This year, we have invited the renowned and award-winning journalist and author Maria Soxbo to work with us to raise the issue of sustainability in a modern and interesting manner. We believe that raising awareness is the first step, because awareness matures into thought patterns and actions that become more long-term. Through Maria’s words on the this subject, we hope to reach people’s thoughts and actions.
The Importance of Handicrafts
It’s like magic. The soft clod of clay spins faster and faster on the wheel, before the potter’s skilled hands turn it into an elegant cup. Once the wheel stops turning, the cup is left to air-dry. It will be glazed. It will be fired. Creating functional, beautiful and useful items from scratch takes time.
However, the potter has his limitations. It’s more efficient to leave the work to a machine in a factory. In the time it takes a potter to turn a single cup, the machine can produce hundreds. Furthermore, they are all completely identical and without a trace of the human factor. Perfect. Yet…is this really the kind of perfection we want?
Each Saturday morning, I take out a hand-turned cup and pour myself the first cup of tea of the weekend. The colour of the glaze shifts in the morning light, and my hand knows exactly where there are small inconsistencies for my fingers to glide over. On the bottom is the potter’s signature engraved into the once soft clay, and even though I did not see just how this cup was made, I have visited him in his workshop and watched him work. Drinking the first cup of tea of the weekend from this very cup is a ritual that makes me aware of everything around me. No factory-produced cup has ever had that effect on me.
We live in a period of over-consumption. In the time of the discount market. Right now, it is possible to produce enormous quantities extremely cheaply, so we do. Moreover, as consumers we can satisfy most desires, since we very seldom pay the actual price of the goods. However, somewhere, people have been involved, even if it was a machine that did the manufacturing. What kind of salary and working conditions do they have when nothing costs more than a few pennies to produce? What price does the climate pay when finite resources are consumed on a conveyor belt and delivery gets faster and faster?
Another consequence is that our belongings become less and less valuable to us. Mass-produced mugs cost a pittance and are made in thousands of copies. Who cares if one or two break? Or if we get tired of the colour? For most of us, the cost is so affordable that we can “treat” ourselves to being fickle. Tired, acting on trends, being inspired by others – replace.
And this goes for most everything in our lives. A jacket is not sewn by a tailor, but by a machine. A shelf is not made by a carpenter, but by a machine. A cake is not baked by a baker, but by a machine. What does it do to us when almost everything around us lacks any trace of the human touch? What relationship do we have to our belongings when we buy them because they are cheap or trendy, rather than because the serve a function or that we admire the craftsmanship behind them?
Our ability to achieve sustainability relies on us putting a value on that which we consume. Becoming aware that a vacuum-packed fillet was once an animal, and that the raw material in factory-made wooden furniture once reached to the sky for several decades before being felled. Nothing is simply a throw-away item.
Of course, we understand that there is a connection between a swaying wheat field and the factory-baked, cheap loaf of bread. However, the connection is not as apparent as when we buy freshly-baked buns from a local bakery, get a hand-knitted cardigan from grandmother or buy a hand-turned cup directly from the potter. And is it much easier to ignore it.
My cup cost many times more than the factory-made mugs on the market. I could probably have bought almost 100 for the same amount of money. However, I don’t need 100 mugs; I only need one that brightens every Saturday morning for the rest of my life. A cup that I take an endless amount of care of since there is only one. The potter has made many cups by this point; his porcelain can even be found at many fine restaurants. Yet, in spite of his skill, no two cups are identical. All of them are unique, thanks to the human factor that comes into play. And that factor is easily worth 100 factory-made mugs to me.
Maria Soxbo is a journalist, author and co-founder of Klimatklubben. She switched from being an interior design blogger to become a greenfluencer, seeking to inspire more people to see the benefits of living sustainably. She is convinced that most of us would feel better by living a life within the boundaries of the planet rather than at the limits of our income and mental health, as in the treadmill of a society we live in. Together with Emma Sundh she also runs the podcast Plan B which focuses on the good life after the transition. On her own and together with others, Maria has written a total of six books about the climate and sustainability, and in 2021 she was 25th on the list of Sweden’s 101 biggest sustainability influencers.