Mending, making & manufacture: can we redesign the sock?
In a VoxPop for Design week last week I proposed making a spectacle of myself on the Fourth Plinth by running up samples on my sewing machine in full view of the public; and to their benefit, since I propsoed giving away the fruits of my labour. My stated reason was that we have become distanced from production; our competence to invent or improvise solutions to the practical problems that beset us is diminished in proportion to the increasing quantity of solutions we buy. Jonathan Glancey wrote stirringly about this growing incompetence to make in the Guardian last summer.
I’ve commissioned an essay for the RSA about the renewed interest in making and manufacturing after a period when business and policy have tended to concentrate on knowledge and services. I’m asking for a fresh account of why we stopped making things (if we did stop); what the benefits of making things are; and how making things might become easier. What conditions would foster small, local, manufacturing entrepreneurship? And what are the implications for improvisation and innovation among ordinary citizens who, while they may be making to save money or resources, are not making to make money?
Our understanding of services became rich and metaphysical as the last century turned and the internet came to define so much of business. But Mark Adams, Director of Vitsoe and one of Britain’s most resolute and articulate design-led manufacturers, reminded me that products and services are not an either/or. In a new dawn of manufacturing, on a planet where sense tells us to make and buy for longevity, and in a society with today’s level of personal expectation and individualism, goods and services are critically interdependent.
The service aspect of goods brings us to repair. An obvious symptom of our remoteness from making is our disinclination to repair. In gathering an interest group around making, manufacturing and repair I discovered that my Dutch friends at Premsela are involved with Platform.21 in a Repair project in full swing. In true Dutch style, it emphasises the surprising beauty and surreality of repaired objects; hybrids of style and substance; relocations of meaning and memory; repair as a creative project under artistic direction. Our RSA repair project will be less self-expression and more self-reliance.
Among my own repairs, I confess to darning socks. There’s a design problem: while manufacturers frequently advertise a “reinforced heel”, they don’t address the real stress point which is not the heel but the tendon area above the heel where the edge of your shoe wears the yarn away.