November 12, 2020

Imperfections are traces of human touch

Here at Wasteless Wonders, we are all about celebrating handmade, slow production. Which means very little machine work is used in the making of our products (really only a sewing machine) and most is done by two hands and many many repetitive motions. In this process, sometimes mistakes happen, a stitch is skipped or a row is woven in the wrong way.

Unlike in conventional production, these small flaws are not a reason to throw out the whole product, negating sometimes dozens of hours of work. These small flaws are a sign and proof of human touch, making each and every piece unique with tiny little differences. In this article, we want to show you some reasons, why mistakes should be celebrated and why imperfections are inevitably a part of all Wasteless Wonders products.

Perfectionism is not sustainable

When you think about conventional manufacturing, you might think of huge factories, full of machines, each with very specialised functions, first. You might also think about sweatshops, with row after row after row of workers sitting behind sewing machines, working as fast as humanly possible and executing a tiny part in the whole process of making a garment. Whenever a machine malfunctions or a seam doesn't come out just right, the product in the making is thrown out, to be replaced by the next one in line. There is no use for a half finished product like that and the ultimate destiny is not the buying consumer, but simply the landfill.

There will always be waste in the production process, because sometimes things just go wrong. The difference between a large-scale automated or semi-automated assembly line process and a super-slow handmade process, is that mistakes are the death sentence for a product-to-be in the first case and just a small hiccup in the second case. The super fast nature of the first case, combined with high pressure to meet delivery targets does not allow for fixing mistakes. Whereas in a slower handmade process, you may be able to go back a step and re-do it, to eliminate a flaw. Or you can chose to let the mistake be a part of the product or even let it lead you to a different outcome all together.

Of course sometimes mistakes can lead to a product being completely useless and not functional. But again in this case, in conventional manufacturing, these products land in the waste, while there is still chances of saving it on a slower scale. Sometimes part of the product can be salvadged and used for the next one. Sometimes materials can be recycled and used for a different purpose. Sometimes faulty parts can simply be replaced to make the product functional again. Flexibility is key and so is a creative approach to mistakes.

Mistakes are a proof for "handmade"

One of my teachers told me once, that for her, mistakes are a proof that an item was actually handmade and whenever she is looking to buy something handmade, she purposfully looks for the items with small flaws, as they show that there was a human behind the product.

We have become so used to flawless machine-made items, that mistakes are often seen as undesirable and as a reason to return a product. At the same time, handmade has surged in popularity and of course there are some shady business tactics to label products as "handmade" in order to sell more or sell them at a higher price. In many cases, maybe only the label was sewn on by hand and the rest of the work was actually automated. Looking for small mistakes can be a valuable tool, to identify whether a product was really made by hand or was just sold as such.

If you view it from this angle, mistakes are actually a sign for quality. They connect a product back to its maker, with all their personal quirks and flaws, that inevitable flow into the creation of the product. They are a proof that someone and not something made whatever it is you are holding in your hands.

Imperfections are the soul of a product

If you think about an injection-molding machine, a big chunk of metal that plops out clones of plastic parts, one looking exactly the same as the other, mistakes can be also seen as "non-sameness". In industrial production, standardization is key, which means that each part has to look exactly the same as another one, with the same dimensions, weight and color. And even though a product may still function the same way, but deviates slightly in one of these measurements, it will most likely be eliminated from the batch. If you order a pack of 5 T-shirts from a fast-fashion brand, all 5 of those will look exactly the same, with the same color, same measurements and of course also the same short lifespan.

If you order a pack of 5 handcrafted products from a small maker, they will for the most part look the same. But there will be small little differences in the shape, maybe the color or even the size. The best example for this are probably products made from clay. Human hands leave impressions in the material while they are forming it and it is inevitable that each of the final products are formed slightly differently in the process. For us it is a joy to pick up the small differences in handmade products and chose one that speaks to us most. It may just be the way brushstrokes are swung or the glaze dripped on a ceramic pot, that gives a more friendly, more soft or clean character to a product.

Every human has their unique characteristics and handmade products reflect those, both through the influence of the maker, but also through that of the customer, who ultimately chooses their favorite from the variety.
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