Pre-Industrial Thinking in a Post-Industrial Age

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

So…. I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability (always dangerous) and how I’d like to run my own practice one day. I’m not the first, or the last person to point out that the fashion industry sucks. Yes there are some designers who do some amazing stuff, and some of them even manage to not trash the environment or exploit people at the same time. Prada’s practice of labelling every garment with where it was produced is a good example, it lets the consumer know where it was made, and more importantly where the craftspeople who have given them this beautiful new thing came from.

Of course it helps that the bigger houses have huge budgets and ateliers of craftspeople to help them produce their work, but for an emerging designer, especially one in Australia where our local production industry is so abysmal most of us will end up going to Indonesia or China, producing our products in a way that is both ethical and sustainable is practically impossible.

If we stick to the current business structure that is.

It was a book on the industrial revolution that started the wheels in my head turning. Before we discovered steam engines and the potential for mass production, objects were produced locally by artisans. The flaw in this ‘cottage industry’ was that your ability to expand was negated by the size of your local population.

But now the world is no longer defined by location. With the internet we have a global community, one where people can buy things from anywhere in the world with the push of a button. There is the argument that it’s not the same without seeing it in the flesh, and sometimes the sizing is wrong, but if people are willing to by someones homemade Twilight fan art (I’m looking at you etsy.com) then I don’t see how with a few tweaks we couldn’t return to a form of local industry with widespread distribution.

An ideal model would be something more akin to a gallery. The product is displayed, you can pick it up, try it on in your size, and if you want it you can order it. No changes to the design (this isn’t a dressmakers) but as the designer the production, quality, conditions it’s made under, could all be more closely controlled. Instead of churning out a new collection every season, there could be an evolving product range. Sure you aren’t going to make inane amounts of money working this way, but the current methodology is no longer sustainable, or acceptable.

Naysayers could argue that the impact of postage and shipping would negate the whole local production aspect, but surely the impact of sending a few garments across the world is negligible compared to producing and shipping thousands of poorly made t-shirts from China to wherever they’re going? Not to mention the environmental cost of the growing and production of the materials. Or the ethical cost of the conditions a lot of such products are made in.

Better yet, imagine having a studio in each city where the products are made. The materials could be locally sourced, and the garments produced there as well.

The only person who seems to have adopted this sort of business structure is Bruno Pieters (formerly of Hugo Boss) with his HonestBy label, something I’ve previously covered (you can se his website here). What he has done is admirable, and worth looking at, for he has truly struck upon the future of how product based industries need to run if we are going to survive.

Mostly I guess the biggest problem lies with the consumer, for the product wouldn’t be available without the demand to justify it. Maybe it’s time we stopped justifying that new t-shirt or dress because the old one is falling apart, or we just don’t feel the same way about it as a few months ago, and start investing in what we purchase.

 

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