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Made in Guangzhou - Sewing Technology's impact on labour

March 27, 2017

 

Did you ever wonder why all your cloths are so inexpensive?  The answer is probably because they were made with cheaper labour than you can find in Canada or the United States.  Allot has changed over the years, but sewing technology has not moved past the need for manual labour. 

 

Before the sewing machine, making clothing was a laborious effort of hand stitching, requiring skill and patience.  Mass production was truly out of the question.   The first mechanical sewing machine was in invented and patented in Britain by Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal in 1755, but he did not widely market or advertise it. Almost a century had to pass before Barthélemy Thimonnier, a French tailor,  in 1829 invented and patented the most practical and widely used mechanical sewing machine and started a factor with it. However, the factor was burned down, purportedly by sewing workers who feared for the loss of their jobs!

 

Other iterations of the sewing machine occurred, but it wasn't until Isaac Merritt Singer, and engineer, who repaired them, thought the design needed improvement and developed a new machine.  But he was not alone in his zealous pursuit of improving sewing, and it was only after some patent law suites that finally a cooperation amongst patent holders formed the Sewing Machine Trust, which is a patent pool, that the sewing machines began to take off.  James Edward Allen Gibbs invented the chain stitch and sold the patent to Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company.  Wilcox & Gibbs machines are still in use today. 

 

It wasn't until 1979 that the Olfa company invented the rotary cutter, which is a round blade enabling stacks of fabric to be cut at one time around a pattern. Prior to that fabric was cut with scissors, and a seam allowances in the fabric had to be made to allow for inaccuracies.  This technology vastly sped up the sewing production process, permitted more intricate cut fabric combinations and designs,  and eliminated allot of fabric wastage. 

 

Of course modern sewing factories use the Taylor production of division of labour (more popularly know as the Ford method) to divide the parts of assembly so that no one person needs to be particularly skilled, but combined, a highly skillfully made product results.  

 

Alas, the Taylor method was the last major technological advance that improved sewing and it still requires much labour.   

 

Below is a video of the Clair de Lune® variant being fabricated in Guang Zhou China.  You will see how division of labour is used.  We had to produce this in China not solely due to cost of sewing, but mostly due to the lack of available metal of the form we required, to provide the pop-up spacious tent like structure to our product.  

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