D&T1: Craig Whittet – The Demise of Skilled Manufacturing

Craig Whittet, the head of Product Design Engineering at the Glasgow School of Art, gave a lecture on ‘the Demise of Skilled Manufacturing’. Craig outlined the current challenges facing manufacturers, especially those who use processes that require a huge amount of skill. The products created in this manner are generally of a much higher quality than similar products that have been mass produced using less refined skills. The products are more likely to last longer and provide a better service during their lifetime. Craig outlined a few examples of companies that offer products like this. 

Craig wears Tricker’s brogues. Tricker’s make highly crafted shoes in a manufacturing process that uses over 270 procedures. Craig has owned them for the last 10 years, and has only sent them away for a refurbishment once in this time. The service and quality that is offered is far superior to a shoe you might pick up from Schuhor Jones. The problem comes to light when you look at the price tag of the shoes – a standard pair will cost you around £400. Given the benefits of paying for the added quality, such as the prolonged life, you are likely to actually pay less in the long run than if you go down the cheap and cheerful fast fashion route. 

Tricker’s shoes, as advertised on their website

Buying with this mentality is also far more responsible way to shop. It is in line with the circular economy concept, which encourages more sustainable way of dealing with products. The circular economy promotes extending the lifetime of products, reducing the amount that is wasted and reducing the amount of raw materials needed to make it, by allowing the product to be repaired, reused and recycled. In theory this is a great concept that is beneficial for all, but it requires the consumer to buy in to it and to recognise the advantages that Craig spoke about. The biggest issue comes from consumers not wanting to part with £400 for a pair of shoes. We find it difficult have the foresight to see the benefits of the investment 10 years down the line.

Vollebak’s biodegradable t-shirt

In this day and age where we are constantly being reminded of living and behaving in a sustainable, responsible manner, and despite the benefits that I have just spoken about, I have a real issue with the price involved with buying ‘responsible’ products. Vollebak make fully biodegradable t-shirt, which is great, but it will set you back £85. Very few people would be willing to spend £85 on a t-shirt. With this kind of price tag attached it, how can you expect people to buy products ‘responsibly’. I don’t know the answer, but at least design is moving in the right direction. In years to come perhaps every t-shirt will be biodegradable.

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