Photo By: Matthew Sumi
Finding clothing and accessories in 2017 is a difficult task. The reason? As part of the softest generation in the game, we all grew up being told that we’re special little sunflowers and as such, we’re always in search of something that’s crafted to be as unique as we are. However, in an increasingly consumer world where everything is “small-batch” or “handcrafted”, what does craft actually mean? We caught up with friend of the blog and owner of Mackerel Crow (a custom shoes and bags operation out of Seattle), Micheal Barakat to chat about exactly what craft is and what this means to the modern man.
I get the same question a lot
“You make bags and shoes. That’s cool, but how do you compete with China? India? Vietnam? Bangladesh? Taiwan?” The list goes on. And the truth is I can’t and I don’t. Some people will tell you that Chinese goods are not as high quality as what is produced in other countries like USA, Europe, Canada and Mexico. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be more wrong. What they think is low quality is actually planned obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete for you state-schoolers). Believe it or not, I have seen Chinese machinery and construction techniques so advanced they cannot be distinguished from magic. In my opinion, China is capable of producing the most high quality goods in the world, but for whatever reason those good exist in smaller numbers and are not as prevalent as the cheaper stuff.
Don’t believe me? A former production employee of Filson recalled a story to me where they revamped an entire American facility with brand new sewing equipment. At some point they took a company trip to China to see the factories there, to experience their factory operations. A Chinese factory manager learning of the “new” upgrades at Filson commented that in China they had been using similar equipment over ten years ago.
So, with that said, why do I make bags and shoes? Furthermore, why does craft matter?
It comes back to design intention. It’s not that my designs and ideas are better, or even necessarily more practical. They are unique because they are made with a different intent from the larger producers. When soft-goods like bags and shoes are designed in a brightly lit computer suite at a mass producer’s company, the design (with some exceptions) is not about making something honest or even anything that fulfills a particular need. The intent is singular – to sell large quantities and make money.
It’s part of the disposable product cycle. The producer makes and the consumer consumes. That intention changes the design process – to them it’s only about making something look sexy and appeal to the masses. As a maker I want my products to be sexy too and I want people to buy them, but that’s not why I’m a maker. The Mackerel Crow design process starts with a clear design intent to solve a problem gracefully and make products that are craftful, which to me means three very specific things:
- There is honesty in craft
Products that are well crafted are true to themselves. The materials are considered from many angles: the look, feel, and how it weathers with age. There are no frills, there are no “pretend” buckles, ropes or snaps that have no practical use or intention. The product speaks for itself. It is real, it is tested, it is strong.
- There is integrity in craft
When a client approaches me and asks for a specific feature they’ve seen on another product, we go through the process together. Does the feature make sense? Does it address the problem? How does it feel?
- There is truth in craft
Craft is obvious and worn like a badge of honor. A badge of courage. No product is perfect, there are mistakes, there are issues. Things wear out. But a good product is designed so it can be mended. The breakpoints are not catastrophic. A good pair of shoes can be resoled and lasts ten years. A good bag is practical.
When you’re searching for a staple item that you want to become a core piece of your daily life, the simplest thing you can do is evaluate it by those three criteria: honesty, integrity and truth.
Craft matters to me, it matters to people
This is going to sound a little heady. But, the whole belief behind Mackerel Crow is to make products that honor the idea of the kind of product they are. In other words, the thing needs to work really sensibly, and really well. A good bag should be comfortable, easy to lug around, have pockets that can hold and protect their contents easily. A good pair of shoes should be comfortable, lightweight, and easy to walk in. When you walk down the street wearing a finely crafted pair of shoes, garment or bag you hold your head high, and you step steadily, you walk with confidence because you’re comfortable and you’re not trying to show off or prove anything. People see this in the product, and they say, “That bag looks so handsome, so sensible.” And, that’s because it is. That’s why craft matters.
Article and Photos Provided by: Micheal Barakat & Mackerel Crow