What is artisan fashion?
In the current world where the fashion industry among many others are dominated by mass production, artisans and their works have become almost extinct, yet, more valuable.
Let’s start by defining artisan fashion. Artisan fashion doesn’t mean unprofessionally done homemade arts and crafts. It means fashion products, be it clothing or accessories, are crafted by artisans who have spent years experting in craftsmanship. Most artisans have learned how to craft from senior craftsmen who have shared their techniques. Transferring traditional ways of crafting and techniques makes artisanship an important part of preserving traditions.
What makes a product artisan-made?
Artisan-made products share some characteristics wherever they are made. An artisan-made product needs to be done by hand with minimal help from machines. For example, Ana Nevi mostly works with artisans who specialize in the traditional satin quilting technique from Turkey. Although the garments might be cut & sewn by machines, artisans quilt the motifs by hand, which makes them qualified to be an artisan-made product.
Artisan fashion can involve quilting, weaving, sewing, dyeing and embroidering. Each of the methods represent the culture of the artisans and adds value to the products that fast fashion cannot provide. All these techniques require a skillset which is obtained by years of training and experience. This makes artisan crafted products an art of expertise and care. The value of artisan-made products comes from this.
Before the industrial revolution, clothes were tailor-made for each individual. This meant personalized, well-fitting, but most importantly, unique. Personalized clothes create a bigger emotional connection and the feeling of ownership to the owner. The better fit due to personalization flatters the figure, and the uniqueness of the pieces adds individuality.
Since the industrial revolution moved almost all manufacturing from artisans to machines, production volumes have increased greatly, while lowering the uniqueness and value of each item. Standard clothing sizes have greatly impacted how the clothes fit unique bodies while clothes have become less in quality and value.
Sustainability is another important aspect of artisan-made fashion. Fast fashion that was born with machine based production creates a huge carbon footprint that artisan fashion avoids. The energy spent by machines and the impacts of transportation doesn’t occur in handmade products crafted locally. As Fashion Revolution states on their website: “These are (Artisanal techniques) low and sometimes zero-carbon models of production that wouldn’t be embraced by mainstream fashion businesses that are looking only at short-term cost-cutting.“
With the rise of machine-made garment and accessories production, lots of skilled craftsmen have lost their occupations. A recent article published by Business of Fashion points out the importance of the problem. The article shares estimates from Comité Colbert, a consortium of luxury brands, that at the end of 2022, 20,000 artisan-led jobs were left unfilled in France, and mentions that the organisation’s president and CEO Bénédicte Épinay said the number is likely higher. Artisan-made fashion brands like Ana Nevi deeply value the skills and expertise of these craftsmen and provide opportunities to retrieve their occupations. Ana Nevi works with local artisans who have years of experience in crafting and brings them back to work force.
While artisanship carries so much of a value, fashion schools are short of courses in artisanship, fashion brands are increasingly aware of the harms of losing artisanal fashion. Bottega Veneta proudly shares their collaboration with artisans and celebrates them with special events like ‘Hands of the Artisan’ where guests are invited to experience the house's artisanship culture. The luxury fashion house also recently opened their new school, The Accademia Labor et Ingenium which will train and hire 50 students per year to further develop artisanal craftsmanship. Luxury house’s CEO Leo Rongone tells Women’s Wear Daily, ‘’Exceptional craft and creativity are essential to our brand and to the heritage of our home region in Veneto. With the Accademia, we take the collective ethos at the heart of Bottega Veneta to a new level, building on our rich history of skill-sharing and innovation to nurture the artisans of the future.”
In our current world while fashion is more fast paced than ever and most of the production is based on machines, artisans’ skills and experience carry more value than ever before. Brands who have seen this and act on bringing them back are set to win in the long term.