Did you know that everything you are wearing is made by hand?
It is astounding to realize that in these days of automation, all clothes are still made by humans, not with a single needle and thread (although some high end designers like Prada use hand finishes), but operating sewing machines. Garment sewers from the USA to china use their highly-trained hands to make all the racks and racks of apparel around the world.
The exquisite accuracy of millions of garment workers gives the appearance of automation, but the reality could not be further from this perception. There are some innovative tech companies who are addressing this issue, while still in its infancy, the technology is very exciting.
What the future holds…
Softwear (http://softwearautomation.com) is developing autonomous sewn good worklines with their family of patented SEWBOTS™ which produce the optimal single piece flow for the production of goods. This means that they are optimizing the entire process of producing sewn goods from cutting to sewing. The robotics startup spun out of Georgia Tech after 7 years of research and development working on projects with DARPA and the WALMART Foundation.
Seeing the robots at work is fascinating. The challenge for anyone approaching robotic sewing is finding a way to move soft and flexible fabric evenly through a machine, but Softwear has a unique but highly secret approach to moving and turning the fabric.
Softwear is currently producing sewn goods with simple shapes and thicker texture like bathmats, pillow cases, bags and towels, but they are moving fast and have t-shirts and jeans lined up as the next stage of development.
Sewbo, (http://www.sewbo.com) a startup launched by Jonathan Zornow, chemically stiffens fabric to allow them to pass smoothly through a sewing machine without skilled hands to manipulate and guide it. Their approach is entirely different – they have chosen to alter the fabric, chemically, to make it more suitable to for robots to work with. The fabric is stiffened using polymers to turn them into thermoplastic composites (hard materials) which can be sewn. When they are put together, heat is added and the fabric softens to become the garments we recognize.
But fashion-tech is bitter-sweet — advances in technology do not necessarily offer the best solutions for the future of skilled workers in this field, who rely on their work to support themselves and their families. There is still debate over whether automated sewing could bring some of the garment industry back to the USA although both companies focus on the increase of local production as the robots would reduce the cost and safety of apparel production.