3 Apr 2017
On paradigm shifts and industrial revolutions: tracing prevalent dressmaking practices and apparel production systems in the Netherlands and northwest Europe (1850-2016).
My paper On paradigm shifts and industrial revolutions: tracing prevalent dressmaking practices and apparel production systems in the Netherlands and northwest Europe (1850-2016) was recently presented at the 19th IFFTI (International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes) conference in Amsterdam. The article got the first price for the category Postgraduate/Research students. See the abstract and download the full paper below.
Personalization, production on-demand, and flexible manufacture facilities are growing within the European apparel sector, supported by national and regional public policy. These developments seem to embody a much waited “paradigm shift” in the fashion industry; a shift from global to local scale, from quantity to quality and from standard products to personalized services. Such values, however, are far from new, and scholars have already pointed out the similarities between emerging and pre-industrial systems of production and consumption. This article argues that in order to understand current developments in historical context, we should return to the process of industrialization of the apparel industry during the turn from the 19th to the 20th C, taking into account aspects of production as much as mediation and consumption. With this aim in mind, the article traces the rise of ready-made garments in the Netherlands and northwest Europe, and the associated decline in custom- and home-made garments in the region. Although available statistical data is insufficient to accurately map these phenomena, secondary sources suggest that both processes were not simultaneous and therefore there was not a straightforward substitution of custom- and home-made clothing by ready-mades. While availability and trade of mass-produced ready-mades was escalating since the early 19th C, it was not until mid 20th C that custom- and home-made clothing declined among the middle class. In this study, such a gap is explained by a steady increase in the amount of clothes acquired per person: an expanding culture of consumption during the period under consideration may have enabled these different systems to flourish all together. A parallelism of the findings above with current developments suggests that we should not regard emergent industrial formats as substitutionary of established ones, but as complementary. We may then reevaluate to what extent does the rise of the flexible factory enable a “revolution”, a shift from a problematic present to a contrasting and desirable future. This historical overview indicates that, on the contrary, emerging product-service-systems manufacturing personalized garments on-demand must be considered in relation to – and in coexistence with- traditional industrial models.