Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why It *Doesn't* Pay To DIY

At Drexel University, designer Kelly Cobb has tried to prove a point in favour of self-sufficient local trading by making what's called the "100 mile suit" – a suit made solely of materials raised, produced, processed and constructed within 100 miles of Philadelphia. She said:

“I think about cluster economies and how ideally a small community could clothe itself. If you bring the idea of local and sustainable clothing production down to the person-to-person level, the realization that a small community could clothe itself is possible with reasonable expectations and a little ingenuity.”

Kelly Cobb is confused. Her project doesn't prove that local clothing production can be accomplished under reasonable expectations, it proves the opposite – it proves a whopping point against self-sufficient local trade. While extolling the virtues of making the 100 mile suit, Kelly Cobb and her team have forgotten to count the cost of staying local and making it themselves – namely the time, effort, and the cost of denying the volunteers other uses of their skills.

In fact, in the article we get an idea of the extent of the cost with this statement from Cobb:

“Creating the suit was a massive task. Nearly two-dozen artists volunteered 506 hours. “It was a huge undertaking, assembled on half a shoestring,”

Half a shoestring? That must be the world's most expensive half-shoestring. Let’s be ultra-conservative with our estimate by rounding it off to 500 hours, and let us suppose that the average hourly rate of the artists was only £15 per hour. Let us also ignore the additional travel time, fuel costs and other negative externalities associated with those 500 hours – that still works out at a whopping £7500 cost for the suit. For a twentieth of that price she could have bought a decent suit in just a few mintutes in any good clothes store - a suit that was made much more efficiently thanks to global trade, division of labour and specialisation of skills.