s kind of ‘weird’, it’s something people aren’t used to seeing.
Speaking about when the idea came to him, Nygren said: “I am a parent myself and have noticed that there is a real lack of sustainable creative craft kits, or craft kits made of general, which allow a child to create a three-dimensional object. clothing they can actually wear.
The craft kits include colorful pieces of yarn with easy lace-up holes that help kids stitch the blocks together effortlessly, almost like putting together a puzzle. Each pack comes with blunt knitting needles and a Learn to Stitch card printed on recycled paper, all with the aim of making clothing production fully accessible to children. The kits are developed with the intention of causing little to no errors so that assembly is frustration free and therefore has the ability to build confidence in a young designer.
“I noticed the lack of urgency in children’s clothing, not only in durability but also in the production rate of the clothing, and the children have no say,” she said of of the discrepancy it has observed in the market. “I was inspired by that. What if the child could participate in this process and have a say? Clothing is such an important tool for expression and exploration of identity. It’s something which often happens in adolescence, but why couldn’t it start even earlier?”
Nygren’s goal was to organize the process of creating clothes in a way that was accessible to children so that their clothes could also be a way for them to express themselves and allow them to have a voice in what they carry.
“What is important is to integrate the idea of where things come from…”
“I think it’s important to allow them to understand that they can have an impact and that it could later spill over into other areas of society,” she said. “What’s also important is integrating the idea of where things come from and how they’re made. If you understand where something is made, you’re more likely to have a deeper connection to it. and take care of it – especially if you built it yourself.
She added that losing the manufacturing concept could be directly linked to excessive consumption, which the kit attempts to dismantle. Sustainability also extends to the product itself. The lambswool used for the puzzle pieces is all-wool and biodegradable, and comes with plastic-free packaging that Maija says is either recycled, recyclable or reusable. The wooden needles also add to the experience, acting almost like sensory factors that she says are more comforting and welcoming than the plastic needles.
“There are subtle differences that I took that maximized the use of sustainable materials,” she noted. “That’s the kind of standard and ideal that I want to set – to be completely plastic-free – that I’m sure I can go further.”
Overall, the project sees education and sustainability go hand in hand, bringing together both the dexterity and confidence-building elements with sustainable processes. She added: “It educates in sustainable thinking while inherently having all aspects of creativity and problem solving.”
“In the UK, the 60s cloth kits are the closest I can think of in concept,” Nygren continued. “The heritage I have tied to knitting – ingenuity and making things last – comes from my parents and grandparents.”
In fact, it’s grandparents that Nygren counts among his largest customer groups, often finding them shopping for the kits for their grandchildren to rekindle the skills they were using themselves. Alongside the grandparents, the parents of the children also play an important role in the success of the project. However, Nygren observed that customers often have to be a bit open-minded about the concept, which may seem unusual to some. Still, she understands the concern.
“It can be quite difficult to allow your child to go out and dress the way they want. I had to swallow my words when my child picked out his own clothes, but I’m allowing him to go out anyway,” Nygren said, commenting that the project appeals mostly to parents who aren’t afraid to do the same. She acknowledges that elements, such as exposed hand-stitching, can be quite noticeable, however, suggested that it can simply be perceived in the same way as a child’s personal handwriting, as something the parents can really celebrate.
Creating clothes as a form of self-expression
Nonetheless, Nygren considered appealing to a wider customer base, mentioning plans to explore more muted tones and unique colors in future releases with the aim of possibly influencing more parents. “Color clashes are often not everyone’s cup of tea,” she remarked.
While the real growth of the project is tied to greater customer demand and an evolution of herself as a designer, Nygren’s Puzzleware project is ultimately about the creative expression of the child and the development of personal skills. She hopes the kits will help deepen learning in young children and eventually mature their creative problem-solving and dexterity skills, something often not covered in the children’s clothing category.
Picture This, a company that recreates clothes designed by children themselves, is also co-run by a mother of two. Supporting Nygren’s drive for child expression, Jaimee Finney’s vision for the business stems from the joy on her daughter’s face when she recreated one of her designs in real life. Now, the US-based company has made it possible to bring children’s creations to life in portable replicas.
“There’s a moment of pure magic when you see a child holding a creation they’ve taken from their imagination on paper,” Finney said, in a chat with FashionUnited. “We’re taking it one step further and bringing it into the real world. They can see it, hold it, wear it. And it’s the only one in the world – as unique as they are.
For Finney, his solution also had to be both sustainable and fun for kids. The process begins with a simple garment outline that a child can decorate as they wish. A quick photo sends the final design to Picture This, who then creates the piece, whether leggings, dresses, masks or t-shirts, and sends it back to be worn by the young designer . When asked how important it is to involve children in this cycle of clothing design, Finney said: “We open doors for the way children think when we allow them to be involved in the design. creative and decision-making process.
Like Nygren, Finney also believes in the importance of allowing a child to express themselves through their own creations, noting that their inclusion is more than the end product.
She added: “It was never about ‘kids clothes’ for us, it was more about allowing the experience of imagining, creating and being confident enough to understand that you are truly one of a kind.”
As a next step to developing Puzzleware’s vision and what it can do for children, Nygren also mentioned plans to bring the concept into physical workshops where she can be present and relay the idea in person. Young participants will be able to select their own puzzle pieces from baskets, to be assembled during the session so that they can finally take them home and carry them themselves. Physical classes seemed like a natural extension of the concept for Nygren, who said she had a lot more ideas twisting their way out of her notebook. “It’s just me working on it, so things may take a while, but I have a few new ideas coming through the year,” Nygren concluded.