This weeks class was on the decline of traditional, skilled manufacturing methods and whether we should get rid of them to make way for modern and sometimes more efficient automated methods or whether we should endeavour to keep them alive?
My initial thought are that more machinery does not necessarily mean less skill. If we look at textiles, it often requires just as much skill to get a good finish by machine as it does by hand. I believe that a decline in traditional industries does not mean that there is a decline in skilled industries.
In saying that, it would definitely be a shame to see traditional methods of carpentry, printing and shoe-making disappear all together. There are always going to be things that cannot be done well by machine because there are simply too many variables involved. This goes for things like cutting and sewing leather, each hide varies so much that it just makes more sense to have well trained people doing the job instead of a machine that would require extremely complicated software. In the same way there will always be a place for craftsmanship, for individually made items and limited editions.
However the cost of something that is made in such low numbers, usually with high quality materials is simply too high for a lot of people to pay upfront. If I have children I don’t want to buy expensive long lasting shoes knowing that they’re going to grow out them long before they wear them out, and knowing that I’m going to have pay for multiple pairs at once!
If I buy something traditionally made and crafted what am I really paying for? Am I paying for invested time? Am I paying for superior quality? Am I paying for superior materials? Am I making an investment? The answer is probably yes, but equally I think you’re paying for a brand name, a history and an ingrained prestige- is it worth it?
I think ultimately, I believe that its all about balance. There is still a place and there will always be a place, for high end, crafted items which have been traditionally manufactured, and ultimately this approach can be more sustainable and can challenge our ‘throw away’ culture. However there is also a place for cheaper, mass produced goods- they’re not always bad, just different!
The featured image is from an article in Cycling Weekly about the Brooks Saddle, a great example of an excellent product which is still manufactured using more traditional techniques, so check it out!