Australian YouTuber and fashion DIY'er, Annika Victoria, spoke with Girlfriend about recycling clothes, sharing her passion with others and coping with her chronic illness.
What is your most hated fashion faux pas?
I don’t really believe in fashion rules of fashion faux pas – I really think that people can look good in whatever clothing they want to wear! That said, I don’t love the trend of pre-distressed clothing when it’s bought brand new.
From an environmental perspective, this kind of sucks because it drastically shortens the life of the new clothing piece – it’s probably much less likely to be accepted by a charity or second-hand store because it’s already “ruined”, and so it’s more likely to end up in landfill when the trend is over.
While I don’t particularly hate the way this trend looks, I think that the only way I could get into this trend is by distressing my own old, already worn-out clothing!
You've said before that you were a bit dismissive of sewing when you received your first sewing machine as a Christmas present - what turned it around for you?
When I first got a sewing machine for Christmas nearly 6 years ago, I was quite surprised – I had only been starting to up-cycle my clothes for about a month before that, and the only time I’d ever sewn with a machine before was in Year 8 and I was terrible at it.
But I had just begun to get really into fashion around this time, and I also had some spare time before starting university the next year – so the sewing machine allowed me to start designing and making my own pieces!
The thing that really made me fall in love with sewing is that I could never find exactly what I wanted in stores – but with sewing, I was able to make anything that I wanted for myself.
What is your favourite piece that you've ever made?
I think it’s a tie between my off-the-shoulder crop top (and just the other day, I made matching wide-legged pants for it), and my holographic high-waisted bikini!
You've spoken before about having Takayasu's Arteritis. Does this condition add challenges to everyday life?
So Takayasu’s Arteritis is an incurable autoimmune disease, and it attacks the major arteries in my body (arteries are the “pipes” that carry blood from your heart to all your organs). I was diagnosed with it in 2011, although I had symptoms of it for about year before my diagnosis.
It definitely has added challenges to my everyday life – aside from the irreversible damage that’s been done to the arteries leading to my brain and left arm, I take many medications to stop the disease progressing.
While these medications work, they do unfortunately carry a lot of side effects. As a result of all this, I live with chronic pain and fatigue every single day, along with an anxiety disorder and depression as a result of having a life-threatening illness. I also often use a wheelchair or a mobility scooter to get around, which was at first challenging to my own self-image and self-esteem.
It’s very hard to explain what it’s like to live with a chronic illness to somebody who has never experienced it, but one of the main differences is that I really have to plan out every day to the nth degree – I need to make sure that I always take my medications, and make detailed plans of where I’m going: whether it’s accessible, whether my energy will last, whether I will need help etc. I also have to do things a lot more slowly than my peers.
But although this is a challenging thing to live with, I have come to a good place of acceptance about it all – I am still a very happy person and I am lucky in so many other ways!
Because you often can’t tell that I’m sick just by looking at me, and this leads to a lot of misunderstandings and stigmas, I am currently trying to raise awareness of chronic illnesses and disabilities in young people. I really want to impress on people that you never know what somebody else is going through just based on how they look or act on the outside.
Aside from your YouTube channel, you also have a blog - what inspire you to start sharing what you do with others?
Actually, I don’t run a blog anymore – I finished posting on it last year!
But I had a blog called The Pineneedle Collective, which I started in 2011, for 3 years before starting YouTube! I actually started my blog around the time that I was diagnosed with Takayasu’s Arteritis, and amidst all the doctors appointments and the chemotherapy I was going through at the time, it became a place where I could escape and just… not be sick.
I have also always loved teaching and fashion, so once I learned a bit about sewing I couldn’t wait to share my knowledge with others! 3 years later, I started making videos on YouTube because I was only doing photo-based tutorials on my blog, and I found it frustrating that they weren’t detailed enough.
Filming them seemed like the next logical step to take, because that way I could show the entire process of making a piece of clothing from start to end!
What made you decide to go into YouTube full-time?
A number of factors. The first is that I really love the little community that’s sprung up around my channel and the internet sewing community as a whole, and I wanted to be a part of it!
A second reason is that I was struggling to survive on a student budget while living in Sydney, so my decision was also partly based on not wanting to just eat instant ramen, plain rice and cheap white bread for every single meal. And the third reason has to do with living with a chronic illness.
I originally wanted to become a scientific researcher – which is what I went to university for – however I had to finally accept that my chronic illness would make that nearly impossible. Running a YouTube channel, however, is a career where I can be my own boss and work my own hours, therefore I can fit it around my unpredictable health (and it also means that I can do a lot of work in my PJs, which is a definite bonus)!
So, although it was a bittersweet decision, last year I decided to throw myself into YouTube full-time and I have not regretted it at all!
You have mentioned loving Japanese style. Who are your biggest fashion inspirations?
My biggest Japanese-style fashion inspirations are all the models from Zipper Magazine (a quirky Japanese fashion magazine, you can actually get it from Kinokuniya bookstores in Australia), the Japanese model Ayumi Seto and the style called “genderless kei”, which is an 80s-inspired, rainbow-filled androgynous style that I am currently obsessed with.
You are quite passionate about recycled clothing and ethical shopping - has this always been a topic of interest for you or did it grow over time?
It grew over time. While I shopped a lot at op-shops growing up, this was more out of necessity (because it was cheap) rather than out of concern for sustainability or ethical manufacturing.
When I became an adult and had my first full-time job, I bought a lot of cheap clothing from online wholesale websites and places like Forever 21 – however in 2013, after the Rana Plaza collapse where thousands of people making these cheap clothes died or were badly injured, it dawned on me that the reason these clothes are so cheap is because the people who are making them are not getting paid much at all and are forced to work in terrible conditions.
After this, I started becoming more aware of how bad the fashion industry is in terms of human rights and also how bad it is for the environment. According to the recent ABC series War On Waste, 6 TONNES of clothes go straight to landfill every 10 minutes in Australia alone. However, I didn’t want to give up my love for fashion either so I started looking into ways that I could minimize my fashion impact.
Now, I’d say 99% of my wardrobe is either handmade (and usually made from second-hand materials) or from op-shops and second-hand markets. And I also recycle all my old clothing by donating them back to op shops, often fixing it up and doing little things like sewing buttons back on before I do so, so it’s in a good enough condition to resell. And as for the clothes that I can’t recycle, because they’re too old and worn-out, I try to salvage as much of them as possible for future projects!
By doing this I both save money and am minimizing my impact too.
What are your most watched YouTube videos, and why do you think that is?
My “DIY Light Up Shoes” is my most watched YouTube Video ever with over 3.7 million views. I think this is probably because it’s been a popular item of clothing for years now – I see them being sold all over the place!
However, it’s funny that it’s the most popular video because it was kind of a fail – the strip lights around the bottom of the shoes stopped working by the end of the video, which I talked about!
I did come up with a solution for this, and even though it was uploaded 2 years ago I still get people sending me videos and photos of their (successful!) DIY light up shoes to this day.
What advice would you give to aspiring fashionistas or someone who is simply trying to develop their own sense of style?
Go through Instagram accounts and fashion blogs until you find people whose style you really like! Make mood boards or a collage of these people’s fashion, write down what you like about each outfit, and then go through your own wardrobe to see if you already have pieces that you could style to look like these outfits.
Second-hand clothing stores are a great place to pick up cheap pieces in most styles, and it really allows you to explore and play around with your style. (Ps, donate your old clothes while you’re at it)! Finally, if you love it, wear it with confidence. As long as you feel good in it, you will look awesome, regardless of whether or not it is “on-trend” or conforms to any arbitrary “fashion rules”.