Rise of the (T-Shirt Making) Machines

According to a recent story at Fast Company, America’s first fully autonomous clothing factory is set to open in Arkansas in 2018.

Boasting a 21 robot-manned production line, the Tianyuan Garments Company-owned factory will be able to produce an estimated 1.2 million t-shirts a year.

And, if things go according to plan, those 1.2 million shirts could be made “at a total cost of production that can compete in terms of cost with apparel companies that manufacture and ship clothing from the lowest-wage countries in the world.”

So, in other words, the robots (which, by the way, are called “Sewbots”) could make more clothes in a year, and for less money, than any existing sweatshop.

Clearly, technology like that could cost a lot of real people a lot of real jobs. However, Palaniswamy Rajan, CEO of SoftWear Automation, the company behind the SewBots, tells Fast Company that “on balance, the robot will have a positive impact, both on labor and the environment.”

“By producing closer to consumers,” he argues, “and by reducing material waste as it sews, the technology can also reduce brands’ carbon footprints… [and according to Fashion for Good] the Sewbot can help cut emissions by around 10%.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see about that. But, in the meantime, it’s understandable if garment workers the world over might be feeling a little nervous right now.

You can read more about it at Fast Company.

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