WHAT DOES HANDMADE REALLY MEAN?
March 24, 2021
THE SECRET LIFE OF CLOTHES
Isn't it kind of crazy that something we are so intimately connected to--our clothing--is largely a mystery to us?
Before I worked in product design I used to imagine that clothing factories were this magical place like you see in cartoons--input fabric, output a fully-formed garment...VOILA!
As it turns out, I was wrong...can you believe it? In reality the way a garment is constructed in a factory is not all that different than the way it's made by a home sewist--virtually every stitch is made by human hands on a sewing machine.
And the machines aren't all that different, really.
Industrial machines work basically the same way, they're just bigger, sturdier and a LOT faster.
ALL MACHINES WORK LIKE THIS!
Etsy, the self-proclaimed knower of what is and what isn't craft, defines handmade (in 2019) as
"made and/or designed by [sic] the seller."
to me this leaves a LOT of grey area. Everything is designed by someone, isn't it?
I'd like to propose a different, more classical definition--which is that handmade means that something was ASSEMBLED by one person, from start to finish.
"Factory-made" is also hazily defined. Factories can be huge operations with many specialized machines, and many specialists...or they can be small sewing rooms with 2-3 people with various skills.
In a factory, individual craftspeople are batching tasks--they may be laying out fabric while another specialist does the cutting. In large facilities sewists are often trained on one highly specialized machine, and their job is to do that one type of seam (for example) and nothing else.
Obviously, this system is a LOT more efficient and quick. For those of us who make our products "by hand" much time is lost by doing one task at a time, moving from the machine to the pressing table, changing thread colors, etc.
This is why handmade garments often cost a lot more--they take longer to make, and they're assembled by one very highly skilled person rather than several people of (sometimes) lesser expertise.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Ultimately, the distinction is pretty straightforward--handmade is assembled by one, factory-made is assembled by many. Unless a designer is very transparent about their supply chain, there is no way to know the difference.
Either way, all garments are made on machines BY HUMAN HANDS.