Michael Gardner, a single father, was looking for a creative way to bond with his daughter, Ava. Two hundred outfits later, his creative project has now become a campaign that encourages dads to bond with their kids through fashion.
Creator of Daddy Dressed Me, Michael Gardner is breaking stereotypes by making one dress at a time. He has a fashion content blog that features the designs made by the 36-year-old father and modeled by his 9-year-old daughter, Ava.
It all started when Ava was just 3-years-old. After seeing his sister sew, Michael decided to pick up the hobby. After watching hours of Youtube tutorials, Gardner created his first clothing item – a pair of pants he had sewn from a woman’s skirt.
“She put them on and we were in her room and she just started posing, she even put her hand on her hip,” Gardner said. “I don’t know where she got all these different things from but it came out of her through this experience.”
And as soon as he saw the smile on Ava’s face and the confidence with which she posed, he knew he was on to something. The father-daughter duo often co-ordinate their clothing whenever they go out.
He said his sole focus initially was to help Ava build self-esteem and confidence, but now it’s so much bigger than that.
“I love the clothes daddy makes because they’re more than just regular clothes. They’re original, they’re fun, and they’re beautiful,” said Ava. “I just like it so much I feel awesome about it.”
Making Ava feel confident has always been Gardner’s no. 1 goal as her dad.
“I wanted to make sure she felt confident, that she loved herself, and that she could believe in her abilities, which are all the things I struggled with as a kid,” he said.
Michael Gardner had a tough childhood. He was raised by his grandmother as his mother worked often. His father refused to acknowledge Gardner as his son.
“I would be physically standing in front of him saying ‘hi’ and he’d ignore me,” Gardner said. “He would cross the street to go up the block and avoid me.”
The pain was horrifying for him and it crushed his soul. To heal, Gardner took solace in creative outlets like drawing, painting, and poetry as a child. As an adult, he often dove headfirst into DIY projects around the house.
“I didn’t know how to process that but I needed something to make myself feel OK,” he said. “That’s where the outlet for creativity came from.”
Because of the lack of relationship he had with his own father, Gardner said he always knew he wanted to be a dad. Gardner and his ex married in 2009; in 2011, Ava was born.
“Once she was here, I was overwhelmed with joy to finally see her,” he said. “And we’ve literally been inseparable ever since.”
Michael and Ava empower each other. He always asks her opinion on designs and colors. While Gardner sews beautiful outfits, Ava is usually the one to pick the fabric.
In fact, Ava is the absolute boss, so when she wants them to wear a matching outfit, all Michael has to do is make it happen. She will decide on everything else, including the cut, the style, and even the location of the shoot.
And are you’ll ready to hear something great? Michael Gardner has recently decided to expand his hobby and turn it into a business. Yes!!
He has started custom-made apparel called “For the Love of Sewing” where he sells hats, t-shirts, hoodies, and tote bags dedicated to the art of sewing. As he puts it, this project is a celebration of his passion for creativity.