“There are not many little girls that can say their dad makes them clothes,” clothing designer Michael Gardner told Atlanta Black Star. The Philadelphia father is sewing an unbreakable connection with his 9-year-old daughter, Ava, one stitch at a time.
“It’s bonded us in a way that’s pretty special,” the DIY enthusiast shared.
Most dads tend to leave it to the moms to offer fashion advice and take their kids shopping, but Gardner, a self-taught clothing sewer, has taken his daughter’s style into his own hands.
“When Ava was 3 years old, I decided to start sewing,” Gardner said. “I was looking for a new creative challenge as well as a way to bond with her, so to have my creativity combined with fatherhood is literally the best scenario.”
Six years ago, he created Daddy Dressed Me by Michael Gardner, and if it sounds like an exclusive clothing line, that’s because it is. Gardner says he only makes his fashionable designs for Ava and himself.
“Sometimes I give him tips, encouragement and my ideas, but mostly I just model,” Ava said.
Her dad has sewn about 200 unique designs just for her, and Ava says she’s appreciated each and every one of them. “I really enjoy it. I love to see it, try it on, [they’re] so pretty, colorful and bold,” she said. “I just love it so much.”
While sharing his creative gift with his daughter, Gardner also says he uses sewing as a way to boost her self-image.
“Sewing became the tool that I used to teach her about confidence, self-love and just a way to help her to believe in her abilities, too,” he said.
Gardner’s unique approach to fatherhood stems from the pain of not having his own father present in his life, like Gardner is with Ava.
“I’ve sat and had that conversation to explain to her how that actually fuels me and why I would never put her in that position, because no kid really deserves that,” Gardner said. “To have that experience growing up and us to have the relationship that we do is truly a blessing, because it’s not what you normally would expect from a kid who didn’t have a father himself.”
For other parents working on building stronger bonds with their own children, Gardner says the biggest part of being a good parent is simply showing up.
“I think it’s really important to just dedicate yourself to giving your child the love, the attention and the encouragement that they need, and they’ll guide you on what really connects with them,” Gardner shared.
“In that way, follow their lead and you’ll have a good bond, you’ll open up communication and so many other things that are important between the parent and the child,” he said.
Ava says her dad’s passion for clothing design has inspired her to pursue a career as a fashion designer when she’s older. She hopes to someday study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.