A perfect storm of economic and social conditions is enabling small businesses like ours to contribute to a more sustainable manufacturing future. As Arts and Crafts continues to enjoy a revival, advances in technology are supporting the creative process. Meanwhile, the rising cost of logistics means we are looking to produce goods more locally than ever before.
Sustainable manufacture and design were the subject of a recent episode of The Sympathy of Things on Radio 4 which discussed the fact that, just as the current crafts revival appears to be a response to global recession and environmental concerns, the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th Century was also a response to what was felt to be a decline in standards linked to increased use of machinery.
How technology is supporting creativity
What is different this time around is that technology is actually enabling individuality and innovation rather than eliminating it.
There if often a mismatch in people’s minds between the lone maker, toiling away in the workshop to create a masterpiece, and the mass manufacture of hundreds of identical items on an automated production line.
Over recent decades, there is no doubt that there has been a drive to mass produce items as cheaply as possible in parts of the world where production costs are low. Now, however, some rebalancing is going on as logistics replaces raw materials as one of the most costly elements of manufacture. This is happening at a time when technology is making it possible to customise products without impacting significantly on cost.
In our own workshop we have invested in two CNC machines and the latest CAD/CAM design technology. As well as supporting our own design and manufacturing work, this investment has allowed us to partner with many small makers and designers to help them test their own ideas and create prototypes. The technology and machinery allows them to tweak their designs and makes it cost effective to run small production batches.
Another way in which technology is shaping creativity is by making highly complex mathematical calculations possible. We can test the mechanics and engineering of designs and let our imaginations go further as a result. Digitalisation and artisanal design really do go hand in hand.
Why creativity supports sustainability
One of the influences behind the current crafts revival is the fact that we are becoming increasingly troubled by the impact of consumerism on our planet and its people. When cheap, mass produced materials like plastic and chipboard become damaged there is no way to repair them and they end up being thrown away. When something is made with care from natural materials, we naturally care more about it and we respect those who have made it. If it breaks, we are more inclined to fix it.
The furniture we create in our workshop is made with care and built to last. As a consequence, it has emotional durability too.
The trend for local and collaborative production
The rising cost of transportation and logistics means that it is beginning to make more financial sense to produce components and products closer to their point of sale. The days of shipping container loads of goods half way around the world may be numbered.
A growing area of our business at Dovetailors is as a component designer and manufacturer for product developers, particularly in the contemporary furniture market. We can share our own design and production expertise to support their innovation and creativity and we work as part of a production process that frequently involves other experts, such as upholsterers.
We are proud to be working collaboratively with some highly talented businesses to make beautiful and sustainable furniture that we hope will be cherished for many years to come.