When creative single dad Michael Gardner was let go from his job in March because of COVID-19, he found himself with plenty of time to bond with his daughter, Ava.
So, in part to save money, but mostly to show his love for Ava, he vowed to craft her a whole new wardrobe by hand.
Now the former finance director of a major hotel regularly dresses his 9-year-old in fashionable clothing whipped up on his trusty sewing machine.
“It has brought us even closer together,” Gardner told The Post. “She really enjoys wearing the outfits we collaborate on.”
The 34-year-old has made Ava a variety of flattering shorts, shirts, dresses and skirts. Ava’s favorites include a brightly-colored maxidress and a glittery shirt emblazoned with the slogan “I Love You Daddy.”
“On dress-down day at school, my friends ask me where I bought something,” Ava said. “I tell them that my daddy made it for me and they think it’s really cool. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
The partnership has become so successful, Gardner launched a fashion brand and social media campaign in September, @DaddyDressedMebyMG (MG are his initials).
It didn’t take long for their Instagram page to rack up 17.9K followers. They also appear dancing together on TikTok. The plan is for other dad-daughter duos to be inspired to follow their lead, Gardner said.
“My own father never acknowledged me and I really struggled with self-esteem as a child and teenager,” said the Philadelphia, Penn., native Gardner, who is divorced from Ava’s mom. “I didn’t want the same thing to happen to Ava and have always encouraged her to believe in herself, in terms of both looks and personality.”
Gardner estimates he has made around 25 different outfits for Ava over the last eight months — about an eighth of the total number he has produced since first taking up sewing in 2014 when she was just three.
“I figured it out as I went along,” the dad said. “I started out upcycling women’s clothing from thrift stores and transforming it into little items for Ava. Then I felt confident enough to invest in proper fabric.”
In the beginning, he had free rein on the designs.
“I could dress her in anything I wanted because she didn’t have too much of an opinion on it,” he said with a laugh. Now that she is 9, she has much more of an influence.
“She asks a lot of questions,” added Gardner. “We go shopping and she picks out the fabric. I tell her what I have in mind and she gives her suggestions and ideas. It’s a collaboration these days.”
Comfort and durability are key. Nothing is too tight. And there are plenty of sparkles.
Ava has even started sewing herself. So far she has made masks and a skirt on her own sewing machine. “She’s a natural,” said her father.
The adorable pair often wears matching outfits, such as flower-patterned shirts and a coordinating dress and shorts combination.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Ava. “We love dressing alike.”
Meanwhile, Gardner explained how the hobby relaxes him, especially during a stressful period of unemployment and the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s good to do something with your hands,” he said. “And to get out of your comfort zone and try something different.”
Gardner scoffed at the widespread claim that clueless men don’t know how to dress their children right — especially their daughters.
“There are a lot of stylish dads out there who can teach fashion to their kids,” he said. “I’m proud to be one of them.”