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Why Handmade?

So, why handmade?

I do not wish to support the exploitation of labour

Large commercial clothing industries sell cheap because they buy cheap. This means the workers are paid cheaply and poor quality materials are sourced from suppliers. Often, the commercial clothing industry do not even know where their fabrics are coming from or how their clothes are being made and under what conditions. This is especially true when the materials and labour are outsourced to other countries.

Artisans are also exploited by being forced to mass-produce objects as if they were machines. They are paid pitiful wages. So there is likewise the need to know how a company that sells handmade actually treats their workers.

Two women strikers on picket line during the "Uprising of the 20,000", garment workers strike, New York City. Strikes, ladies tailors, N.Y., Feb. 1910, picket girls on duty.
Two women strikers on picket line during the “Uprising of the 20,000”, garment workers strike, New York City. Strikes, ladies tailors, N.Y., Feb. 1910, picket girls on duty. From Wikimedia.

“Affordable” fashion is simply unsustainable

The philosophy of “Fast Fashion” delivers quick manufacturing at affordable prices. Many large retailers promoted this “quick response” model in the late 90s, particularly gaining momentum via on-line shops that took advantage of the “boho-chic” vogue in mid-2000s. The result is disposable fashion that has exacerbated the already existing problems of the industry: pollution, poor workmanship and exploitation of labour.

So, how much does “affordable fashion” really cost?

The Payatas Dumpsite in Metro Manila, Philippines, 2007. Image from Wikimedia.

The world suffers under over-consumption

The environmental impact of handmade is minuscule in comparison to commercial clothing production. Handmade clothing and accessories now lead the way as green and eco-friendly alternative to commercial clothing.

Mass production in factories use enormous amounts of energy and produce emissions and toxic wastes which all find their way into the air, earth and water. The bright and attractive colours of fabrics in commercial clothing production involve the use of toxic and polluting industrial dyes. The industrial weaving of natural fibres into fabric require enormous amounts of energy and expel chemicals into the environment. The production of synthetic fibres is even more harmful.

Any item produced in quantities of millions or even hundreds of thousands will take their toll on the environment. Handmade items are produced only in very limited quantities and the products are intended to be of service for a long time. They are kept as heirlooms and passed on to future generations. Handmade does not create the demand for mass production that produces items intended to be discarded to accommodate the next wave of fashion.

I am not standardised

Given the method of production and green sources of materials for handmade, there are health benefits sought after by some people in their preference for handmade clothing and accessories. The fibres that I use are of the best quality. They are non-toxic and are the choice of those allergic to synthetic materials. My bralettes and jewellery do not use metal or plastic findings for those people who cannot bear these things touching their skins.

Apparently, customisation and made-to-measure are all inherent in the handmade process. These offer personal benefits to people whose sizes, body shapes and lifestyles are simply disregarded by the commercial clothing industry. Bespoke, additionally, gives the artisan the means and the opportunity to experiment with brave new designs and techniques.


As a way of life

My own life seeks to advocate the principles of handmade. I have a small backyard farm and atelier that consumes energy at a rate of less than US$8 a month, and water consumption of less than US$3 a month. I have ducks and chickens that free-range on a small 2,000-square meter section of a large semi-rural village. My pigs enjoy mud and sun and rain in a semi-confined section of the garden. The house that shelters us all is made of bamboo, wood and palm fronds, built entirely by the self-taught carpenters and fisherfolks of our village.

The artisan is someone you can talk to and relate to. When you support handmade, you are supporting an individual and a small artisan community, not a large faceless corporation. The new economics of handmade is crucial in these times of financial disintegration – allowing economic independence and subsistence – and not a small handful of billionaires – to thrive.

Imagine what a very different world it could be.




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