The end is nigh. Machines are taking over. You’ve watched the movies. You’ve read the doomsday articles proclaiming the apocalypse. They’re coming for our jobs. It’s really happening. Prepare your bunkers. Especially if you’re a maker.
Recently Amazon announced that they were awarded a patent for an on demand apparel manufacturing system. Fancy machines will fill online orders, minimising fabric waste and eliminating the problem of excess stock. It’s efficiency at its peak. This type of manufacturing process also does away with the need for pesky expensive human skill. Is this the beginning of the end for human manufacturing? Do we just have to face facts that machines are a better option? How did we get here?
These days we are obsessed with buying the perfect product. ABC’s War on Waste recently discovered that 30 million of the 80 million bananas grown each year in Australia are discarded because they don’t meet the supermarkets’ strict cosmetic standards. We could blame the supermarkets but these standards have been created because so called ugly produce hasn’t sold in the past. We don’t buy it. Whether or not it’s right, we want a good looking banana thank you very much.
The same applies to clothing. If we go into a store and the stitching on a dress is a little wonky or there’s a small catch in the fabric, most of us will ask for a discount or pass it over completely, regardless of how beautiful it may be.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a quality product. Technology like Amazon’s patent can help us reduce these quality issues. However, when imperfection tells a human story, shouldn’t there be value in that? Has our desire for perfection completely disconnected us from the humans involved in the process of creating/growing/sewing the things we buy?
Hand woven fabric is a perfect (!) example of the magic you can find in something made by people that can’t be replicated by machines. Lamorna Cheesman, the Studio Director and Designer at Studio Naenna describes the beauty you can find in these textiles:
Imperfections in handwoven textiles give character to the pieces, as a weaver throws a shuttle across the warp and changes the shafts, the threads intertwine. She beats in these threads with a comb that holds the yarns in place creating a fabric full of life. With every throw of the shuttle there is the possibility of the threads breaking. The weaver will then have to stop her rhythmic weaving and reconnect the broken yarns, sometimes her mind wonders, she might not see this break until a few throws of the shuttle have gone by, creating a slight flaw in the fabric.
In some cultures they look at the fabric for these flaws to guarantee that it is handwoven. In nature nothing is perfect, and that is why it is only natural to have imperfections in handmade crafts.
There’s value in the kind of efficiency machines produce but I think we need to start looking beyond perfection. We need to look for the human. Imperfection is uniqueness. It tells a story. It’s a connection to the human being who made it and I believe that’s kind of beautiful.
Many of us are searching for something beyond just ourselves, more meaning in the ways we interact with the world. Engaging with the story behind the clothing and products we buy can connect you to a person and place far beyond your bubble. I’m not suggesting consumerism is the way to a more meaningful life but we all wear and need clothes. That clothing has to come from somewhere. Machine or human? The choice is yours.