How has industrialization and globalization impacted fashion for the producer when it comes to society at large?
Industrialisation and globalization have been greatly affected fashion for the producer in different aspects. Before we discuss the issue, we shall first briefly define what are industrialisation and globalization.
1.1 Define industrialization
According to the definition of Investopedia, “Industrialization is the process by which an economy is transformed from primarily agricultural to one based on the manufacturing of goods” (Chappelow, 2019: online). Which means those individual manual processes are partly or mostly replaced by machines’ mass production and assembly lines. And with faster production procedures, industrialization also bring economic growth, better division of labour and innovation to the industry but not relying on human factor.
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In this paper, the period of industrialisation is defined as after World War II, especially the high-speed industrialisation of Asian countries, beginning from eastern Asia countries such as Hong Kong, South Korea, China and Taiwan, to southern Asia countries nowadays such as Philippines. Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. The post WWII industrialisation, as well as the effect brought by globalization, has significantly changed fashion industry especially the producers.
1.2 Define Globalization
Defining the concept of globalization, according to Investopedia, “Globalization is the spread of products, technology, information, and jobs across national borders and cultures. In economic terms, it describes an interdependence of nations around the globe fostered through free trade” (Kopp & Bird, 2019: online). The globalisation makes the economy more idealistic and opportunistic, primarily benefitting European and American multinationals; it can be either good or bad for smaller companies and employees worldwide (Smith, 2005). For the good side, globalization brings job opportunities, modernization and higher GDP to those poor and backward countries. For the bad side, as the product production is no longer limited to the country boundaries, it badly affected the job opportunities provided to the lower class in those more-developed countries.
In this paper, we will explore the impact of industrialization on producers by going through the early industrialization of the fashion industry. We will investigate the impacts on producers in the fashion industry from two aspects: Technology and Woking condition. For the impact of globalization on producers, we will discuss the phenomenon of shifting of factories under globalization. Moreover, we will talk about the competition between producers under the global trend of fast fashion and the problem of monopoly. At last, we will have a look at the impacts of globalization on the working condition in factories and the sweatshops' issue.
2.1 Industrialization: Technology Aspect
First and foremost, industrialization promoted the use of machinery in the clothing production industry, and further encouraged the pursuit and development of technology.
The development of new technologies such as steamboats, canals, and railways has reduced transportation costs which reduced the final cost of the garments as well. Producers were able to ship their products conveniently with those new innovations at a lower cost. That was leading people to buy cheap goods produced elsewhere rather than more expensive goods produced locally. The rapid changes in transportation across the countries also encouraged the use of factories. According to Rorabaugh(1981:56) “Between 1810 and 1840, the development of a national market prompted manufacturing which tripled the output's worth. This increase in production created a change in industrial methods, such as the use of factories instead of hand-made woven materials that families usually made” (Rorabaugh, 1981: 56). With newly invented machines and transportation technologies, producers were able to produce and ship their products among different countries with a lower cost, which helps to increase their market shares and profits.
With the continuous technological innovation of the globalization of machinery, synthetic fibres, logistics and business, the textile industry in the 20th century has undergone major changes. The business model that dominates the industry has changed radically. Cotton and wool producing countries no longer were the only source of fibre. They have created a variety of superior qualities for chemical companies, such as new synthetic fibre rayon, which was invented in 1910. DuPont's nylon was invented in 1935 (Office of Technology Assessment, 1987). An alternative to silk and used in products ranging from women's socks to toothbrushes and military parachutes (Office of Technology Assessment, 1987). Those synthetic fibres are more durable but cheaper than natural fibres. Moreover, more synthetic fibres have been used by producers and slowly accepted by consumers. Throughout the 20th century, the number of synthetic fibres used to make fibres has steadily increased. In the 1920s, computers were invented (Cortada, J. W., 2000). In the 1940s, acetate, denatured acrylic, metal fibres, and Sarah were developed; acrylic, polyester, and spandex came out in the 1950s. According to the Office of Technology Assessment (1987) ‘Polyester was very popular in the apparel market, and by the late 1970s more polyester was sold in the United States than cotton ‘.The invention of synthetic fibres in industrialization helped producers to further lower the production cost and to produce more diversity of products to their customers so as to increase their competitiveness as well.
2.2 Industrialization: Working Condition Aspect
The early industrialization contributed greatly to the growth and the popularizing of the apparel industry with technical innovation. The change in industrial methods had efficiently increased the speed of production and improved the working conditions in factories.
Before the industrialization, garment production was slow and laborious, but customers in the early 19th century were looking for incredibly fast service. “The job that was needed to be done in long-hours, or even all night, was generally accepted at that time” (Arthur & Friedman, 1998:153). Those workers were facing the problem of over workload and garments were not easy to make.
Therefore, clothes were a luxury items to people in the past. While in the lower-class, they could not afford to buy new clothes because the production of garments was time-consuming and the price was very high. They can only rely on second-hand retailers or charities (Sylvia, 1876). They accepted all types of clothes, no matter how it looks and wear it until the clothes were torn(Arthur & Friedman, 1998). In the middle 19th century, garment production has changed. Sewing machines came into use (Sylvia, 1876). Despite the clumsy use at first, the tricky parts of clothing can still be done by hand. However, in less than a decade, most garment makers, tailors, and shoemaking workshops have used sewing machines (Sylvia, 1876). That literally increases the efficiency of production and the workers no longer needed to work overnight for just making a small number of garments.
Figure 1: Chronicle’ s Tailoring workshop Sewing machines (1900)
(A tailor’s workshop in Eastern London was showing their tailors and machines)
3.1 Globalization: Shifting of Factories
Under the globalization, Producers could seek for cheap labour for a lower production cost by building factories offshore. As result, they shift their factories to different countries occasionally to cut their labour cost. The use of cheap labour from the developing countries all around the world results in an attractive price of the garment and higher sales, which assisted the flourishing development of the garment industry.
In the 1950s, the fashion industry began to shift to eastern Asia. Taking Hong Kong as an example. Similar to the textile industry, the development of the garment industry in Hong Kong after the war also benefited from the entrepreneurs and technical staff who fled south to mainland China. In 1950, there were only 41 garment factories in Hong Kong, employing 1,944 workers, accounting for about 2.8% of the total number of factories in Hong Kong and 2.4% of the total number of employees in the manufacturing industry in Hong Kong (Chan, 2005:68). Compared with the textile industry, Hong Kong's industrial share is relatively light.
Figure 2: The Rise and Decline of Hong Kong Industry (Hong Kong Memory, 1960)
However, the garment industry in Hong Kong flourished in the next three decades. In the early 1960s, the garment industry, which had only developed for more than a decade, surpassed the textile industry and became the industry with the largest export earnings. It is also the industry that employs the most workers in manufacturing (the clothing industry itself is typical of labour-intensive industries). “Thanks to the large supply of cheap labour in Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s, and the developed countries in Europe and the United States gradually shifted labour-intensive industries to second-class developed regions, the development of the garment industry can be regarded as a day-to-day”(Wong, W., 2008). However, with the widespread implementation of trade quota policies in the Western countries after the oil crisis in the 1970s and the rise in wages of local workers in Hong Kong, after the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy of the Chinese authorities, Hong Kong's garment factories have moved northward to greater development space and wages Cheap Mainland China. However, garment companies that still adhere to Hong Kong have to re-orient their development path. By improving product quality, increasing the value of export projects, and developing new products, including high-end fashion made from various mixed fibres, they have continued to survive. As we can see, most of the producers are pursuing the lowest production cost to compete with others, once the salary rate of a place race, they will move the factories to a new country for a lower wage of workers.
3.2 Globalization: competition between producers
One of the most significant impacts of globalization on fashion producers is the intensifying of the industrial competition. That led to the emergence of fast fashion culture and the problem of monopoly in the fashion industry.
Under the globalization and the emergence of Fast Fashion, more people are looking for fashionable and relatively cheap clothes. In order to cater the market, producers are competing in many aspects. Apart from the cost, they are also competing for the speed of production and variety of products. “Fashion firms used to produce two main collections a year: spring/summer and autumn/winter” (Bigarelli & Solinas 2003). With the competition under globalization, the number of collections being launched each year have increased. Companies are offering a greater number of products to drive sales. This has contributed to the rise of a fast fashion industry that adopts a quicker and more agile manufacturing strategy to minimize the market time (Ceccagno, 2017).
“Only lead firms who could develop their supply chain abroad were able to seize the opportunity of cheap production costs in Eastern Europe” (Chiarvesio et al. 2010: 55). Not every producer could afford the cost of relocation aboard, especially those local businesses in a small scale. Because of their small operating scale and restricted scientific and managerial ability, they could not afford to move (Ceccagno, 2017). Smaller firms can only keep costs down primarily by recruiting low skilled migrants, but the wages cost is still higher than in developing countries (Ceccagno, 2017). Therefore, the selling price of products from the small local firms are usually higher. They could neither enjoy the cheap labour and shipment; What is worse, their products must compete with the products produced in low wages rate developing countries (Bigarelli & Solinas 2003). In consequence, the factories in developed countries can rarely survive. In this situation, global monopolization easily occurs.
To conclude, under the influence of globalization, producers are competing globally instead of locally. Producers in a country are going to compete with producers from other countries. However, not every producer is able to take benefits from globalization and survive in the global competition. Consequently, monopoly is common in the fashion manufacturing industry.
3.3 Globalization: Sweatshops
As the last section mentioned, industrialization has brought a new system of production to the industry, that gave convenience and efficiency to both producers and workers in factories. However, with the influence of globalization, some issues, and humanity problems also come out.
In the early 20th century, workers in the apparel and textile industries formed unions in the United States. By the time, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) was formed in 1900, more than 18,000 workers had been employed in shirt manufacturing (Smith, B. G., 2008). However, the labour cost has obviously increased when the union came with greater power to deal with the employers. In order to survive in the global competition, producers had to seek a lower working force to control the production cost. Producers started to hire vulnerable workers.
Figure 3: Parker’s International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 20th Century (2010)
To deal with the problem of increasing wage costs, some of the producers shift their factories to those countries that have no law of minimum wage and no much legal protection on labours (Ceccagno, 2017). While some industries in developed countries have chosen to bring low skilled immigrants, who have lower salaries and welfare expectations, into "sweatshops”. According to Ciment, J. and Radzilowski (2015), those “sweatshops” are usually legal, but sometimes illegal. Producers under global competition are aggressively searching methods to reduce the production costs. They hired people to work on hand-made sewing machines for salaries less than their living expenses in crowded conditions.” (Ciment & Radzilowski, 2015). By hiring the workers from developing countries or those new immigrants, producers could servitude the labours immorally with very low wage cost and no consequence.
As manufacturers take advantage of the imperfect law in developing countries and vulnerable new immigrants, working conditions have declined. Under the global competition, producers focus more on the reduction of production costs instead of the working condition and welfare of the workers. Some cases also reflected the manufactures are not handling the health and safety in the factories seriously. For example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a fire in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, on March 25, 1911 killed 146 workers(Stacy & Greg, 2011). The reason for this high death number was because of the exits were locked by the manager to prevent workers from taking breaks unauthorizedly, workers were not able to escape from the building while the fire occurred (Stacy & Greg, 2011). Besides, many western multinational companies use labours in Bangladesh, which is one of the cheapest labours in the world: 30 euros per month compared to 150 or 200 euros in China. According to In April 2013, at least 1,135 garment factory workers died in the closure of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka (Weiler, 2013). Other fatal accidents due to unsanitary factories have also affected Bangladesh: in 2005, a factory collapsed and killed 64 people. In 2006, a series of fires killed 85 people and injured 207 others(Weiler, 2013). In 2010, about 30 people died of suffocation and burned in two fires (Weiler, 2013). These reflect that the producers under the global competition care more about commercial interests than the basic rights and safety of workers.
Hine’s Italian boy holding a bundle of cloth, New York City (1910)
To reduce cost and enhance production efficiency, the safety measures in those factories were not rigorous and the labours are overloaded but not paid with reasonable salaries. Workers are event treated inhumanely in some places. In 2006, thousands of workers participated in one of the country's biggest strikes, affecting almost all 4,000 factories. Police were used by the Bangladesh Association of Clothing Manufacturers & Exporters (BGMEA) for cracking down the workers(Rahman, 2011). However, 3 workers have been killed and hundreds have been wounded by bullets or imprisoned. About 1000 people were injured during the crackdown after the new strike wave in 2010 (Rahman, 2011). As those workers in developing countries are very vulnerable, they were often suppressed even they try to express their demands. The working condition in Pakistan is also poor. The textile and garment industry accounts for a large percentage in Pakistan. Small manufacturing plants often do not sign employment contracts, do not comply with minimum wages, and sometimes employ children (Ahmed, 2004). Labour law abuses have also occurred in major international product subcontractors. Workers can be beaten, insulted by their bosses or paid below the minimum wage in international subcontractors (Ahmed, 2004). The factory failed to meet safety standards, leading to an accident: In 2012, 255 workers were killed in a fire in Karachi.
255 workers were killed in a fire in Karachi. (Sina English, 2019)
With 547 labour inspectors in Pakistan overseeing 300,000 factories in the country, the textile industry is out of control. Workers are also not protected by trade unions, which are banned in industrial export areas. Elsewhere, workers involved in forming unions are victims of violence, intimidation, threats or firing (Ahmed, 2004). In the fierce competition under globalization, many manufacturers have placed too much emphasis on reducing costs to obtain profits, which has led to the appeal of many sweat factories and inhumane incidents.
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Affected by industrialisation and globalization, the fashion manufacturing industry has flourished in recent centuries. From the hand-made clothing to nowadays machine-facilitated garment making, the way we make produce fashion has been changing. From focusing on the local markets to targeting the customers all around the world, the scale of production has become larger and the competition among producers has been more Intensify. However, due to the competition, an Interest-oriented culture among the producers has been formed. What followed was the emergence of sweatshops and inhumane issues.
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