Friday, April 27, 2012

Textile Friday: Uncrippling Ourselves in Modern Times

      The oldest tailor joke is probably about a guy going into a store to buy a suit. There's probably a thousand versions of this, but the one I've found that is closest to my grandfather's version goes like this:

     "This guy walks into the Ye Olde APL Tailor Shoppe. And wanting to buy a suit, the tailor pulls one of the rack, and has him try it on.
    The guy says to the tailor that the jacket doesn't fit right, one arm is much longer than the other.
    'No problem", says the tailor, 'Just hunch up your shoulder on that side, and it'll look fine.'
    'The lapels are uneven.' says the guy.
    'Oh, that. Well, push it over with your chin.'
    The guy also notices that the pants aren't the same length.
    'Hitch up your hip on the longer side, and it'll be fine. Now, my! Doesn't that look great!'
    The guy gimps out of the tailor shop wearing his new suit, and passes two old ladies walking the other way. After he passes, the one says to the other: 'Oh, that poor old man. Did you see how crippled up he was?'
     'Yes, but doesn't his suit fit him well?'"   ~Robert Bernecky in Quote Quad

      In general, it's agreed that our modern clothing and footwear weighs 20-40% more and provides 20-40% less mobility than our grandparent's clothing in the 1950s. And that's the expensive "quality" stuff. BBC did a great example article on this a few years ago you can see here. We've gained a lot through modern production methods, namely cheap affordable clothing. In volume, my wardrobe rivals a countess or lord of the 1850s. But, does it really free me to look my best? In our quest for disposable beauty, 86% of the population no longer has clothing that actually fits them. Myself included.
       Knowing a problem exists is not the same as fixing it. I've watched ill-fitting clothing slowly creep into the wares I sold at Belk's department stores for almost a decade. It's what made me decide to get into manufacturing. And they are symptomatic of a trend you see in any major department store: Dillards, Macys, etc. Everyone is guilty. The masters and experts of my parent's and grandparent's generation say it's been happening since the late 1970s and early 1980s which is almost 30 years. I should add here that JC Penny is considered the only noted exception by some judges, I leave the truth of that to people who actually have spent more than 20 years in the business.
        After 3 years of moving over to the manufacturing side of house, I have come to agree that newer designers, cutters, and sewers tend to allow a lot more "slop" in the system than older ones. The bull's eye gets much much smaller for acceptable pass/fail standards the more experienced the craftsman (or woman). I've got my own cheat sheet I've built to understand what a designer's actual ability is when they are talking to me, but I won't bore you with the numbers. Mostly, it's a technical way of saying sloppy. In short, it is as if moving up a level of trade skill involves recognizing and embracing these tighter demands.Some people never recognize these levels, but doing so helps you grow.
       Which brings me to computers. Computers are a huge crutch for beginning designers, manufacturers, and tradespeople. But to quote one of my favorite patternmakers, "Computers don't make your designs better, they just help you get there faster."  But no computer, no matter how shiny, is real substitute for ability and I think we as a nation are learning that the hard way after the technology boom of the 1990s. And manual (analog) ability often takes a lot of hard work to get to. Thankfully, there's a lot of great masters in my area willing to share their thoughts and ability so begins the hard task of moving up the ladder from journeyman to master. I'm reading a lot, doing a lot, and you dear customer get to benefit from better products all around. Hopefully, we can all answer this question together as American manufacturing comes home and we rediscover what being skilled labor means. I look forward to the future with you and hopefully we'll all have suits worth wearing that don't make us look like cripples. And set us free.

No comments:

Post a Comment