WITHWENDY: A Sewing Renaissance

Meeting with Wendy, famous Toronto Youtuber, at a local cafe.

By Jesse Sihra

Wendy went to school for business, not fashion. Her mother taught her how to sew when she was a child, a skill she kept coming back to time and again. “Growing up, a lot of my girlfriends knew how to sew, so I just thought everyone my age sewed.” It wasn’t until much later would she realize her sewing skill could be marketed through her dormant YouTube channel to empower her viewers, and change the way we view clothes.

Wendy at the Buffer Festival

A late-bloomer, she began YouTubing at around the same time as other fashion YouTubers such as clothesencounters, laurdiy, and Chriselle Lim, YouTubers who have made it “big” over the course of time. Wendy has watched their growth; she admires them, and wishes she had taken more action with her own channel during the 2008–2010 window when they made their breakthroughs. “Back then, to my fault, [YouTube] was too much of a hobby.” Coupling her business degree with the encouragement of friends and family, she has spent the past two years transforming her YouTube channel into a space of self-expression and creativity.

“In the beginning, because you don’t even know who’s going to be watching your videos, you can only hope that the process is benefiting yourself. As I began to sew more, I could feel I was getting better at soft skills being developed in my business program like public speaking, communication, and conveying ideas succinctly to an audience.”

And as she continued to post more videos that ranged from DIY floral shorts to transforming thrift store dresses into Gatsby-themed prom dresses, her online presence began to grow with an audience that feels empowered and encouraged by her.

“Initially, I wanted to challenge myself, and the main benefit, at first, was my enjoyment in creating something. But now the additional joy is seeing people’s comments and positive feedback, and seeing how pleased they are when they make some of their own clothes even though they acknowledge that the pieces aren’t perfect.”

As she breaks down the growth she wants to see over the next few months, she believes that her business degree has given her the ability to gauge ahead of time what she thinks will be received well by her audience, build her online presence, and bring her to a place where she can begin managing future employees of her “company.” She understands what ideas will guide her to high-potential return investments. And as her channel builds momentum and steam, she is calculating for the moment when she too will “go big.”

But what is “big” for Wendy? YouTubers are writing books, participating in TV shows, going on world tours. As much as she would one day love to have sewing workshops where she can sew with women and men around the globe, Wendy is thinking of “big” along different lines.

A Sewing Renaissance.

But what is renaissance? A renaissance must be more than just a rebirth of art and culture. A renaissance must also be a shift in cultural thinking and mindset for it to be a True Renaissance. For Wendy, a sewing renaissance, a back-to-basics mentality, is her desire to change how we think of clothes, critique how we attach our sense of worth to retail culture, and give us a step in the direction of change. “Where you spend your money,” she says, “is what you’re voting for to continue. If you keep buying clothes that are unethically made, corporations will continue to feed into that.”

Wendy meeting with some of her fans at Youtube Space Toronto

We are a consumer culture. The fashion industry has made clothing so accessible and affordable for us to the point where we have bought into the ideology that we need more clothes to complete our sense of self. It’s what Wendy calls “fashion junk food.” She states, “Companies want us to get high off buying new stuff, because new stuff makes us feel good about ourselves.

Truth is, we do not need that many pieces of clothing to express ourselves, but it is to the benefit of corporations when they tell us, ‘It’s back to school, you need new stuff’ or ‘How could you go to two parties in a row wearing the same dress?’” I wanted to understand how fabric was made in today’s modern age, and Wendy explained that a lot of what we have today is synthetic. “Quality fabric,” she explained, “retains its shape, retains its colour, and doesn’t wear out. But quality fabric costs money. It’s why clothes these days are so affordable. You wear a cute top a couple of times, it begins to fall apart, but it doesn’t matter because you only spent $15 on it.” She also explained how our modern clothes won’t ever make it to the thrift store because the quality of the fabric is much lower than the quality of fabric of clothes that belonged to our parents and grandparents generation.

Wendy is optimistic that through her channel, she can bring people closer to knowing how clothes are made, the fashion industry’s impact on human beings who are being overworked and underpaid, and the environment.

It’s the Marxian understanding of labour and value, and our ever increasing problem of garbage. We don’t see labour, and we don’t see garbage. We only see clothes when they are new, on the rack, ready to be bought, and the value they give to our states of being.

As a woman who teaches us to sew our own clothes, she also believes that our sense of worth should not be in our clothes. Fashion has always been a vehicle of self-expression. “Yes,” she articulates, “you should choose pieces that are true to you. But the moment people start saying, ‘Oh, I bought this because I was feeling sad,’ that is not self-expression; that’s you hoping that owning something new will make you feel better. There has to be another way for us to feel good about ourselves that goes beyond retail therapy.”

I had met up with Wendy at a café on Queen West near Osgoode Station called Hot Black Coffee. The name does not lie: I had scalded every last taste bud by the time I was done interviewing her. As I processed what she had just told me, I saw that Wendy’s a person who’s extremely down to earth, and that she genuinely desires to help people. I asked her what she desired to accomplish from her sewing renaissance; what was the “why” behind the “big”? She explained that the past two years nurturing her YouTube channel have been marked, as usual, with ups and downs.

“I enjoy teaching and encouraging people. Growing my company the best I can, is the best thing I can do for the people who will come after.” When people who are starting out in the industry approach her for advice, she is able to pass on genuine experiences: “I can give people an honest testimony of what I have experienced, and I can encourage people authentically from my good and crappy experiences. This is what drives the “why” of my YouTubing.”

A late-bloomer.

And as I reflect more on Wendy’s future growth, as a late-bloomer, she has simmered with ideas which have bubbled and distilled over the course of years, giving her a clearer goal and a rock-hard determination to make her own breakthrough.

The future does not come all of a sudden. To create a renaissance, she watches, calculates, invests. Like pulling lengths of satin, scarlet, weaving and fashioning the fabric into something spectacular.

Follow Withwendy on her Youtube channel and Instragram

https://www.youtube.com/withwendy

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