“The only way to make money in the
perfectionist craftsperson industry, it seems, is to stop being a
perfectionist craftsperson.” -ADAM
DAVIDSON, in the New York Times article, “What's a $4000 suit worth?”
The New York times printed an article
earlier this month about bespoke suit-making. The article praised the
skill of the featured bespoke tailor, but questioned the economics of
the business. This tailor has all the business he can handle, but
his salary is limited to how quickly he can make each suit. He has no
employees and each suit takes about 2 weeks to make. Because there
are few ways to speed up his process—-making a suit is skill
dependent and each takes about the same amount of time—-his income
will remain well below the income that a person buying one of his
$4000 suits would probably make. Because he works in the way an
artisan would have worked a hundred years ago, he is not making money
in the way that much of the clothing industry does today.
These critiques are valid if making money is the main concern, but there are many benefits to the artisan, the customer and society at large that are important but can't be as easily measured as is profit. These are issues that I think about often as I build my business. Although I don't make bespoke suits, the work that I do also “has no economy of scale”--it is human-scale!
First and foremost, the artisan who
spends his or her time perfecting skills and making beautiful,
functional items out of the resources from this planet, finds
fulfillment in the work, in the creating and problem solving
she uses her energy and mind for every day. It's also worth
mentioning the obvious—-that someone who feels fulfilled functions
as a happy person in the world. I know that through my work I have
found a happiness that has allowed me to give more to others, and in
turn, others have reciprocated in a way that I didn't notice before.
Secondly, the consumer of the product
buys something that has been well-made, well designed, that fits
well, and that may last longer or bring more joy than another less
carefully-made item. The buyer also has a way to get in touch with
the maker—to have adjustments/corrections made, or to add to
Also, by making clothing or other
artisanal products on a human scale, there is less waste involved in
the process. One person can only make a finite amount of products
with her time, which limits the amount of products that are made.
Bespoke suits are made to order, which reduces waste even further,
because a suit is not being made to hang on a rack, but made with the
wearer in mind.
Another benefit to society is the
continuation of human skills. In clothing, the art of creating a
garment that fits around a specific body is an age-old study, one
that continues to develop through apprenticeship and experimentation.
Because of the immense value of all of
the above, the issue of making more money is minimized in my mind.
Yes, I think that quality of life is very important and that if
certain tools will speed up the process and allow for more free time
while still maintaining the benefits described above, that's value
added. But to sacrifice so many of the above benefits just to
increase profits seems to me a waste of humanity—a waste of skill,
a waste of materials, a waste of time.
I would like to fade out with a song,
and there are so many to choose from. Jack Rhodes' “A Satisfied
Mind” was sung by many people and here's Porter Wagoner's take: