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Handmade, Remade: Individualization in Berlin

September 2013

By A.L. Kruse, Berlin

A visible example how Berliners express their individuality in personal style is the ubiquitous rectangular cotton wool shopping bag, called the “Stoffbeutel.” They’ve become a part of a distinct look for anyone aged 17-35 in all the trendy kietze, or neighborhoods, matched with baggy clothes and nerd glasses.

The bags were considered deeply uncool just a decade ago. And while every chain supermarket sold them in the 80s and 90s, you would never see someone wearing one as a replacement handbag. The bags are however virtually indestructible, washable and can be folded up really small, so many consumers used them for grocery shopping and carrying things. When fashionable stores in Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg began selling them around 2008, the tune definitely changed, changing the Stoffbeutel’s role from one of utilitarianism to fashion and even activism, depending on the slogan printed across it,

Since the German reunification in 1989, when Berlin became a united city again, a major demographic shift has taken. Over the past fifteen years, thousands of creatives, students, artists and expats from all over the world have moved to Berlin to live and work (long before the Internet start-up scene established itself, by the way!).

The demographics in Berlin’s central neighborhoods have as a result changed significantly. Now Berlin is the LOHAS capital of Germany, no other city has more organic and vegan supermarket and stores. The sustainable philosophy also extends to consumer goods, so recycling and upcycling are popular - especially when it comes to personal style.

BetaHaus, Berlin’s most famous co-working space, for example, just organized its fourth “Maker” weekend, where you could learn how to make your own soap or bind books. This DIY trend is another manifestation of individualization – if you’re into sustainable consumption you don’t want to buy or wear consumer goods manufactured en masse in China.

Stores and markets that sell handmade and unique products like Handmade Supermarket in Markthalle IX in Kreuzberg are very successful. Handmade market was first launched in 2010 by sustainable fashion store Supermarché in cooperation with Dawanda, an online marketplace for people who sell their handmade arts and crafts.

Dawanda is the German equivalent of; the company is based in Berlin (of course!) and has been a major commercial success since it was launched in 2006. Last year Dawanda even opened a showroom in Charlottenburg where they present selected products from Dawanda sellers and run arts and crafts workshops. Making your own things and clothes has become almost a mainstream trend.

Even if you don’t have a sewing machine or have never cut out a pattern you can simply go to a co-sewing or knitting café with fabric/wool and some ideas. These cafés are spaces operated by sewing and/or fashion enthusiasts. Here you can rent sewing machine place by the hour, the owners help with the patterns, give advice and conduct workshops.  A few years ago these types of places popped up all over Berlin, such as Kinki Box in Friedrichshain, Nadelwald in Neukölln or Linkle Nähcafé in Kreuzberg. And voilá: handmade individualization.

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