By Pema Bakshi and Cheryl Till
In a world where fashion moves at the speed of light, Jaslyn Swavley sits peacefully with her worn knitting needles in a handmade getup. Raised on the North Shore, she is the calmest 19-year-old and it is infectious.
Donning a breezy floral dress and makeup-free skin, the UNSW student does not stress herself with keeping up with the latest in fashion trends, preferring to create her own pieces. A passionate knitter since her early years, she attributes the practice to helping her relax.
“Sometimes I’ll be really antsy and if I can do something my hands that helps,” she says. “I use it to concentrate a lot of the time.”
With winter fast approaching in Sydney and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week right around the corner, knitwear is certainly on everyone’s mind. Though, not everyone is up for the task of endeavoring their own projects.
Having learnt to knit from her grandmother who taught the skill to veterans as a form of therapy after the war, Jaslyn asserts: “Knitting has been cool for a long time.”
With winter fast approaching in Sydney and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week right around the corner, knitwear is certainly on everyone’s mind. Though, not everyone is up for the task of endeavoring their own projects. Jaslyn herself is careful to steer clear of mimicking passing trends.
Her strive for uniqueness is practical at heart. To avoid getting swept up with fast fashion’s ‘in and out’ rapid cycle and piling on the waste, Jaslyn suggests to ditch what everyone else is doing, admitting: “I’m trying to do things that aren’t like things that are in the shops so they don’t become old trends that I’ll stop wearing…to see all clothing as ‘wear it for a season’ and throw it out and buy a new thing, it’s just such a waste.”
It’s certainly easy to fall into fast fashion’s trap. With low prices and straight-off-the-runway designs, it is extremely convenient and very accessible. However, as Jaslyn tells, the convenience is fleeting.
“It’s not the same calibre of clothing,” she says, “so why imitate fast fashion instead of imitating things I can wear for a long time, without feeling weird or bad about it?”
As a volunteer at the local primary school and youth leader who runs Bible study groups and Sunday school programs at her church in East Lindfield, Jaslyn hopes to help more young people like herself find enjoyment in the age-old craft of knitting.
“I mostly do kid-related things because that’s where I can help most,” she says.
“If there are things that help them focus, de-stress, think about things in a different way it will help them develop.”
Aside from the relaxing and cathartic benefits of knitting has, according to a 2014 study by the University of Texas, Jaslyn says that the skill is also a creative artistic outlet.
“It’s less using knitting in art and more seeing knitting as art,” she says.
“They both take skills but craft is seen as less of a skill, more of just women’s work than art.”
“They both deserve the same sort of recognition. Bring art into knitting, show that craft is just as highly valued as art. But you’re never going to sell a jumper for the millions that art will sell for.”
While Jaslyn enjoys knitting for herself and others, she says she has no aspirations to make her works profitable.
“It is often more expensive to make it than to buy it,” she says. “I don’t think many people make money from knitting.”
Often influenced by her love of the local bushland environment, Jaslyn believes that finding sustainability in fashion is particularly important – something that she tries to reflect in her own choices of materials.
Having chain stores on every corner and limited time in a busy schedule often leads us to give in to this epidemic. Jaslyn sheds light on how shopping sustainable could actually save us time and money in the long run.
“Right now, I’m wearing a jean jacket from the early 70s it was my aunt’s and it’s perfect,” she says. “I haven’t repaired it at all but all the new things that I see friends wear, break down so quickly… The quality isn’t there and it becomes so much easier to dispose of.”
“Knitting can be really sustainable or it can be really unsustainable and it depends how you approach it,” she says, “because a lot of wool is not actually produced in Australia – Italian wool is really popular, and New Zealand wool. But also, a lot of it, especially the cheaper stuff, is just plastic from China…all these air miles, it’s not going to be sustainable.”
While she petitions for a more sustainable approach to fashion, she argues that it doesn’t mean you have to break the bank or spend weeks knitting your own sweater. It can be as simple as being selective with the fabrics we choose.
“Polyester – it’s a horrific fabric,” she says. “It’s not breathable, it’s uncomfortable. It’s not good for the environment, you can’t recycle it. It’s nasty stuff.”
“I prefer cotton or wool.”
On the local produce, Jaslyn believes that there are some of the best woolen mills in Australia. She chooses to stick locally.
“It is cheaper and the quality is better and I like the colours more,” she says.
With 75% of Australians putting clothing in landfills, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the love of cheap clothing is taking a severe toll on our environment.
“I do think environmental sustainability is important,” she says. “It is the one thing we can’t fix.
“The thing that really worries me is that it’s infinitely more difficult to fix an ecosystem than a law. The damages are going to show themselves in different ways.
“It’s got such a high cost to it even though it is cheap. That’s a human cost, that’s an environmental cost. You’re just not the one paying it.”