On the Line | The Return of Craftsmanship

By Caleb Bushner

Sustainable clothing is moving beyond the barcode. Some of the best social and environmental apparel options out there are not found on the retail racks so much as they’re discovered at local fairs and passed down through word of mouth and blog. More and more people are becoming receptive to the notion of smaller wardrobes filled with classically crafted, durable products. This is great news, as goods of this sort tend to be made from better materials, last longer, and, because they are made by real crafts-people, come with a greater meaning for the purchaser.

Materials and Sourcing
As I alluded to in my last post, global sourcing is a complex, often very murky process. Raw materials might exchange many hands before they wind up being put into use, and, more often than not, the various players involved speak different languages, have different tracking programs, and, rarely care about much more than fulfilling the basics of their contract (get the agreed upon goods to the agreed upon place at a point that, if not actually on-time, is close enough to not get sued).

Ain’t no metaphor like a visual metaphor, ’cause a visual metaphor don’t stop! [via]

Because crafts-people do their own sourcing, they tend to have a stronger personal relationship with their suppliers. As such, they more often source their materials from vendors that are not only pleasant to deal with, but also honest, and like-minded in regards to sustainability. Furthermore, because crafts-people tend to produce smaller lots (and/or only do custom work), they are able to really fine-tune their sourcing, and only use exceptional materials.

Quality and Durability
With certain products we’re willing to pay a price premium for high quality. That’s not new. But what is new, is that instead of having to assume which items are of better quality, we have resources (like CWAC, Google, etc.) and standards (like organic certification) to give us a more solid indication. Here in Portland there is a fantastic shoe company called ExIT Shoes. It’s a one man shop, and everything is handmade and set to last for at least a decade (if not two or three).

Some of ExIT’s handy work.

While ExIT’s shoes are more expensive than the average pair, if you consider that the shoes will last you for the next quarter of your life, the price is much more approachable.

People and Meaning
Through CWAC, I was introduced to an awesome bow tie business called “Rufflentuck.” I decided to order a couple models, and was absolutely floored by the experience. Interacting with Rosemary (Rufflentuck’s owner) was quite possibly the most satisfying digital shopping experience of my life: she was friendly, helpful and sincere. Indeed, it was such a pleasant departure from the usual menswear retail shopping undertaking, that I found myself looking for excuses to buy additional ties for friends (I even started teaching some of my brutish rock climbing pals how to tie bow ties, so as to have another reason to buy a new Cameron or Quebec tartan).

I’ll take five, thanks.

I wouldn’t be evangelizing the Rufflentuck if it was just another nice tie brand sold at another nice retail store – our world is saturated with such opportunities for consumption. The reason Rosemary’s bows stand out, is precisely because they’re more than that: they’re someone’s craft-work. They’re well-made, well-priced and they come with a human story. And for that, what would otherwise be a modest section of stitched cloth, actually really means something, and becomes so much more than a barcode and hang-tag.

The simplification of sourcing, emphasis upon quality and the connection between consumers and creators are significant steps along the way to a more ‘sustainable’ culture in that they are all steps away from the rampant disposability that characterizes much of the current marketplace. I’m optimistic that this trend will continue for precisely these reasons: the garments have a compelling story and, because they last longer, that story can be shared for many years to come.

About the author:

Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in Portland, OR.