|==> the counterfeit crochet project <==
(critique of a political economy)
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About the Counterfeit Crochet Project
In 2006 I created a website soliciting crocheters to join me in hand-counterfeiting designer handbags: Fendi, Gucci, Chanel, Prada, etc. Participants troll the internet and choose a design that they particularly covet, working off of low-resolution jpgs which they download. The final results may or may not bear resemblance to the originals, which is an interesting part of the "translation."
The resulting counterfeits are both homages and lumpy mutations. Crochet is considered a lowly medium, and the limitations imposed by trying to create detail with yarn takes advantage of the individual maker's ingenuity and problem-solving skills.
I am also interested in how this project parallels and diverges from contemporary capitalist factory production and distribution channels.
As a collaboration it parallels the idea of "outsourcing" labor, but also adds a democratic and perhaps anarchic level of creativity--within the basic framework, participants have taken liberties with their translations, changing colors, adding materials (cardboard, hot glue, etc.) to suit their needs.
Makers are encouraged to keep and wear their bags, in an attempt to insert strange variants into the stream of commerce and consumption. I ask for people to send me snapshots of their items to share with others.
This is an ongoing global project, with makers from all over the world. I am always seeking more collaborators, so please contact me to join up! In 2007 the project travelled to Manila, Beijing, and Istanbul for exhibitions and counterfeiting workshops.
What's going on?
It all started out as a lark--could I hand crochet a designer bag? And if so, would it look...good? Or bad? Does it matter what it looks like in the end, or is the attempt at the interpretation important? Would I be embarrassed wearing such a blatantly homemade knock-off bag? Is it like when your mom handmade your clothes when you were little because you couldn't afford new ones? Or would people--in a weird way--believe it was "real" because it had the logo on it. I wondered about all these things and more.
Rummaging around the internet, I was always stumbling across tons of crochet sites where people would post photos of their projects--handmade Barbie clothes, crochet Nascar pillows, Harry Potter scarves, etc. People were already taking advantage of their skillz to interpet the logos and commercial items in the world around them.
It seems to me that ingenuity and inventiveness lays at the heart of those who decide to make things for themselves. Crafting is overlooked, even denigrated as a viable "vernacular" form of expression. I view the impetus to handmake something in an era of mass production a personal and perhaps even political act, a way to give yourself agency to create and produce in an age of standardization and retail.
What's with the counterfeiting angle? Why aren't you making "original" bags?
Designer counterfeiting occupies a weird economic space in today's era of globalization. Many designer bags are manufactured overseas where the labor is cheap, and then sent to stores for drastic markup. China is currently the largest designer counterfeiter, with factories being able to turnaround new designs very soon after (sometimes before!) a designer item hits the runways. Counterfeiting qualities also range the gamut--from poor approximations to incredibly detailed and hard-to-tell-apart doubles.
I am fascinated by the laws of supply and demand in terms of piracy, bootlegging, and counterfeiting. The reason knock-offs exist is because people genuinely want them, or at least, are willing to settle for approximations of the real thing. And even the knock-offs can sell for exhorbitant amounts!
You could also say that each person who crochets a designer bag is essentially making an "original" bag--using their own expertise, decision-making, and tenacity, they are interpreting and creating a new, unique item.
Are you admiring or making fun of designer labels?
Both! The media machine pushes onto the public the desire for luxury goods. Celebrities tote high-end purses, and slick glossy ads amp-up the sexiness factor. Fashion is fun fun fun! But at the same time, most of us "ordinary people" can't afford such things, and some even knowingly buy knock-off products to sublimate our desires. If you take the logic one step further, and actually make the item yourself, you are in a sense taking the situation into your own hands without giving a single penny to the company brand. They have excluded you anyway, by keeping their prices astronomically high.
But doesn't this just give more power to the logo? How is this really resisting commodification if you're just repeating the logo?
Tough question. The jury is still out on this one...I personally find it fun and funny to try to translate high-end designer goods into a rather "lowly" medium. You could make the argument that it means the logo still has power over me and everyone else who chooses to repeat it. But then again, this type of handmaking goes against the grain of the standards and specifics of the corporate design. Brands are incredibly possessive of their logos and they do not take it as "flattery" when they are counterfeited.
It seems like crochet is thought of as the lowly stepchild of the "finer" crafts (embroidery, needlepoint, knitting). You use only one hook instead of two needles, and it's generally easier than knitting (no dropped stitches or runs, etc.). It's also a more fluid craft, however, and you can do crazy things with it. Many seniors prefer to crochet as opposed to knit, as you can create huge blankets and afghans all at once. As a form of folk art and vernacular creative expression, crochet is a vibrant and overlooked medium.
I'm a knitter/weaver/sewer/etc.--can I still join up?
Originally this started out as a pure crochet project but I've come to realize that in order to fully explore the individualism that each person brings to the project, the parameters are actually very loose. You should feel free to add knitted elements, embroidery, latchhooking, or any other craft to your bag. I think the most important part is that you are hand-making and hand-counterfeiting a high-end product...Handbag anarchy for everyone!
Who are you?
I am a visual artist based in San Francisco and have a long interest in issues of piracy and bootlegging as they apply to today's globalized economy, and have created sculptural works and installations based on this topic. I have worked collaboratively with artists in the past, and am very interested in treating the crafty DIY community with as much respect for their labor and expertise as any other partner.
Suzy Baldwin (New Haven, CT)
...and the many others who bootleg and counterfeit on their own terms!
|debasing and defiling designer items one step at a time...|