DIY business variation

Posted by Rob Walker on January 8, 2008
Posted Under: DIYism

This Business Week story, “Arts and Crafts Find New Life Online,” includes an interesting anecdote. It notes that a German company called Hubert Burda Media, described as a “sewing-magazine and pattern giant,” has recently relaunched a U.S. site called Among other things, the site — which bills itself as “open source sewing” — gives away some patterns in downloadable PDF form. “Sewers can alter the patterns as they fancy, and there are no restrictions on selling finished clothing.”

Burda, according to BW is “the biggest pattern seller” in Europe, but it’s a minor player in the U.S.

It has a loyal fan in Mirela Popovici. The 28-year-old spends hours on the site downloading patterns, getting advice in the forums from other members, and creating how-to slide shows. A computer programmer by day, the Hollywood (Fla.) resident spends her evenings and weekends whipping up skirts, dresses, and tops. Last January she created a shop on Etsy … … [where] she sells some of the clothing she makes using Burda’s patterns. “I love to alter their patterns,” Popovici says. “And having the community makes it so easy to figure out how to make different alterations.”

A few thoughts on this.

First, while BW emphasizes that users of the Burda site “can” alter the patterns they find there, this is not a meaningful point. You “can” alter any pattern, whether you found it online, or in a box of patterns your mom put in the attic in 1974. I mention this because I am very tired of being told how exciting it is that this or that company is letting us express ourselves these days. Believe it or not, people expressed themselves before the Internet.

Second, what might be meaningful is that Burda is giving the a-okay for you to sell what you make based on its patterns. However, its exact meaning is kind of interesting to consider. It happens that this is a recurring issue in the DIY world: Crafter A makes, say, embrodiary patterns; Crafter B loves them, buys some, executes the patterns on a jacket and a pillow — and then sells what (s)he has made. By and large, Crafter A is not so excited about this, because Crafter B is profiting from Crafter A’s intellectual property. Of course, Burda is in a very different position from Crafter A, insofar as it’s a “giant” company, so it can afford to do a little “open source,” to help establish its name a new market.

Third, I’m sort of curious if this kind of arrangement has an impact on the “handmade” nature of a garment. Clearly, in a literal sense, it’s still handmade. But since the “handmade” idea has been infused with a sort of anti-corporate ideology, or some sheen thereof: Does it matter where the pattern came from (a “giant” European company, this case)? What if it came from some vintage magazine, would that be better? What if it came from Wal Mart — would that be worse? Why?

Just to be clear, I have nothing against this Etsy seller and am not accusing her or anybody else, of anything. Just asking a question or two.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

I know I tripped on this issue in the “doll making” world. Basically people make doll patterns and then other people take the doll pattern and “modify” it into a new doll pattern but they really didn’t start from scratch….and the original doll pattern maker is outraged.

I run into this myself with modifying wordpress templates. Is it mine that I changed it so much that it barely looks like the original wordpress template? Still, truth is, I’d be hard pressed to create a wordpress template from scratch…so I need to copy someone somewhere.

Written By Liz on January 9th, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

Interesting about the dolls. I don’t know anything about that scene. And of course you’re right about starting somewhere on the wordpress templates. I think the issue with some crafters isn’t just copy/modification, but the selling of it. And it’s tricky sometimes to figure out where the line is when modifications tilt over into something original. This site’s template is a modified version of Contempt, but not modified enough that I’d say it was original. (And Contempt is credited in the FAQ.) ANyway, I’m just rambling, you make good points.

Written By murketing on January 16th, 2008 @ 7:30 am
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