Hobbies are experiencing a surge in popularity, and it’s making for a more sustainable future



No longer the domain of children and retirees, hobbies are making a comeback.

Instead of a drunken and raucous affair, my 21st birthday party answered a question I had been contemplating for years: Who am I? (Apart from a deep-thinking Scorpio, that is). A “hobby horse” I was declared during a notable speech, and I finally felt seen. 

At that time my hobbies included – but were not limited to – sewing, reading, collaging, magazine collecting, exercising, baking and blogging. Name a pursuit, and I would give it a go. Then life got in the way, as the classic excuse goes, and my time felt better spent elsewhere. In late 2019 I found myself reading a helpful guide published by the New York Times entitled ‘How to Find a Hobby’. I could feel the spark within me scrambling to break the surface again as I lapped up the words.

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The guide defined a hobby as such: “… any enjoyable leisure activity that we engage in voluntarily and consistently when we are free from the demands of work or other responsibilities. A hobby may be inspired by an interest, but it typically requires more commitment and involves taking action, like learning a new skill, or collecting, building or creating something.”

Hobbies are far more than a way to pass the time; they are the gateway to countless benefits – physical, mental, emotional and social. Hobbies, research states, can have meditative qualities that encourage us to slow down, sit in silence and focus on repetitive motions. They also improve productivity, help us connect to our identity, boost mental health, and even make us more efficient at work. Not to mention the social fix that comes with joining a group, a club, or visiting a class. They make us feel good.  

And I’ve got another benefit to tack on – sustainability. Our hobbies allow us to create something new, explore nature, appreciate our surroundings, and divert waste. For Justine Cowie and her mother Sharon, sustainability has been a driving factor for their business, Swim Style Patterns. “Our long-term goal is to make sewing your own garments mainstream like it was in the old days,” says Justine. “Imagine the reduction in carbon emissions if we all reduced our support [of] fast fashion.” 

The NSW-based venture offers sewing patterns across all skill levels – from beginner to intermediate and advanced – that put the classic Burda ones to shame. Create your own swimwear; sew a desirable lounge set or billowing dress. Modern trends are made simple for those embarking on a sewing adventure and, finally, the chance to own a piece that actually fits.

As Justine notes, “I have always found that ready-to-wear brands are limiting for anyone that falls out of the regular dress size. As we know, hips and busts come in all shapes, sizes and ratios.” Sewing for oneself means clothing can be adjusted and graded where needed to end ill-fitting fast fashion purchases once and for all. “We aim to help women feel confident and comfortable in clothing that actually fits their figure. In the process, they will learn new skills and discover an addictive, mindful hobby.”

Likewise, Melbourne-based Cardigang offers knitting patterns and projects that would make your nanna proud. Vibrant colours and signature shapes – like the bell-sleeved sweaters – welcome a younger generation to the craft. Founders Cat and Morgan claim that within a week, people who have never knitted before have fashioned themselves a new jumper. “Trust us, if we can learn, you can too,” they tell me. Cardigang patterns are free from jargon and written the way they would have appreciated when starting out – i.e. simple. 

“The pride that comes with saying it’s something you’ve made yourself, with your own hands, cannot be beaten,” they tell me. Understanding the inputs and the effort required helps our clothing take on another meaning – it’s indispensable. We want to keep these pieces in our wardrobes, a far cry from fast fashion hauls. It’s an idea Justine similarly addressed. “Sewing also gives you a deeper appreciation of a garment by understanding what it takes to make it. After sewing a garment from start to finish, you will not look at a piece of fast-fashion the same way again.”

Sustainable hobbies aren’t all stitching and crafting, though. Think about gardening, cultivating a worm farm or chicken coop, pickling, plogging, or becoming an upcycling guru, like my pal Adrienne. Alongside propagating plants and drinking coffee, she lists upcycling furniture as one of her newfound passions.

Working with her sister-in-law, she tells me the pair “love design AND the environment, so we hope to marry them to create spaces that spark joy and inspiration for others”. Trawling Vinnies and keeping an eye on curbside pickups are all part of the upcycling game, so keep your eye on this space (or, you know, try it for yourself).

Oddly, COVID granted many of us the time to nurture once-forgotten hobbies in the name of mental wellbeing and productivity. The sourdough baking. Laila Gohar’s gnocchi. At-home clay kits. TikTok (is that a hobby?). Fashion influencers, unable to pursue their traditional routes, explored other outlets, whether for mindfulness or money. Alyssa Coscarelli took up surfing, Bianca Valle finessed her knitting and started selling ceramic ‘squish’ candle holders, and Flex Mami impressed us with her enviable DIY skills. 

Swim Style Patterns notes more hits from women aged 18 to 24 during this time and increased sales of beginner patterns, while the idea for Cardigang came to fruition at the peak of Melbourne’s lockdown as a way for its founders to calm their minds. 

Now that life tiptoes back to the new normal, it’s important to reserve a place for hobbies. They are not just the fancies of children, eager young adults, elderly people or those stuck in lockdown; they are beneficial for all. Choose a hobby that brings you joy, cherish it, and make it sustainable. We’re a resourceful little bunch so let’s see how we can cultivate change for a better future. 

For information on how hobbies can improve your mental health, head here.

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