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Innovative Clothing Line Makes 'Human Labor Visible' on Every Garment

Three photos: One of a person wearing a white dress shirt covered in black fingerprints, another of a piece of white fabric going through a sewing machine covered in black paint, and one of a number of HUMAN TOUCH shirts on a clothing rack

To understand the amount of time, effort, and skill that goes into a single piece of clothing in our closets, many of us must mindfully sit down and think about the lifespan of, say, a shirt — from production and distribution to everyday use.

And sometimes, thinking about those things might come with shame, as we feel guilt for purchasing from fast fashion retailers or fear about the massive amounts of waste the planet harbors because of the fashion industry.

Juliet Seger and Christina Albrecht, the innovators behind HUMAN TOUCH, want to make this thought process easier — and the feelings it inspires less taboo.

HUMAN TOUCH uses the art of “paint-sewing,” in which the person sewing the garment has copious amounts of paint on their hands, leaving marks behind on both their sewing machine and the garment itself.

A person wears a black turtleneck covered in white painted fingerprints
Photo courtesy of Yukka Podolskaya/HUMAN TOUCH

“Today and for the foreseeable future, the making of every piece of clothing worldwide will involve sewing by human hands,” the HUMAN TOUCH website states. “With the technique of paint-sewing, the human labor essential to clothing manufacturing becomes visible on the garment.”

Every item is then unique, capturing the human essence behind every piece. Creators use textile paint, which stays on the fiber for regular wear and care.

“Try to envision the invisible,” the website continues, “The fingerprints of tailors, garment workers, machinists covering every piece of clothing you wear.”

The process is messy — and almost off-putting — especially to those who understand the labor required to create a piece of clothing.

@human.touch.clothing

HUMAN TOUCH — The essence is in the name: Today and for the foreseeable future, the making of every piece of clothing worldwide will involve sewing by human hands. With the technique of paint-sewing the human labour that is essential to clothing manufacturing becomes visible on the garment. Visit www.humantouchclothing.com for more thoughts and designs 🐾

♬ Kiss Them For Me - Siouxsie And The Banshees

“Very cool … but as a seamstress this makes me want to die,” a TikTok commenter wrote beneath a video of the HUMAN TOUCH sewing process. “The ickiness while sewing would drive me insane.”

But for consumers, the message is clear, and HUMAN TOUCH becomes a conceptual marvel with a thought-provoking final product.

“Being able to [visualize] the handmade aspect of garments REALLY puts things into further perspective,” another TikTok commenter wrote under the same video. 

It’s all a part of a larger mission.

Seger founded HUMAN TOUCH as a project within her own fashion label, Paid Vacation, and it was also the focal point of her 2020 dissertation at the University of Edinburgh.

Two women smile in front of a wall of painted garments
Christina Albrecht (left) and Juliet Seger (right) came together to make HUMAN TOUCH its own enterprise. Photo courtesy of HUMAN TOUCH/Instagram

Her research examined the role of technology throughout the history of fashion and how the necessary “human participation” in clothing manufacturing requires us to reexamine the ethics of fashion as a whole. 

“To support the development towards a socially sustainable fashion industry and to expand its positive features, we suggest a creative approach to enhancing informed consumerism,” Seger writes in her dissertation.

That creative approach is the heart of HUMAN TOUCH, giving consumers a viscerally visual experience that ties people, labor, and style together at the same time.

HUMAN TOUCH is now a standalone project Seger has embarked upon with business partner Albrecht, who is a fashion designer and art director.

A crowd gathers around Juliet Seger as she sews a garment for her fashion line
Seger sews a shirt at a live performance in Berlin in September 2023. Photo courtesy of HUMAN TOUCH/Instagram

In addition to a line of clothing pieces, all of which are made-to-order in Berlin, HUMAN TOUCH partakes in live sewing performances. The company’s international line will debut in an online store in February of this year, accompanied by a live sewing event during Berlin Fashion Week.

A press release about their work at Berlin Fashion Week posits HUMAN TOUCH not just as a fashion brand, but as “a basis for fashion activism,” redirecting attention to the artistry and humanity of garment workers while creating a meaningful piece of clothing.

“We want to show that sewing is not a ‘low-skilled’ task; it is so much more,” Albrecht and Seger said in the release. “With its dependency on human labor and dexterity, and with the incredible large amount of people sewing globally, sewing technology should be recognized as a social technology, one that is vital to be examined and valued as a lever in creating a better fashion system.”

Header images courtesy of Yukka Podolskaya/HUMAN TOUCH

Article Details

January 16, 2024 11:21 AM
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