If you've ever dreamed of turning your crafting hobby into a full-blown career, do-it-yourself YouTuber LaurDIY, Lauren Riihimaki, is proof that it's more than possible. What started in 2011 as a creative outlet in college eventually morphed into a successful blog, a YouTube channel with almost 9 million subscribers, and even a gig as the host and executive producer of hit HBO Max show Craftopia. Initially, not even Riihimaki realized her love of fashion DIYs and crafting could be a career. Stuck in a college program that didn't turn out how she thought it would, Riihimaki's fashion and crafting hobby was simply a welcome creative respite.
"When I was in my first year in university in Toronto, Canada, I had enrolled myself into a program that I just realized was absolutely not what I had thought it was going to be, and it totally lacked the creativity that I was looking for," Riihimaki tells me. "I started a blog at first, and it eventually transitioned into a YouTube channel that really [allowed me] to embrace my creative side — it was my creative outlet and my escape. And I was able to do that for the remaining three years of my college degree until I graduated and was able to go full-time with it."
For Riihimaki (well, particularly her parents), it was important she finish university, despite a wealth of YouTubers and other creatives forgoing traditional higher education in full pursuit of their passions. However, Riihimaki says working on her blog and, eventually, her LaurDIY brand as a whole throughout school put her in a good position to enjoy the best of both worlds. "I got lucky timing-wise. I feel like a lot of creators, especially in the generation of the lifestyle influencers, had to choose between going to college and really getting serious with their YouTube career," she says. "I had just spent so much time invested into building my online presence and the LaurDIY brand that, by the time I graduated, it worked out for me to be able to do both and really enjoy my college experience, while also still being able to embrace the creative side of YouTube and build the brand."
Riihimaki's timing was spot on in more ways than one. About six years ago, a majority of the videos on her YouTube channel involved fashion how-tos and DIY clothing upcycling videos — topics that, in recent years, have soared in popularity. According to a June 2020 report from popular secondhand retailer thredUP, the secondhand resale market has only increased in the last year, and it's expected to skyrocket even more. A quick scroll through TikTok will show you just how viral "thrift flip" videos, or upcycling thrifted items, have gone with the younger generation. Essentially, young people are shifting to the more accessible practice of purchasing secondhand items and transforming them into something new.
Riihimaki is certainly no stranger to this idea. Her passion for crafting and inspiration for DIY projects, both fashion and otherwise, are built on some of the same principles. Simply seeing just how expensive items from more popular fashion retailers can be — and knowing she can achieve the same result on her own — has inspired a great deal of her projects and videos.
"A lot of [my inspiration] honestly is seeing something in stores that I know could be created for a cheaper price. I know myself and my audience [are] always looking for hacks and tips on how to recreate things that you might see in Urban Outfitters or stores that are trendsetters and things that my age group is looking for," she says. "Especially the recent trends of tie-dye and bleach washing — that's something that's so easily done at home. I think there's also a sense of empowerment that people get when they can see something that's sold for $100 that they made at home for $20."
While some YouTube stars have a few viral videos to thank for their overarching success, that kind of overnight stardom didn't necessarily happen for Riihimaki. "There was never one video in my first year or anything that really launched me into a new audience," she says. "I think it was just through consistency and creating more content that people were searching for. I think DIY has always been something and continues to be something that people love to do and are always searching for and are looking for new ideas."
That consistency eventually landed Riihimaki in a position some creators only dream about: the host and executive producer of HBO Max's Craftopia, a show in which kids compete in a variety of crafting challenges. A career moment of this caliber was certainly not something Riihimaki thought would be in the cards for her when she began posting clever outfit hacks and transformations. "There's no world ever where [Craftopia] was in my plan as a digital creator. I just feel like, as the digital and traditional worlds of media collide, obviously we're seeing it happen more often," she says. "But growing up and even in the early years of my YouTube career, that's not something that I ever thought was possible or even in reach. When the opportunity kind of dropped into my lap — it still doesn't feel quite real."
Of course, embarking on this successful journey as a digital creator and YouTuber didn't come without fear, particularly when you've spent your life with structure and routines and watched your peers follow traditional paths. "All of my peers and friends were working in these highly corporate positions, in media and in print, and here I was making craft videos on the internet," says Riihimaki. "And [YouTube] really is a career path that's very new to our generation, so we're kind of the trailblazers for what this can turn into. There's a lot of uncertainty, and I'm someone who just really thrives under routine and following rules and knowing what's next and having a plan. This is a career that goes day-by-day."
If fashion flips and crafting is something that sounds like it's up your alley, but you're not sure where or how to even get started, Riihimaki has an easy place to start that's not only popular right now, but hard to mess up. And, you can raid your own (or, well, someone else's) closet for this craft. "I used to raid through my dad's old t-shirt collection all the time, with and without consent, when I was younger. There's so much that you can do with an oversized tee. And again, back to tie-dying and bleach-dying — bleach-dying is something where you probably have a dark piece of clothing and bleach already at home," she says. "There are so many cool ways you can cut up an oversized t-shirt and redesign it just with scissors and no sewing."
As for those who, like Riihimaki, have a fervent passion for crafting, but aren't sure how or if you could have a successful career relating to that passion, Riihimaki has three words for you: Just. Don't. Stop. "The best thing about DIY and crafting is that there literally are no rules and it's something that you can take so much inspiration from in every single element of life," she says. "Never stop crafting if it's something that makes you happy."