IN 1970 William J. Bank, president of the Blue Jeans Corporation, predicted that there would be a man on Mars before the production of apparel was automated. Almost half a century later, he has not yet been proved wrong.
Viewed through the lens of history, this is astonishing. Spinning was one of the first processes to succumb to industrialisation. Weaving followed shortly afterwards. Cutting the resultant cloth into pieces from which an item is then assembled is easy now that patterns can be reduced to software.
Though effective sewing machines have been around since the 1840s, their activities still have to be guided by hand. The idea of putting a bolt of fabric into one end of an automated production line and getting completed garments out of the other remains as impossible as it was in Bank’s day.