Apparel Industry Workers


Employment Prospects


There are approximately 15,900 textile, apparel, and furnishings workers; 151,600 sewing machine operators; 33,900 tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers; and 39,900 pressers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Apparel industry workers are employed in many settings, from multinational corporations such as Levi Strauss to small companies with few employees. Production jobs are concentrated in California, Georgia, and North Carolina, though small clothing manufacturers are located in many parts of the country. About one-half of all pressers are employed in laundry and dry-cleaning businesses, which exist throughout the United States. This work does not require much prior training or experience. Few workers in this industry are self-employed, primarily tailors, dressmakers, sewers, and upholsterers. Custom tailors often work in retail clothing stores. Retailers prefer to hire custom tailors and sewers with previous experience in the apparel field. Hand sewers may find work adding trimming to a wide variety of apparel, from clothing to accessories.

Starting Out

If you are interested in working in the apparel industry, you may apply directly to apparel manufacturing firms. Jobs often are listed with state employment agencies, on companies' Web sites, in newspaper classified ads, or in trade publications. Companies may also post openings on a sign outside the building. Local unions also may be good sources of job leads.

A small number of skilled workers such as tailors and patternmakers are trained in formal apprenticeship programs. Special courses in sewing, tailoring, and pattern-making are offered in apparel industry centers in New York City and parts of the South.

Many employers have a strong preference for workers with an associate's degree and give such workers a short, intensive in-plant orientation and training program so they can be placed where their skills are used immediately. Many graduate apparel technicians who have participated in a cooperative program are given responsible positions immediately upon graduation. Some in-plant training programs are designed to train new technicians to work as supervisors.

Custom tailors and sewers with experience in apparel manufacture are more likely to be hired by retailers. Knowledge of fabric design and construction is essential. Laundry and dry cleaning establishments often hire inexperienced workers. However, applicants with work experience are preferred.

Advancement Prospects

Advancement for apparel workers is somewhat limited. Most apparel workers begin by performing simple tasks and are assigned more difficult operations as they gain experience. While most remain on the production line, some apparel production workers become first-line supervisors.

It doesn't take much time to acquire the skill of an experienced operator in most branches of the apparel industry. Though it takes many different operations to complete a garment, each individual step is relatively simple, and only a short training period is required for each one. In the men's clothing field and in the women's coat and suit field, however, more tailoring is necessary, and the learning period to become an experienced sewer or operator is longer.

To enter the cutting department, a person usually starts as a fabric spreader and then advances to machine cutting. After further experience is acquired, the worker may grade the master pattern for the sizes, lay out the patterns on the fabric or paper, and mark for the cutting of the fabric. These are skilled operations, and it takes some years to advance and become an experienced all-around cutter. However, the advantages of having acquired these skills are great, for a cutter can, without too much difficulty, transfer his or her cutting skill from one branch of the apparel industry to another. Cutters usually are the highest paid factory workers.

Patternmakers with design school training may become fashion designers.

Custom tailoring is a very competitive field. To be successful in their own shops, tailors need training and experience in small-business operations.

Opportunities for advancement are excellent for graduates of two-year apparel technician programs. They may become section supervisors, production superintendents, or plant managers. There are also opportunities to move into industrial engineering, quality control, production control, or specialized technical areas. Some technicians may become plant training specialists or plant safety experts and directors.

Graduates from regular engineering colleges or community colleges with applied engineering programs also have advantages in securing employment in the apparel industry. Such people may start their training as junior engineers or production assistants, but their advancement is usually rapid. Within a few years, they can achieve secure status in the industry and earn salaries at an executive level.

Tips for Entry

Practice sewing and apparel manufacturing skills by making clothes for yourself or friends and family.

Look for part-time work or apprenticeship opportunities with local dressmakers or tailors to gain experience.

Read fashion magazines to keep up on clothing trends and the industry publication, Apparel, to follow news and events: