Advances in automated manufacturing have drastically changed the labor landscape in the last century.  While we are far from a future in which manual labor does not exist, the Luddite fears of the Industrial Revolution resonate into the 21st century, in which robots regularly take the jobs of high liability blue-collar workers.

Despite the elevated capabilities of such machines to produce inexpensive, high quality and bespoke goods, our tastes somehow remain bound to a system of valuation based on human labor.  As the increasing prevalence of the word “handmade” on product packaging (and the popularity of etsy.com) implies, consumers prefer objects which are imbued with the sweat of the artisan.  This is not a statement to the quality of handmade objects over those that are machine made, but a deliberate preference simply to the idea of the hand.  Given two identical glasses, for example, consumers assign a higher value to one identified as “handmade” to another which is identified as being manufactured.

As the culture of tech startups and computer-desk jobs proliferates, white collar workers are distanced from such physical labor and the meaningful objects it produces.  Rather than working as a mason or an auto mechanic (after all, robots can build architecture and assemble cars), socioeconomic pressures encourage workers to make money at a computer, and then spend some of that money on a gym membership which allows them to carry masonry units back and forth and lift tractor tires.  Instead of producing tangible goods which can be evaluated by the effort heuristic, these exercise routines are tracked and quantified using digital activity monitors such as the Fitbit and converted to social currency by sharing statistics on social media.  Even as exercise has taken the place of labor in certain circles, both exercise and labor have been abstracted and fetishized into a cultural ether accessed through apps, and blind to modes of production as they actually exist in our world.

SWEATer allows you to recapture your lost sweat equity as a physical product, the quality of which is directly determined by your physical fitness activities.  Exercise data for a selected period (as measured by a digital activity-tracking watch) is uploaded and automatically converted into a program file for a computer-controlled knitting machine.  As the SWEATer is both designed and produced by automation, the labor embedded into the final product is entirely your own.  As such, the quality of the garment is determined by your indirect labor:  high activity produces a high quality knit, while insufficient activity leads to additional holes or flaws.  SWEATer is the garment of choice in a world where automation is valued for its precision and quality, and human labor is recognized as a mark of value.  Contact us to order yours today.

SWEATer was exhibited as part of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale (After Belonging), alongside the work of Stephen Fan and Mei Lun Xue in Global Spaces of Chinese Labor.

Knitting machine footage in collaboration with Yshai Yudekovitz.

Project Title:  SWEATer
Date:  2016
Project Lead:  Ryan Luke Johns