by MIKE CHAIKEN
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks were in short supply — even for frontline workers.
Many Americans who knew how to use a sewing machine pitched in by stitching up homemade masks.
That demand for masks, subsequently, increased demand for sewing machines.
To make those masks, people started to dust off their old machines. They grabbed machines that might have been in their grandmother’s closet. They also began buying new machines if they didn’t have one within reach.
Warren Altomari, owner of Connecticut Sew and Vac in Waterbury, was stuck at home like the owners of many small businesses when the state went into lockdown to fight COVID last March. At home, away from his store, he said he had no idea that demand for the machines had ramped up. He had no idea that the big box stores had been stripped of their stock.
When Altomari finally opened up, the customers, who were unable to satisfy their needs at the big box stores, rushed in to Connecticut Sew and Vac to pick up new machines. If they weren’t buying new, they were getting their older models repaired.
Looking back at 2020 from the vantage of 2021, Altomari said sales of sewing machines were definitely up. Those stronger sales figures still were impacting his business going into March.
There have been some repercussions from the unexpected demand on sewing machine manufacturers.
Altomari said manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the demand of consumers. Inventory was slow to rebuild. Altomari said he recently received a new supply of sewing machines that he requested last April. Even if a store like his has machines, Altomari said the selection is limited.
Altomari said most of his customers were looking for machines to make masks.
But for some who have pulled out their sewing machines, the devices were a way to keep themselves busy during the pandemic.
On TikTok, the terms #sewingtiktok, #sewing and #thriftflip have proven to be popular searches on the social media app. Users of TikTok have been using these hashtags to alert other users that they have sewing tips to share. News reports from magazines like InStyle have attributed the scarcity of sewing machines to TikTok.
The term #ThriftFlip plays straight into one of the fashion industry’s hot trends, sustainability. The trend has become even more popular as people figure out how to save money by remaking old clothes into something new. TikTok have been making short videos showing how they take old clothes that might have gotten thrown out and then turn them into something new.
This upcycling trend in sustainable fashion, and the pandemic, helped guide two women to grab their sewing machines and launch new businesses.
Wolcott’s Victoria Audibert launched her own line of upcycled clothing, Voyage by V, in the midst of the pandemic.
“I honestly cannot say if there would be a Voyage By V if there was not a pandemic,” said Audibert. “I like to think it would have started regardless in time, but I know for sure my brand and I would not be where we are today if it were not for the pandemic.”
Audibert pulled out an old sewing machine at her house when the lockdown order came down.
“At first sewing was simply a means to keep busy,” said Audibert. “From a year ago to today, Voyage By V has become so much more than just a hobby.”
Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Francesca Fasciglione launched her upcycled lingerie line, Lovecraft Intimates, after she found herself behind the sewing machine during the pandemic.
Fasciglione already sewed before the pandemic and she already was a fashion designer.
But, Fasciglione said, “The pandemic impacted my interest in sewing by making me sew more. …The pandemic has given me more time to get in touch with my creative side.”
“I bought a new sewing machine, and an interlock machine which has allowed me to step up my lingerie designing game dramatically,” said Fasciglione “Lingerie is a delicate garment to make thus a new, good sewing machine is needed.”
Neither Audibert nor Fasciglione see their pandemic-driven attraction to sewing subsiding once the vaccine has made COVID-19 less of a health concern. Both said they will continue working with their sewing machines to make their new businesses grow.
Warren Altomari of Connecticut Sew and Vac said he expects overall demand for sewing machines to subside because there is a vaccine. The leap in sales was due to the need for face masks and that will no longer be a concern.
The sewing machine industry is already bracing for a reduced demand for their products following the unexpected boom of 2020.
Technavio performed a market research report on the global sewing machine market for 2020-24. Techanavio expects only an “incremental growth” in the sale of sewing machines, which includes industrial devices as well as commercial ones, in the United States. Across the globe, Technavio sees overall sales dropping.
Although the slack of demand is driving some of the reduction in sales, the industry said the inability to build machines also plays a role.
“Factors such as the imposition of worldwide lockdowns have partially halted operations (of manufacturers) and affected supply chains and logistics,” said a press release from Technavio.