The giant strides that apparel and garment industry has taken since the industrial revolution has indeed been astronomical. The addition of one technology or the other to speed up the garment making processes, ensure that quality is sustained and even improved upon, and to make work in the factories a lot easier is quite exhilarating.
How the Garment Industry evolved over time
Automation in the apparel industry has greatly increased the number of garments a factory can churn out in a single day; from the process of spinning the raw materials to dying and printing on them, to sewing and styling, packaging and distribution, and then marketing – all this processes have been greatly enhanced by the hand of technology in one form or the other.
This comes as no surprise considering the enormous wealth private individuals and governments of many nations accrue from this sector alone. For instance, the apparel and garment industry is the second largest provider of employment in India after agriculture; employing as much as 35 million people all year round. This sector also contributes as much as 14% to cumulative industrial production, 4% to the gross domestic product (GDP), and a whopping 17% to India’s export earnings. That is indeed massive.
These feats could not have been achieved if the country was still relying on old, moribund methods of making garments. The fact that India is a world leader in ICT servicing shows a unique correlation between these two sectors. Having enough technology experts and backroom staff that can innovate cutting-edge technology and manage same in the apparel and garment industry has greatly boosted the immense growth of the sector over the years.
Investments and growth
To further demonstrate how serious people in India and abroad view this sector of the economy, between April 2000 and February 2013, the apparel and garment industry has attracted foreign direct investments (FDI) worth as much as INR Rs 5,674.45 crore (US$ 1.04 billion); that is an amazing feat which confirms the importance of technology in this sector; and as expert analyses project, this might rise as much as US$220 billion by the year 2020. We will look at some more figures that detail who the big players are and how the market is growing over time.
It’s not all about figures though, the trickle down effect of these achievements in this sector has also further boosted the general economy, keeping millions of people at least above the poverty line and off crimes of various degrees.
Labor Issues and operational problems
Be that as it may, the story is not totally rosy all across. There are still many apparel and garment factories that still rely on cheap labor to manufacture dresses. They use hand cutting techniques, single phased sewing machines, and other such old and outdated methods of making dresses. This in turn forces the workers to work beyond their limits leading to exhaustion and serious
Who are the major players?
Even though this sort of factories abound in their hundreds in India, some other countries have them even more. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and many parts of South America where labor is relatively cheap are major culprits – and interestingly, the governments there seem to just look the other way as if nothing is wrong, same applies to the labor unions in those regions.
On the other hand, countries like the USA, Canada, and a large section of Eastern Europe have taken automation of the apparel and garment industry to another level entirely. Even though some people argue that the technological advancement in this sector is not favorable to employment, the precision, quality and speed of work achieved by this automatons and machines compensates quite well. For instance, if it takes a factory with 2,000 workers 2 days to produce 1,000 units of denim pair of jeans, it might cost less than an hour for a highly technologically advanced factory to produce the same quantity – and in a more precise manner. That is the power of technology.
With the advent of online e-commerce stores, retail purchases of apparel and garments have skyrocketed. Its extremely easy today to get online and buy one’s favorite dress shirt, skirt or blouse with the click of a button. Niche websites are cropping up every day that cater to the needs of every segment of the market, be it maternity clothes, baby clothes, office wear, casual party wear, ethnic wear or special occasions clothing, such as wedding dresses, Halloween costumes etc.
Big retail chains such Macys, Gap, Target, JC Penney as well as premium stores such as J Crew, Brooks Brothers, H&M offer their products online. These chains typically source their clothing from markets such as China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Turkey and sell them into their markets in the developed world. Even procurement of apparel and clothing has become extremely easy, thanks to online Business to Business (B2B) portals that connect wholesale manufacturers, suppliers and traders with buyers all over the world.
The application of newer technologies in the aspect of design and development would ensure that the world receives even better quality garments in the years to come. The new 2D and 3D tools, digital body models and body scanning technologies are state-of-the-art, next generation plans to improve significantly, the designs as well as the time it would take to make a garment which would perfectly fit the final consumer. Research and development is one huge sub-sector of this apparel and garment industry that companies are really focusing and investing on, and the rewards are looking nice so far.
It doesn’t end there. The entire manufacturing of garments is being revolutionized by the day – even as far as embedding electronic components in textiles to make them more advanced. These are called e-textiles. Sales and marketing as well as delivery of these products are also relying much on technological breakthroughs. At the end, it is those companies which embrace technology at the early stages that would rule the apparel and garment industry in the next 10-20 years when technology would have advanced even more.
A quick look at some trade data
Below are some interesting graphs that show the big importers and exporters of Knitted and Non Knitted Garments, Apparels and Accessories. Particularly interesting are the growth figures for each importing or exporting country. On analyzing the data, a clear picture emerges on which geographical region dominates which portion of the value chain.
India, Pakistan, Viet Nam, USA and China dominate the yarn manufacture space. The cotton fabric space is dominated by China, India, Pakistan, Italy, Germany and Turkey. Knitted Fabrics are mainly produced in China, Korea, Turkey, Italy and USA.
Most Apparels and Garments, both knitted and non knitted are produced in China, Bangladesh, Italy, Viet Nam, India, Germany, Spain and Turkey. These countries pretty much make up the garments factory of the whole world.
Other textile articles such as bed linen, curtains and sofa covers etc. majorly come out of China, India, Pakistan, Germany, USA, Turkey and are exported all over the world.
Largest Apparel Exporting Nations
Largest Apparel Importing Countries