One of the most important aspects of Steampunk is, to me, the handmade nature of our clothing and gadgetry. It’s absolutely stunning to see people’s latest Steampunk inventions or clothing and know that a true artist was behind the creation of the item. It’s a critical aspect of Steampunk to me, regardless of what you think about Steampunk as a subculture.
Recently, I was reminded of just how important the ethics of handmade is while I was at work. I was training a volunteer on procedures for our donations closet and during the quiet moments, we exchanged some small talk. The woman, who was from Algeria, told me a lot about life there, but one of her stories stuck with me more than any other.
She talked about the influence of globalization upon traditional Algerian markets. Foreign competitors were slowly permeating the nation’s economy, learning how to make Algerian goods cheaply, but poorly. She spoke of how fashion was especially affected: foreign companies would take the patterns of traditional Algerian dress and make badly constructed, mass-produced replications of the garments from cheap material. No care was taken to respect the traditions that the garments suggest; the only interest was profit.
And, unfortunately, because the desire for cheap goods seems to be near universal across the globe, Algerians were turning away from clothing produced by Algerian tailors and turning to the cheaper, foreign alternatives. The art of properly producing the garments the “Algerian” way is under siege by globalization and foreign companies that don’t care about the purpose or intent of producing a good.
Now, please read that story again, replacing all relevant references to Algeria with Steampunk. To keep this movement “ours” handmade is the way we must go. Self produced or bought through a Steampunk artist (like on Etsy), to keep Steampunk for the Steampunks, it’s important to steer clear of the mass-produced. Not only do you do your part to take resources out of corporate America, but you also support a starving Steampunk artist if you have a piece commissioned.
As an aside to this argument, however, I would like to make a few notable exceptions to the general handmade rule: antiques, though may not be hand made can be easily employed to ethically enhance the Steampunk wardrobe. If one cannot find an item that has been hand made, but absolutely must be obtained to complete your desired look, at least buy from a locally own business.
And last, but certainly not least, is the case of gifts. My mother attempts to understand Steampunk by buying me various pieces she sees at the store (like the necklace I wore to A-Kon) and asking me if the particular item is “Steampunk” and then proceeds to gift the item to me. Because she’s sweet and well-meaning, I accept and wear these gifts because it truly is one of those situations where it is the thought that counts, and for me it is the exception rather than the rule to my wardrobe. Rather than act like a jerk and dispose of or return non-handmade items that were given to me by people who support my Steampunk lifestyle, I think it’s important to honor their intent.
So, what do you all think about this?