A few weeks ago, I blogged on a story in the Times about some idiot who wanted to live a "No Impact" life - in Manhattan. Of course, this is an impossible and unnecessarily cruel existence (as evidenced by the lack of toilet paper). One of the practices of the "No Impact" lifestyle was to only purchase food from within 150 miles - and to report any sins against this policy to the gurus in San Francisco.
Well, it seems that some clothing designers have been working on creating The 100-mile suit. Wired Magazine has this excellent demonstration of why humans have evolved beyond our small little enclaves that only sought to satisfy their needs from within 100 miles.
Here's the background:
100-Mile Suit Wears Its Origins on Its Sleeve
Paul Adams Email 03.30.07 | 12:00 AM
PHILADELPHIA -- When educator and designer Kelly Cobb decided to make a man's suit only from materials produced within 100 miles of her home, she knew it would be a challenge. But Cobb's locally made suit turned into a exhausting task. The suit took a team of 20 artisans several months to produce -- 500 man-hours of work in total -- and the finished product wears its rustic origins on its sleeve.
"It was a huge undertaking, assembled on half a shoestring," Cobb said at the suit's unveiling one recent afternoon at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art.
"Every piece of the suit took three to five pairs of hands to make," Cobb added. "Every garment you wear took three to five pairs of hands to make too, but you don't know whose hands or where."
Cobb's suit (see photo gallery) is a demonstration of the massive manufacturing power of the global economy. Industrial processes and cheap foreign labor belie the tremendous resources that go into garments as simple as a T-shirt.
"It definitely makes you think for a minute before you buy that $10 skirt," said Jocelyn Meinhardt, a New York City playwright who sews many of her own clothes. "It didn't just grow on the rack at Forever 21. It's too easy to forget that people made it."
Last year, Cobb asked her students at Drexel University to trace the provenance of their clothes. When the task proved impossible, she realized how far removed we are from what we wear.
Cobb began by locating some like-minded collaborators: sewers, knitters and weavers.
Three local sheep contributed their sustainably grown fleeces, which were painstakingly spun by six traditional spinners into almost two miles of wool.
Socks and underpants were knitted by hand from the wool. A team of three weavers turned the fleece into soft, thick fabric which became slacks -- fastened with hand-carved buttons -- and a shirt.
Textile artist Susie Brandt used husks from a local black walnut tree to dye some of the white wool a ruddy brown, which she weaved into a striped necktie.
A local shoemaker volunteered her services, but tracking down locally made leather was a challenge. Shortly before the work was scheduled to begin, Cobb located an artisan who tans local deer hides into buckskin, using the ages-old technique of brain tanning.
On Sunday, the oxford-style shoes that completed the outfit still smelled of the wood smoke used to cure the hide.
Cobb estimates that 8 percent of the materials in the 100-mile suit came from outside the prescribed radius. Those alien components, including the cores of the thread and the rubber soles of the shoes, were colored yellow to stand out against the primarily gray-brown color of the suit.
"If we worked on it for a year and a half," Cobb says, "I think we could have eliminated that 8 percent."
500 man hours of work plus materials... minimum wage in the US is $5.15 per hour and let's say that the materials were a paltry 10% of the labor costs.
And this still involves 8% of materials which are not from within 100 miles - and it would take the group a year and a half to either find the local sources of supply or create those materials themselves.
Now introducing, the $3,000 suit that was produced using only local sources of supply!
Additional pictures of this fabulous garment can be seen here.
Meanwhile, thanks to the division of labor and sourcing inputs (material & labor) from around the world, you can spend 1/10th of the cost on the following - offered by Mens Wearhouse for $299.
And, that's without shopping around and trying to find a good deal. I wonder which suit would be more effective and persuading someone to hire you? Unless the guy in the 100-mile suit is showing up at a commie / hippie commune for a job, don't think many would hire him.
Thanks to Cafe Hayek for pointing me to this article. I think it clearly shows how division of labor and the global economy are not things that we can turn away from, no matter how much we like the idea of sourcing our products "from our own community."
Or, as Cafe Hayek puts it, "Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty." If you disagree, feel free to comment here and provide your evidence.
ARC: St Wendeler