Apparel Industry Workers


Exploring this Job

High schools, vocational schools, or colleges may provide you with information about job opportunities in the apparel industry. Occupational information centers and catalogs of schools that offer programs for apparel technicians also are good sources of information. A visit to a clothing factory makes it possible to observe the machinery and activities and gives you an opportunity to talk to apparel workers and gain insight about the jobs. To test your aptitude for this work, you may also consider working on fabric projects yourself or joining an organization, such as 4-H, that offers such projects.

The Job

Apparel industry workers produce, maintain, or repair clothing and other consumer products made from cloth, leather, or fur. The three basic processes of garment production are cutting, sewing, and pressing.

Production of a garment begins after the designer's sample product has been shown to retail buyers and accepted by the merchandising department of the company. Markers make a paper pattern, usually with the aid of a computer. The pattern indicates cutting lines, buttonhole and pocket placement, pleats, darts, and other details. Computers also grade each pattern piece for several sizes. Then the pattern is ready for mass production. Small shops may combine two or more of the following operations into a single job.

Spreaders lay out bolts of cloth into exact lengths on the cutting table. Many layers of fabric are spread on the cutting table, depending on the quality and weight of the material and the number of products needed.

Cutters have a variety of responsibilities that may include spreading fabric, machine cutting, and hand cutting master patterns. A machine cutter follows the pattern outline on the cloth and cuts various garment pieces from layers of cloth. Using an electrical cutting machine, the cutter slices through all the layers at once. The cutting may be done by hand for expensive or delicate materials. A cutting mistake can ruin yards of material; therefore, cutters must be extremely careful when cutting out the pattern. Newer technology has been developed, so that computer-controlled marker-makers and cutters are often used. Computers allow for more precise information to be programmed into set patterns and more uniform shapes to be cut.

The cut pieces of cloth are prepared for the sewing room by assemblers who bring together various pieces needed, including lining, interfacing, and trimmings, to make a complete garment. They match color, size, and fabric design and use chalk or thread to mark locations of pockets, buttonholes, buttons, and other trimmings. They identify each bundle with a ticket. (This ticket was also used to figure the earnings of workers who were paid according to the number of pieces they produced. Present technology uses bar codes and computers to calculate the worker's pay and track the bundles through the production line.) The bundles are then sent to the sewing room.

Sewers are responsible for attaching the cut pieces of fabric using sewing machines. These and other production workers must be careful to follow patterns supplied by the designers. Sewing machine operators usually perform specialized sewing operations, such as collars, hems, or bindings. Since a variety of sewing operations and machines are required for each product, workers are classified by the type of machine and specific product on which they work. Workers are categorized into those who produce clothing and those who produce such nongarment items as curtains, sheets, and towels.

Hand sewers are highly skilled workers who perform sewing operations on delicate or valuable materials. They may specialize in a particular operation, such as adding trim, lace, or sewing buttonholes. Some hand sewers also assist the designer in producing a sample product.

After the sewing operations have been completed, workers remove loose threads, basting, stitching, and lint. The sewn product may be inspected at this time.

Pressers operate the automatic pressing machines. Some pressing is done as a garment is assembled; sometimes it is done at the completion of all sewing. Delicate garments must be pressed by hand. Pressers may specialize in a particular garment or final press finished garments before they are shipped to stores.

Apparel inspectors and production control technicians monitor all stages of the production process and keep materials flowing smoothly through the various departments. They may detect defects in uncut fabric so that the layout workers and markers can position the material to avoid the defects, or they may identify defects in semifinished garments, which inspectors may mend themselves or send back to production for repair.

Inspected finished clothing is then sent to the shipping room. From there, the product is sent to the markets the manufacturer has created for the product.

Tailors make garments from start to finish and must be knowledgeable in all phases of clothing production. Custom tailors take measurements and assist the customer in selecting fabrics. Many tailors work in retail outlets where they make alterations and adjustments to ready-to-wear clothing.

Apparel manufacturers increasingly organize workers in groups or modules. Workers specialize in one operation but are cross-trained in the various operations performed within the module. This system allows operators to better communicate with other workers and take on responsibility for running the module, including scheduling, monitoring standards, and correcting problems. Production time is reduced, while product quality is increased.

Most manufacturers have small factories employing fewer than a hundred workers. Because many of these small firms lack the capital resources to invest in new, more efficient equipment, the nature of the work of many apparel workers has been relatively unaffected by increased use of technology. However, only a small percent of all workers in the apparel and textile industries are self-employed. Employment in the apparel industry is concentrated in mills employing 50 or fewer employees.