I am quite sure at this point I have attended events celebrating artisan-made products in the triple digits. After a noticeable lapse in going to such events, assuming that I knew it all, I went to one recently that I found surprisingly moving. Once again, I reconnected with the understanding of how much purchasing an item truly made by an artisan has on that individual and her community. But what about when we buy something that isn’t entirely handmade? Does it make a difference too?
I have been in just a few sewing factories, cutting rooms, dyehouses, and mills and spent some time on farms.
With that experience, I’m reminded of what we often forget: even something that is not made entirely by hand does have a lot of hands that touch it.
The People Behind the Creation of Clothing
From the person loading fabric into the industrial washing machine to the individual guiding the industrial fabric cutter over a pattern to reveal the pieces that will become a new garment, our machine-made clothes are more human-made than we often allow ourselves to think.
Walking into a mill, dyehouse, or factory does not always reveal the overly romanticized views of either gleaming human-devoid machine-filled warehouse or individuals toiling away on these machines. Often, it reveals hardworking people who have well-developed skills that mean the stripes woven into your shirt are straight and not crooked and that the seam of a pant is strong and durable. A straight hem does not mean that it wasn’t made by a human; it means that the human guiding the fabric through the machine had done this hundreds or thousands of times before and has a steady, practiced hand.
These skills are not easy to come by. Do you know how to use a sewing machine? Or how to inspect two batches of dyed fabric to ensure they match, when the untrained eye sees no difference? What about perfectly distressing jeans so that each pair looks identical, even when a pair is worked on one at a time?
Looking to the future
Yet at the same time, many of these workers in industrial settings – and even those making handmade products – hope for a better life for next generation. They work to pay for their children’s education. They work to support their families and communities. And on more days than not, we know they take pride in their work too.
Whether you buy handmade, small batch, or mass-produced clothing, take a moment to be mindful of all the hands – all the way down to the farm – that made this piece of clothing possible. Consider the value of their time, expertise and maybe even their dreams. Imagine the skills they have that you don’t (and be grateful for that!). And when you get disconnected from remembering the hands that touched your clothes, take a moment to remember that what you buy does make a difference, and it’s up to you to find out if it’s a good difference or not.
Rebecca Magee is a sustainability professional in the fashion industry, a writer and a passionate problem solver. Follow her on Twitter @ThisIWear.
Thanks so much for collaborating with us Rebecca! Be sure to check the blog out for other pieces about ethical living, capsule wardrobes, and sustainable fashion.