The Power of the Purse

I learned to knit when I was in 3rd grade; my first product was an ugly yellow scarf with blemishes all over it. There were small gaps where I had broken or mismade the stitches and it had an overall dilapidated look to it. However, I was incredibly proud of myself. I loved the yellow scarf and I graciously gave it to my mother, despite the fact that it was much too small to wrap around her neck. For me, that scarf had more value than any luxury scarf or brand name item.

For your reference, a handknit scarf resembling my original piece:

In discussion, I revisited the concepts of hand-made yarn objects through our discussion of Stephanie Syjuco’s Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy). This was an extension of the guest lecture given by Stephanie Syjuco on Wednesday, March 5th. The Counterfeit Crochet Project was a global project in which crocheters created replicas of high-end designer handbags through the humble medium of crochet. Its purpose was ‘debasing and defiling designer items one step at a time.’

The project was fascinating to me on numerous different levels of its concept and implementation. On one hand, the very act of making the product individually is a counter to the current global system of manufacturing and production. Syjuco explained that the modern day consumer is very far detached from the “anonymous” makers of their goods. We merely expect that they are to be created and presented to us as soon as we want them, without a full consideration of who is doing the work and what work they are doing. Thus, the very act of making a crocheted object yourself is to place yourself into the position of the manufacturing worker. This symbolically closes the gap between consumer and producer, and gives new meaning to the work that defines our consumer goods. This concept resonated with me, particularly because I’m taking an economic globalization class. In the class, I’ve been learning of the extreme disconnect between modern American consumers and the processes that make their products. While the scope of my class was focused on apparel manufacturing, this concept also rings true for the handbag industry.

On another level, the project was also about countering the concept of elitism and luxury exclusiveness that pervades the handbag industry. Traditionally, you think of Louis Vitton and Coach handbags as things that only the rich can own. There exists this schism between products targeted for the top 1% and products for the general public. By making these purses DIY with basic materials of yarn and a basic process of crochet, the project undermines the idea that only the wealthy can own a Coach bag.

Another layer to the project is the explicit use of crochet, a grandma-appropriated medium seen as “low brow”. The use of crochet additionally undermines the idea of high-end luxury quality. Typically, companies closely guard the prestige and brand image of their products. To see the Coach and Louis Vuitton logo appropriated by low-brow, low-quality goods conceptually subverts their brand. It reduces them from their lofty elitism to something base and ordinary.

There were a few concerns I had regarding the concept of the project. For one, I wondered if the act of creating and owning these products was inherently buying into the fact that people truly desired these products. Thus, this project can be seen as a way for people to access luxury goods and feel that utility, instead of rejecting the notion that these luxury goods have intrinsically higher value. Why bother having these name brand products? Why stamp your home-made and personally significant products with the tickers of capitalism?

Additionally, there’s the question of whether these purses really are considered counterfeit. They’re evidently not being sold, and they’re rather on display in an art gallery. Thus, I wonder if the makers of these purses can claim the title of counterfeit. There really isn’t a level of risk for them to be making these products, since they seem to mostly function as artworks with conceptual value. Is replicative art really counterfeit? Personally, I don’t think so, and I think that the use of shades and “censorship” in the personal photos is an overdramatic gesture. Let the art speak for itself as art.

I think Stephanie’s art is a pretty good representation of what this course has been all about. I can see the intrinsic artsy-ness in crochet, which helps with how I can analyze and interpret her art. At the core, her art is really about using a medium she’s comfortable with to challenge something she’s uncomfortable with. I think she does a really good job of it, and her art is so simple but so conceptually sophisticated. She makes me want to crochet!




Public website for L&S 25: California Countercultures — University of California at Berkeley Spring 2017

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Jonathan Kung

Jonathan Kung

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