In the wake of sustainable fashion finding it’s foot in the market, buzz words like ‘hand-made’, ‘natural’ and ‘artisan’ are used to capture customers’ attention and give an impression of worth and quality. At the same time, something being ‘homemade’ often ignites an image of your pre-school handicraft project that bursts of love and effort, but might lack the longevity of a professionally made item. Having the choice we are then left wondering: What is better – hand-made or machine-made?
KRAFT Lifestyle Products prides itself in the fact that their products are indeed hand-made. Coming from the cotton fields, the yarn is hand-died in the local village, hand-woven in the weavers workshop in Hyderabad, and finally hand-sewn by refugees in London. As much as the boxes in terms of respectful treatment of labour and great attention to detail are ticked – Are we left with a product that can compete in terms of quality and longevity with your average store-bought garment?
Before we dive into the topic, I quickly want to spend some time on the terminology. Hand-made does not necessarily equal home-made, and machine-made does not necessarily equal mass production. These terms are easily confused. In this comparison we are focusing on hand-made versus machine-made. Hereby hand-made is defined as one individual putting together the product – individually – using their hands, and thus often applies to smaller labels; whilst machine-made refers to the case where garments are produced in a factory setting and individuals focus on only a part of putting together the product.
1] Originality – Fit & Design
Who here has experienced the awkward moment when you come to school/uni/work in that great piece that you shopped over the weekend – and your pretty co-worker from across the office is wearing exactly the same? I am positive that over 90% of (female) readers can relate to this. You can see what I am getting at: Machine-made clothes are often quicker and easier to produce and are made in larger quantities to increase cost savings. The result is that people end up buying the same things, and the purpose of self-expression through fashion is lost. In comparison, hand-made products are often made in smaller quantities and greater variety and therefore fewer people end up owning exactly the same piece.
In terms of fit, the comparison gets a little tricky, as both hand-made and machine-made garments are made according to certain measurements and sizes. Still, and this is dependent on the individual brand or label, there is a greater scope for fit in hand-made garments, as items can be custom-made according to the individuals body measurements. In a factory, however, it is simply impossible to change the machine settings after each item is cut.
Therefore, on average it is safe to say that hand-made items of clothing win in terms of their one-of-a-kind design and versatility in adjusting to different sizes and shapes.
2] Quality – Longevity & Resistance
Perceptions on the quality of hand-made versus machine-made garments vary. On the one hand people argue that hand-made implies a greater attention to detail and thus greater quality. On the other hand, machines are able to produce more resistant items of clothing based on an efficiency point of view.
The longevity of a garment obviously depends on the regularity of use and type of material. Keeping this in mind, I can only speak about the products and textiles I have come in contact with through KRAFT. Whilst I strongly believe that the cotton we use is of highest quality, I also understand that hand-weaving might not apply the same force to the threads as a machine does, which makes for a more delicate textile and therefore requires more care in terms of treatment. When it comes to weaving, a machine-made garment might have an advantage in terms of longevity. However – this highly depends on the brand, seeing that big fashion emporiums often cut down on the quality of the materials they use in order to make the biggest cost savings whilst still meeting the bare minimum of regulations and industry standards. In the end it really depends on where you buy your garment, no matter if hand- or machine-made.
3] Impact – Environment & People
Impact – that’s the big one. On first glance this is quite clear. Hand-made items provide the consumer with a greater connection to the maker of the garment, and often feels more ethical since the term ‘hand-made’ is perceived as the respectful treatment of labour and the environment. Knowing that your clothing was made without harming anyone in the process is reassuring and provides benefits beyond the monetary value. It is something that we have lost sight of in the ages of fast fashion and mass production
Nevertheless – a word of caution. Hand-made does not always mean ethical treatment of labour, the same way that machine-made does not mean exploitation of garment workers. What that teaches us is the need of research and transparency. If you truly want to switch to a more conscious way of dressing, the first step would be to do some research on your favourite brand, and venturing out to discover new brands that align with your values. Similarly, more transparency is required in the supply chain and production processes of big fashion labels. For example, H&M is actually trying to make their business more sustainable and socially impactful, however, they fail in the labyrinth of producers, factories and suppliers. At the same time, taking into account current buying behaviour, when fashion giants like H&M finally get a grip on ethical production, the social and environmental impact would be infinitely greater than most small labels could ever dream of.
So yes, you could see this coming right from the start and I will not disappoint you: in terms of social impact the hand-made garments usually perform better than machine-made clothing. They benefit from an emotional bond between producer and consumer, and have the advantage of more clarity of their supply chain.
Whether hand-made or machine-made is better truly depends on the individual’s personal taste, preference and priorities. It is important to think about what you want to get out of your clothing, and the responsibility that you feel in your buying choices. Personally I believe that both hand-made and machine-made clothes have their merits, and it is all about understanding the process and to stop buying blindly.