Microfactories, digital printing, downloadable patterns … Our dystopian future?

When I was recently sent links to the newly launched Pattern Room – an online, downloadable pattern provider – and the new Microfactory from Gerber – a set-up that can design, print the fabric, cut and sew a garment all at once in a small space – I have to say I wasn’t sure I should be excited or dismayed.

Having just spent the last couple of months working on a sustainability project with RMIT and Inditex (Zara) to try to find a way to make their shoe production less wasteful, and also having been struck by a recent story asking the question as to whether or not we actually NEED more sustainable fashion brands, I can’t decide if this new technological development is a boon or bane for the fashion industry. 

Yes, these new technologies make it easier for small brands to produce products locally without the issues of carbon footprint, large factory ethical or environmental issues, but do we really NEED more products? 

There are so many clothes already in the world, most of them ending up in landfill after having been produced in an environmentally damaging way. 

Even if the clothes HAVE been produced in a somewhat more sustainable fashion, we just don’t need more of them. 

This is really the core issue of what needs to be thought about regarding fashion and sustainability; we already have too many clothes, so do we need the ability to make millions more, more quickly, and less considered than is already the case?

Less volume, more quality …
From a more personal perspective, what concerns me about the production from the Microfactory and the use of Pattern Room, is the lack of quality in design. 

Yes, the digital printing they use is dry – no water – and apparently the inks are non toxic – but this is digital printing. It is single surface and will eventually fade. This produces fabrics that do not have the beauty and long-lasting nature of traditional wovens like brocade etc. 

The use of a pattern bank and a machine to laser-cut flats removes the possibility of creative new designs and the traditional talent of the pattern-cutter; it creates a see of same-same clothing. 

I see a future of people wearing ugly-ass same-same silhouette tees and leggings in increasingly nastily coloured disposable synthetic fabric. The world will look like an EDM concert. 

The rich will wear increasingly expensive couture made by hand with ‘real’ fabrics, and the poor will wear nasty digitally printed disposables. A nightmare come true. 

Convince me …
I would prefer to see fewer clothes of better quality being made. If these technological breakthroughs can be directed to allow people to produce fewer, but better made and more sustainable items at home, or in a community microfactory for example, then I can see the advantages. 

However, did Inditex’s streamlined production system produce better clothes for everyone? No. Human nature ie. greed, saw it produce too many crap clothes for everyone. 

I would prefer to just teach everyone to sew.

This article was first published for the iFab newsletter.


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