Is imperfection such a bad thing? What are the effects of technology in the fashion industry? Inspired by a blog post written by my good friend, Megan O’Malley about the demand from consumers for perfection in all the products that the buy, I felt compelled to write something from the perspective of a maker.
The debate of handmade vs. machine-made was sparked by the news a couple of months ago that Amazon has received a patent for an on-demand clothing manufacturing system. In order to increase efficiency in the supply chain, garments would only be produced when ordered. The entire process from printing the fabric to delivering the stock would be automated, thus eliminating the need for human resources. Even cameras would watch over and would be able to detect if there were any issues during production, such as fabric bunching up.
What about the workers?
This sort of technology poses a lot of questions for the future of the fashion industry. First of all, around 70 million people are employed in the clothing, textile and footwear sector. Imagine if the majority of those jobs were wiped out because a machine can do their job ‘better’. A lot of these people are unskilled workers from poor countries, who work in garment factories because they already have no other options.
Small business struggle
Then what about the effects on small business? Owning a piece of machinery such as this is likely not to be an option for any fashion business that is not already dominating the world market. Small scale designers are already having to compete with the giants of the fashion industry, who are able to still make millions of dollars although their prices are rock bottom. Surely this machine would just give the global brands an even bigger competitive advantage and push the smaller ones completely out of business. Isn’t competition supposed to be fair?
Mass production & fast fashion
The effects of mass production should also be taken into consideration. At a time when fast fashion is king and where everyone wants to keep up with the latest trend, there is a growing movement of people who want to move away from this type of consumerism. These machines are designed to produce garments on a large scale. Fashion is supposed to be an expression of creativity and of individual style. Fast fashion is already encouraging us to dress like clones of each other. If machines become industry standard and small scale designers can’t compete, does that effectively mean the end of individuality and fashion as an art form?
Is there such a thing as perfection?
And finally, as a maker, I feel the pressures to make sure every garment I create is absolutely flawless. Which for me is actually quite difficult at times because I am not working with brand new fabric. I am working with garments that have been discarded by their previous owner for one reason or another. This means that often I have to first mend the fabric before I can use it. Or I see it flaw as a challenge and use it as part of the design.
And they are by no means major design faults. We are talking about small holes or broken stitching. But retailers know consumers won’t buy garments that aren’t flawless. This results in too many garments end up as ‘seconds’ or in landfill because of these tiny imperfections. Imperfections show the history of a garment. They show that a real person has held it in their hands as they made it.
The fashion industry is far too important to let it be dominated by machinery. We should be supporting the makers and the small businesses. We should be appreciating their skills and be realistic in our expectations, not seeing flaws but seeing character. We should be embracing individuality and creativity. People have been creating since the beginning of time. Our ability to use our imagination is what sets us apart from other species. Creativity is ingrained in cultures all over the world. So buy clothing that you love. Buy pieces that you know you’ll treasure for years to come. And most importantly, spare a thought for those who created it.
What do you think? Is technology always a good thing? Does this machinery belong in the fashion industry?