Textile, Textile Product, and Apparel Manufacturing
The textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries include establishments that turn fiber into fabric and fabric into clothing and other textile products. While some factories are highly automated, others still rely mostly on people to cut and sew pieces of fabric together. The apparel industry has moved mainly to other countries with cheaper labor costs, while the textile industry has been able to automate much of its production to effectively compete with foreign suppliers. This industry is evolving and its need for a more highly skilled workforce is growing.
Goods and services. The establishments in these industries produce a variety of goods, some of which are sold to the consumer, while others are sold as inputs to the manufacture of other products. Natural and synthetic fibers are used to produce threads and yarnswhich may be woven, knitted, or pressed or otherwise bonded into fabricsas well as rope, cordage, and twine. Coatings and finishes are applied to the fabrics to enhance the decorative patterns woven into the fabric, or to make the fabric more durable, stain-resistant, or have other properties. Fabrics are used to make many products, including awnings, tents, carpets and rugs, as well as a variety of linenscurtains, tablecloths, towels, and sheets. However, the principal use of fabrics is to make apparel. Establishments in the apparel manufacturing industry produce many knitted clothing products, such as hosiery and socks, shirts, sweaters, and underwear. They also produce many cut-and-sew clothing items like dresses, suits, shirts, and trousers.
Industry organization. The three individual industriestextile mills, textile product mills, and apparel manufacturinghave many unique characteristics. Textile mills provide the raw material to make apparel and textile products. They take natural and synthetic fibers, such as cotton and polyester, and transform them into fiber, yarn, and thread. Yarns are strands of fibers in a form ready for weaving, knitting, or otherwise intertwining to form a textile fabric. They form the basis for most textile production and commonly are made of cotton, wool, or a synthetic fiber such as polyester. Yarns also can be made of thin strips of plastic, paper, or metal. To produce spun yarn, natural fibers such as cotton and wool must first be processed to remove impurities and give products the desired texture and durability, as well as other characteristics. After this initial cleaning stage, the fibers are spun into yarn.
Textile mills then go on to produce fabric by means of weaving and knitting. Workers in weaving mills use complex, automated looms to transform yarns into cloth. Looms weave or interlace two yarns, so they cross each other at right angles to form fabric. Knitting mills use automated machines to produce fabric of interlocking loops of one or more yarns
At any time during the production process, a number of processes, called finishing, may be performed on the fabric. These processeswhich include dyeing, bleaching, and stonewashing, among othersmay be performed by the textile mill or at a separate finishing mill. Finishing encompasses chemical or mechanical treatments performed on fiber, yarn, or fabric to improve appearance, texture, or performance.
Textile mills that also make the end products in the same factory are included in this sector; otherwise, if the fabric is purchased the product made is considered a product of the textile mills products sector or apparel manufacturing sector. The textile product mills sector comprises establishments that produce a wide variety of textile products for use by individuals and businesses, but not including apparel. Some of the items made in this sector include household items, such as carpets and rugs; towels, curtains, and sheets; cord and twine; furniture and automotive upholstery; and industrial belts and fire hoses. Because the process of converting raw fibers into finished textile products is complex, most textile mills specialize.
The apparel manufacturing industry transforms fabrics produced by textile manufacturers into clothing and accessories. By cutting and sewing fabrics or other materials, such as leather, rubberized fabrics, plastics, and furs, workers in this industry help to keep consumers warm, dry, and fashionable.
The apparel industry traditionally has consisted mostly of production workers who performed the cutting and sewing functions in an assembly line. This industry remains labor-intensive, despite advances in technology and workplace practices. Although many workers still perform this work in the United States, the industry increasingly contracts out its production work to foreign suppliers to take advantage of lower labor costs in other countries. In its place, a growing number of apparel manufacturers perform only the entrepreneurial functions involved in apparel manufacturingbuying raw materials, designing clothes and accessories and preparing samples, arranging for the production and distribution of the apparel, and marketing the finished product.
Many of the remaining production workers work in teams. For example, sewing machine operators are organized into production modules. Each operator in a module is trained to perform nearly all of the functions required to assemble a garment. Each module is responsible for its own performance, and individuals usually receive compensation based on the teams performance.
Recent developments. The textile and apparel manufacturing industries are rapidly modernizing, as new investments in automation and information technology have been made necessary by growing international competition. Firms also have responded to competition by developing new products and services. For example, some manufacturers are producing textiles developed from fibers made from recycled materials. These innovations have had a wide effect across the industry. Advanced machinery is boosting productivity levels in textiles, costing some workers their jobs while fundamentally changing the nature of work for others. New technology also has led to increasingly technical training for workers throughout the industry. Computers and computer-controlled equipment aid in many functions, such as design, patternmaking, and cutting. Wider looms, more computerized equipment, and the increasing use of robotics to move material within the plant are other technologies recently designed to make the production plant more efficient. Despite these changes, however, the apparel industryespecially its sewing functionhas remained significantly less automated than many other manufacturing industries.
One advantage the domestic industry has is its closeness to the market and its ability to react to changes in fashion more quickly than can its foreign competitors. Also, as retailers consolidate and become more cost conscious, they require more apparel manufacturers to move toward a just-in-time delivery system, in which purchased apparel items are quickly replaced by new items directly from the manufacturer, rather than from a large inventory kept by the retailer. Through electronic data interchangemainly using barcodesinformation is quickly communicated to the manufacturers, providing information not only on inventory, but also about the desires of the public for fashion items.
Some apparel firms have responded to growing competition by merging with other apparel firms and by moving into the retail market. In addition to the production of garments they also are contracting out functionsfor example, warehousing and order fulfillmentto concentrate on their strengths: design and marketing. Computer aided design systems have led to the development of product life cycle management, under which potential new fashions can now be transmitted around the planet over the Internet. Such changes may help the apparel manufacturing industry meet the growing competition and continue to supply the Nations consumers with garments at an acceptable cost.
Hours. Some factories run 24 hours a day causing production workers to work evenings and weekends. Many operators work on rotating schedules, which can cause sleep disorders and other stress from constant changes in work hours. Overtime is common for these workers during periods of peak production. Managerial and administrative support personnel typically work a 5-day, 40-hour week in an office setting, although some of these employees also may work significant overtime. Travel is an important part of the job for many managers and designers, who oversee the design and production of apparel. As more production moves abroad, foreign travel is becoming more common. Quality-control inspectors and other workers also may need to travel to other production sites, especially if working for large companies.
Work environment. Working conditions vary greatly. Production workers, including frontline managers and supervisors, spend most of their shift on or near the production floor. Some factories are noisy and can have airborne fibers and odors, but most modern facilities are relatively clean, well lit, and ventilated.
In 2006, work-related injuries and illnesses in textile mills averaged 4.4 per 100 full-time workers, compared with 6.0 percent for all manufacturing and 4.4 percent for the entire private sector. Work-related injuries and illnesses in textile product mills averaged 4.5 per 100 full-time workers, and in apparel manufacturing, the rate was 2.9 per 100 full-time workers.
When appropriate, the use of protective shoes, clothing, facemasks, and earplugs is required. Also, new machinery is designed with additional protection, such as noise shields. Still, many workers in textile production occupations must stand for long periods while bending over machinery, and noise and dust still are a problem in some plants. Apparel manufacturing operators often sit for long periods and lean over machines. New ergonomically designed chairs and machines that allow workers to stand during their operation are some of the means that firms use to minimize discomfort for production workers. Another concern for workers is injuries caused by repetitive motions. The implementation of modular units and specially designed equipment reduces potential health problems by lessening the stress of repetitive motions. Workers sometimes are exposed to hazardous situations that could produce cuts or minor burns if proper safety practices are not observed.
The movement away from traditional piecework systems in apparel manufacturing often results in a significant change in working conditions. Modular manufacturing involves teamwork, increased responsibility, and greater interaction among coworkers than on traditional assembly lines.
In 2006, approximately 595,000 wage and salary workers were employed by the textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries. The apparel manufacturing segment, particularly cut and sew apparel manufacturing, was the largest of the three employing 238,000 workers. In addition, there were also about 39,000 self-employed workers in this industry.
Most of the wage and salary workers employed in the textile mills, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries in 2006 were found in California and in the southeastern States. California, Georgia, and North Carolina, together accounted for over 40 percent of all workers. The Northeast and South Carolina also have significant employment in this industry. While most apparel and textile establishments are small, employment is concentrated in mills employing 50 or more persons. These establishments accounted for more than 70 percent of all apparel and textile workers.
The textile and apparel industries offer employment opportunities in a variety of occupations, but production occupations accounted for 65 percent of all jobs; some of which are unique to the industry (table 2). Additional jobs may be found at the headquarters of some of these textile and apparel companies that are generally classified in a separate industry.
Production occupations. Many workers enter these industries as machine setters and operators. They are responsible for setting each machine and monitoring its operation. They also determine if they need repairs or adjustments, and if so, they may clean and oil the machines and repair or replace worn parts. If the machine breaks down, machine setters and operators must be able to diagnose problems quickly and get it restarted as soon as possible to reduce costly machine idle time. Textile machine setters and operators also install, level, and align components such as gears, chains, dies, cutters, and needles.
Textile machine setters and operators thread yarn, thread, or fabric through guides, needles, or rollers. They adjust the controls for proper tension, speed, and heat; for electronically controlled equipment, they program controls or key in instructions using a computer keyboard. Operators then start the machines and monitor their operation, observing control panels and gauges to detect problems.
Skilled production occupations also include quality-control inspectors, who use precision measuring instruments and complex testing equipment to detect product defects, wear, or deviations from specifications.
The apparel manufacturing industry also has a large number of production occupations that help transform the fabric into clothing and accessories. Before sewing can begin, pattern pieces must be made, layouts determined, and fabric cut. Fabric and apparel patternmakers create the blueprint or pattern pieces for a particular apparel design. This often involves grading, or adjusting the pieces for different-sized garments. Grading once was a time-consuming job, but now it is quickly completed with the aid of a computer. Markers determine the best arrangement of pattern pieces to minimize wasted fabric. Traditionally, markers judged the best arrangement of pieces by eye; today, computers quickly help determine the best layout.
The layout arrangement is then given to cutters. In less automated companies, cutters may use electric knives or cutting machines to cut pattern pieces. In more automated facilities, markers electronically send the layout to a computer-controlled cutting machine, and textile cutting machine setters, operators, and tenders monitor the machines work.
Sewing machine operators assemble or finish clothes. Most sewing functions are specialized and require the operator to receive specific training. Although operators specialize in one function, the trend toward cross-training requires them to broaden their skills. Team assemblers perform all of the assembly tasks assigned to their team, rotating through the different tasks, rather than specializing in a single task. They also may decide how the work is to be assigned and how tasks are to be performed.
Pressers receive a garment after it has been assembled. Pressers eliminate wrinkles and give shape to finished products. Most pressers use specially formed, foot-controlled pressing machines to perform their duties. Some pressing machines now have the steam and pressure controlled by computers. Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers inspect the finished product to ensure consistency and quality.
Other occupations. Industrial machinery mechanics account for about 2 percent of industry group employment. They inspect machines to make sure they are working properly. They clean, oil, and grease parts and tighten belts on a regular basis. When necessary, they make adjustments or replace worn parts and put the equipment back together. Mechanics are under pressure to fix equipment quickly because breakdowns usually stop or slow production. In addition to making repairs, mechanics help install new machines. They may enter instructions for computer-controlled machinery and demonstrate the equipment to machine operators.
Plant workers who do not operate or maintain equipment mostly perform a variety of other material-moving tasks. Some drive industrial trucks or tractors to move materials around the plant, load and unload trucks, or package products and materials by hand.
Engineers and engineering technicians, although a vital part of the textile and apparel industries, account for less than 1 percent of employment in these industries. Some engineers are textile engineers, who specialize in the design of textile machinery or new textile production methods, or the study of fibers. The industries also employ other types of engineers, particularly industrial and mechanical engineers.
Fashion designers are the artists of the apparel industry. They create ideas for a range of products including coats, suits, dresses, hats, and underwear. Fashion designers begin the process by making rough sketches of garments or accessories, often using computer-assisted design (CAD) software. This software prints detailed designs from a computer drawing. It can also store fashion styles and colors that can be accessed and easily changed. Designers then create the pattern pieces that will be used to construct the finished garment. They measure and draw pattern pieces to actual size on paper. Then, they use these pieces to measure and cut pattern pieces in a sample fabric. Designers sew the pieces together and fit them on a model. They examine the sample garment and make changes until they get the effect they want. Some designers use assistants to cut and sew pattern pieces to their specifications.
As the production of textiles and apparel items becomes more technologically advanced, education and training is playing a larger role in the workplace. While a high school diploma or GED may be sufficient for some entry-level positions and for some machine operators, familiarity with computers and some postsecondary training is needed for more technical jobs and to operate more sophisticated machinery. Additionally, as more of the production of apparel is moved offshore, the workers who remain in apparel manufacturing are more likely to be administrative and professional workers who often require more formal postsecondary education or a Bachelors degree.
Production occupations. Most production workers in textile and apparel manufacturing are trained on the job. Although a high school diploma is not required, some employers prefer it. Extensive on-the-job training has become an integral part of working in todays textile mills. This training is designed to help workers understand complex automated machinery, recognize problems, and restart machinery when the problem is solved. Some of this training may be obtained at technical schools and community colleges. Basic math and computer skills are important for computer-controlled machine operators so some job applicants are screened through the use of tests, to ensure that they have the necessary skills.
Increasingly, training is offered to enable people to work well in a team-oriented environment. Many firms have established training centers or host seminars that encourage employee self-direction and responsibility and the development of interpersonal skills. Because of the emphasis on teamwork and the small number of management levels in modern textile mills, firms place a premium on workers who show initiative and communicate effectively.
Cutters and pressers are trained on the job, while patternmakers and markers usually have technical or trade school training. All of these workers must understand textile characteristics and have a good sense of three-dimensional space. Traditional cutters need exceptional hand-eye coordination. Computers are becoming a standard tool for these occupations because patternmakers and markers increasingly design pattern pieces and layouts on a computer screen. New entrants seeking these jobs should learn basic computer skills. Those running automatic cutting machines could need technical training, which is available from vocational schools.
Sewing machine operators must have good hand-eye coordination and dexterity, as well as an understanding of textile fabrics. They normally are trained on the job for a period of several weeks to several months, depending on their previous experience and the function for which they are training. Operators usually begin by performing simple tasks, working their way up to more difficult assemblies and fabrics as they gain experience.
Advancement for sewing machine operators, however, is limited. Advancement often takes the form of higher wages as workers become more experienced, although operators who have good people and organizational skills may become supervisors. Operators with a high school diploma and some vocational school training have more chances for advancement.
Professional and related occupations. Above all else, fashion designers need a good sense of color, texture, and style. In addition, they must know how to use computer-assisted design and understand the characteristics of specific fabrics, such as durability and stiffness, and anticipate construction problems. Obtaining a 4-year degree in art or fashion design is preferred, although a 2-year degree may suffice. This specialized training usually is obtained through a university or design school that offers 4-year or 2-year degrees in art, fine art, or fashion design. Many schools do not allow entry into a bachelors degree program until a student has completed a year of basic art and design courses. Applicants may be required to submit drawings and other examples of their artistic ability. Formal training also is available in 2- and 3-year fashion design schools that award certificates or associate degrees. Graduates of 2-year programs generally qualify as assistants to designers.
Beginning designers usually receive on-the-job training. They normally need 1 to 3 years of training before they advance to higher level positions, such as assistant technical designer, pattern designer, or head designer. Sometimes fashion designers advance by moving to bigger firms. Some designers choose to move into positions in business or merchandising.
Engineering applicants generally need a bachelors or advanced degree in a field of engineering or production management. Degrees in mechanical or industrial engineering are common, but concentrations in textile-specific areas of engineering are especially useful. For example, many applicants take classes in textile engineering, textile technology, textile materials, and design. These specialized programs usually are found in engineering and design schools in the South and Northeast. As in other industries, a technical degree with an advanced degree in business can lead to opportunities in management.
Jobs in textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing will continue to become fewer as advances in manufacturing technology allow fewer workers to produce greater output, and because growing imports compete with domestically made textile and apparel products.
Employment change. Wage and salary employment in the textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries is expected to decline by 35 percent through 2016, compared with a projected increase of 11 percent for all industries combined. Nevertheless, some job openings will arise as experienced workers transfer to other industries or retire or leave the workforce for other reasons.
Increasing investment in technology by textile mills, and the resulting increase in labor productivity, is the major reason for the projected decline in employment in the textile mills sector. Wider looms, robotics, new methods for making textiles that do not require spinning or weaving, and the application of computers to various processes result in fewer workers being needed to produce the same amount of textile products. Companies are also continuing to open new, more modern plants, which use fewer workers, while closing inefficient ones. As this happens, overall demand for textile machine operators and material handlers will continue to decline, but demand for those who have the skills to operate the more high-technology machines will grow.
Changing trade regulations are the single most important factor influencing future employment patterns. Because the apparel manufacturing sector is labor intensive, it is especially vulnerable to import competition from nations in which workers receive lower wages. In 2005, quotas for apparel and textile products were lifted among members of the World Trade Organization, including most U.S. trading partners and, in particular, China. Although some bilateral quotas have been re-imposed between the United States and China, the expiration of quotas in 2005 has allowed more apparel and textile products to be imported into the United States. Because many U.S. firms will continue to move their assembly operations to low-wage countries, this trend is likely to affect the jobs of lower skilled machine operators most severely. It does not, however, have as adverse an effect on the demand for some of the pre-sewing functions, such as designing, because much of the apparel will still be designed by American workers.
Continuing changes in the market for apparel goods will exert cost-cutting pressures that affect all workers in the textile and apparel industries. Consumers are becoming more price conscious, retailers are gaining bargaining power over apparel producers, and increasing competition is limiting the ability of producers to pass on costs to consumers. Apparel firms are likely to respond by relying more on foreign production and boosting productivity through investments in technology and new work structures.
Apparel firms also continue to merge or consolidate to remain competitive. This trend continues to drive down the number of firms in this industry. In the future, the apparel manufacturing sector will be dominated by highly efficient, profitable organizations that have developed their dominance through strategies that enable them to be among the lowest cost producers of apparel. Consolidation and mergers are likely to result in layoffs of some workers.
Some segments of the textile mill products sector, like industrial fabrics, carpets, and specialty yarns, are highly automated, innovative, and competitive on a global scale, so they will be able to expand exports as a result of more open trade. Other sectors, such as fabric for apparel, will be negatively affected, as a number of apparel manufacturers relocate production to other countries. Textile mills are likely to lose employment as a result. The expected increase in apparel imports will adversely affect demand for domestically produced textiles.
New technology will increase the apparel manufacturing sectors productivity, although it is likely to remain labor-intensive. The variability of cloth and the intricacy of the cuts and seams of the assembly process have been difficult to automate. Machine operators, therefore, will continue to perform most sewing tasks, and automated sewing will be limited to simple functions. In some cases, however, computerized sewing machines will increase the productivity of operators and reduce required training time.
Technology also is increasing the productivity of workers who perform other functions, such as designing, marking, cutting, and pressing. Computers and automated machinery will continue to raise productivity and reduce the demand for workers in these areas, but the decline will be moderated by growth in demand for the services of these workers generated by offshore assembly sites. The rapid rate at which fashions change also will boost demand for workers employed in U.S.-based firms that have quick-response capabilities.
Job prospects. Despite the overall decline in employment, job prospects for skilled production workers, engineers, merchandisers, and designers should be fair as the industry evolves into one that primarily requires people with good communication skills, creativity, and who are skilled enough to operate todays high technology computer-operated machines. The United States is leading the world in discovering new fibers and finding new uses for high-technology textiles. For example, biotechnology research is expected to lead to new sources of fibers, such as corn and other plants, and result in improvements in existing fibers. Some fibers currently being introduced have built-in memories of color and shape, and some have antibacterial qualities. Nanotechnology will also contribute to development of original fibers and garments for specialty uses. As these technologies and engineering advancements in textile production are implemented, the need will grow for more highly skilled workers who can work in an increasingly high-technology environment.
Industry earnings. Average weekly earnings of nonsupervisory production workers were $509 in textile mills, $478 in textile product mills, and $387 in apparel manufacturing establishments in 2006, compared with $691 for production workers in all manufacturing and $568 for production workers throughout private industry. Wages within the textile industry depend upon skill level and type of mill. In addition to typical benefits, employees often are eligible for discounts in factory merchandise stores.
Earnings in selected occupations in textile and apparel manufacturing appear in table 3. Traditionally, sewing machine operators are paid on a piecework basis determined by the quantity of goods they produce. Many companies are changing to incentive systems based on group performance that considers both the quantity and the quality of the goods produced. A few companies pay production workers a salary.
Benefits and union membership. Relatively few workers in the textile and apparel industries belong to unions. Only 3 percent of apparel and textile workers were union members or were covered by a union contract in 2006, compared with 12 percent for the economy as a whole.
Information about job opportunities in textile, apparel, and furnishings occupations is available from local employers and local offices of the State employment service. Information about job opportunities in technical and design occupations in the apparel industry can be obtained from colleges offering programs in textile and apparel engineering, production, and design.
Information on the following occupations employed in the textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries can be found in the 2008-09 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
313, 314, 315
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Textile, Textile Product, and Apparel Manufacturing, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs015.htm (visited September 17, 2008 ).
Last Modified Date: March 12, 2008