Artisan garments are the fruit of manual skills that are increasingly hard to find these days, and yet it’s precisely these skills that bring unique value to the product.
In ancient Greece, the term téchne referred not only to art as we understand it today, but also to practical ability and professional skill in all kinds of manual and intellectual activity. The ability to do a job well, whether it be that of a cobbler or a military strategist, was considered comparable to the art of a sculptor or painter, because all of them derived from the knowledge of precise rules and procedures, enriched by experience gained in their chosen field. These theoretical and practical skills form the base of all kinds of manual work: it is only thanks to technique and experience that the craftsman (like the tailor or designer) is able to create functional items that are also pleasant to look at.
Over the last two decades, digital technologies have turned the world of industry around, with automation replacing many of the operations that were once performed by hand. Dating back a few years now is the news that the factory of Tianyuan Garments, one of the suppliers of Adidas, has introduced SewBots, robots able to make a t-shirt in just 22 seconds and to produce 4000 of them a day. These robots are able to cut fabrics with greater precision than a human worker, and at a significantly lower cost, thus allowing companies to boost their profit margins. Work automation allows companies to speed up production and make more money, while at the same time reducing defects due to human error.
Even the most sophisticated robot has its limits, however: it is not able to evaluate the quality of a fabric or a finished product like an expert worker or craftsman with the ability to distinguish a flawed material or garment. In addition, serial production removes those small imperfections and peculiarities that make hand-crafted products so unique. Because it is the fruit of the téchne of the person who crafted it, a handmade product can be considered an art object, something that - unlike serial productions - possesses not only an economic value, but also a mix of intangible values. These values include attention to detail, age-old traditions handed down through the generations, quality and durability.
Our slippers are made using “vintage”, 50-year-old machines, and the entire production process is entrusted to the hands of our skilled craftsmen, from the cutting of the felt and the gluing of the sole to the final quality control. These skills are increasingly difficult to find, because the craftsman’s work is tiring, and young people today prefer professions that require less effort and are considered more prestigious. However, we can’t imagine replacing people with machines: this would impinge on the quality of our slippers, which would end up resembling a million other models mass-produced every day.
If we were gambling folk, we’d be prepared to bet that twenty years from now, manual skills - which have become a rarity among the younger generations - will probably be better paid than digital skills. In the meantime, we hope that it’s young people who will start appreciating the value of craftsmanship once more, also in the unique beauty of a handmade slipper.