Fast-food, fast-fashion. What happens to jobs when capitalism’s on-demand culture favors robots for humans in the name of convenience and profit?
The desire to personalize through fashion helps drive a multi-trillion dollar industry for inexpensive clothes. Turned into marketing machines, fashion houses today employ creative ad salesmen over textile experts. As far removed as the consumer from the garment creation process, so too is the average fashion house hire, leaving very few knowledgeable about sewing, factory work and the environmental impact of throw-away clothes.
Human capital is at stake, playing into a global economy where profit rules. A 2015 documentary, The True Cost, pulls back the curtain on the garment industry after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 garment factory workers.
So can human lives be saved when robots learn to sew? Or will machines disrupt the fabric of today’s job market?
Fashion’s humane solution
These are the tough moral questions few are willing to answer, but KP Reddy, CEO of SoftWear Automation, Inc., doesn’t shy away from the mind-bending discussions destined to change the workforce of the future. Selling a sewing machine that can automate the entire garment creation process, Reddy sees firsthand the revolution happening inside the fashion industry. Not surprisingly, he sees the benefits of robots in garment factories, returning fashion to its artistic roots.
“We’re freeing ourselves from the mundane aspects [of fashion] and retaining design integrity,” Reddy said in a recent interview ahead of his presentation at this month’s SxSW Festival in Austin, Texas. If customization could be delivered to the masses through the application of sewing machine automation, designers gain direct access to customers, and vice versa.
As for the factory worker, they need not worry so much about the robot takeover. Reddy explained the trouble many factories have in finding employees, as the generation entering the workforce seeks prosperity in urban meccas far from the villages that host wage jobs.
“A 20 year-old in Bangladesh is looking to get out of small villages and into the big cities, but many factories are in the middle of nowhere and have trouble finding talent,” Reddy recalled. “Many of these factories say they’re OK for now, but in 10-20 years they won’t be. We’ve been pleasantly surprised from the international companies visiting us.”
Reddy also noted that SoftWear will be needing people to sell, deploy and manage its automated sewing machines, hinting at future considerations for those worried about their jobs.
If SoftWear’s case studies are at all representative of the garment industry’s progression, then robots could very well be the humanitarian answer to one of the world’s most damaging economies.