The Pentagon Declares War on China's T-Shirt Factories (Wait, What?)

Watch out China, Bangladesh, and Thailand: The United States government wants its T-shirts back. 

NextGov brings us news today that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- better known as DARPA, the secret science squad who brought us the internet -- has handed out a $1.25 million contract to build a completely computer operated, "unmanned sewing machine." 

The government describes the project as "a numerically controlled sewing machine that tracks fabric movements" and can move items "stitch by stich." The goal is to create "production facilities that produce garments with zero direct labor...." 

If Uncle Sam wants to yank back clothing production from the third world, this is how to do it. American factories compete with cheap foreign labor by using machines to make fewer workers significantly more productive. And as far as factory owners are concerned, the only thing cooler than less labor is no labor. 

The contract has been awarded to SoftWear Automation Inc. Here's how the company describes its ambitions: 

The mission of the company is to allow the cutting and sewing of garments and other sewn items to be a profitable endeavor in the developed world, particularly in the United States. Current economics has resulted in an annual import of sewn items of approximately $100 B per year. SoftWear Automation, Inc. working with various partners intends to convert a labor-intensive industry to one that is capital-intensive. The technology proposed appears to allow cutting and sewing at costs LESS THAN in China. 

I know that if I were a factory owner somewhere in Southeast Asia, I'd be scared. After all, we're talking about the same agency that funded this thing.



Now just imagine if that guy could do crochet.

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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