This is a long and heated conversation between the industry professionals. The question sounds like this: what is “handmade”? Makers, like me (and many others, working with their hand and tools only), would answer this way: “surely handmade is a product which is made by hand entirely”. Sounds logical, isn’t it? It is so funny that a machine, which makes the work way easier, can change that opinion rapidly. A sole stitcher, a line finisher tends to plant idea in people’s mind that their product is still handmade, as “everybody use those anyways”*. Once I have a conversation with an investor (not my investor – that is actually me, and only me) and he had a valuable opinion about it. He thought that there is no really handmade anyways. (let me put this here: there is. But really very rare). He thought that even the case of high end shoes the upper are machine stitched, skived, the sole is machine sanded, etc. So after all – he said – all the shoes are partially machine made. To be very correct, he used this philosophy to justify a welting and sole stitching machine in his “handmade’ process.
We must admit – handmade sounds good. Just like “natural”, “healthy” or “organic”. These are those words which can sell a product, even justify a higher price tag. Why wouldn’t we use it then, right? Let’s be realistic: there is no control. Companies, as long as they can, will use “handmade”. Customers – well, they have no idea. They believe those labels, printed on fancy recycled papers (and a company which that much environment conscious MUST be honest in the same time, right?).
Here is what WE can do. First of all: we have to be honest in a World which is not honest. Instead of coming up with new and vague terms, let’s be specific.
And how we can be sure where our products belong? If we determine the times, what it takes to make a pair (here is my suggestion), we can calculate the times what we save with a machine. (the logic is simple: a 100% handmade only allows to use hands. if we replace, let’s say 20% of the time with a machine – whatever machine it is – only 80% needs to be done by hand).
For practical reasons I don’t consider upper making into the process, for two reasons: a.) literally everybody use a sewing machine for uppers. If not – that is probably just an editorial piece. b.) traditionally shoemaking starts with a ready made upper, as upper making is a different craft for ages.
Let’s say we do everything by hand from a ready made upper. In this case the product must be made without any help of a machine. No sander, no skiver, so electricity at all. Our chart (based on my experiences) would look like this, if it is about a simple welted shoe:
The section I moved out is the sole stitching, which is one of the most complicated work-phase. As you can see – as a great example of what I am talking about – this make the shoe 80% handmade, which is a really great ratio as a matter of fact. If we would take the welting, lasting, finishing, heel building, etc. out of the process, which leave only some part of the finishing in – that is 10% of the process – that is actually a machine product. Interesting fact: these are the product which are widely promoted as handmade.
Approach this topic a different way. Communication. As long as you can walk in to a workshop and see the maker doing the whole process by hand, you don’t see any huge, heave machinery all around, there is not much sense to state that the footwear is made by hand. It would be as smart if your mom would stamp your lunch, straight from the oven “home-made”. From all perspective: our craft must grow. That is the only way to survive: make and sell. This is not possible in your little workshop, we need to be present on the internet, retailers, etc. We need to prove, that our products are genuinely made by hand. We need to communicate it well or we just stare the huge and greedy industrial competitors to overuse our hardly earned reputation of handmade.
I guess this post will generate some arguments. Great! This is something worth to talk about.
*It seems we have quite much of a variety in terms of opinion about “handmade” and it is greatly influenced by the possession of machines.
I used this site to build my chart: http://www.onlinecharttool.com