Textile, Textile Product, and Apparel Manufacturing Industries

Significant Points

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

The textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries include establishments that process fiber into fabric and fabric into clothing and other textile products. While most apparel manufacturers worldwide rely on people to cut and sew pieces of fabric together, U.S. manufacturing has become highly automated. Because the apparel industry has moved mainly to other countries with cheaper labor costs, that which remains in the United States must be extremely labor efficient to compete effectively with foreign manufacturers.

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 yarns—which may be woven, knitted, or pressed or otherwise bonded into fabrics—as 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 linens—curtains, 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. There are three individual industries covered—textile mills, textile product mills, and apparel manufacturing.

Textile mills provide the raw material to make apparel and textile products. They take natural and synthetic materials, 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 processes—which include dyeing, bleaching, and stonewashing, among others—may 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 product mills convert raw textiles into finished products other than 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. 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.

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 team's performance.

Recent developments. The textile and apparel manufacturing industries are among the most labor-intensive manufacturing industries, and therefore an increasing amount of textile products is produced by foreign suppliers. Nonetheless, some textile manufacturing still takes place in the United States. To remain competitive, however, domestic manufacturers rely on being extremely labor-efficient. Advanced machinery is boosting productivity levels in textiles and fundamentally changing the nature of work for employees. 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. Other emerging technologies which improve plant efficiency include wider looms, computerized equipment, and increased use of robotics to move material within the plant.

The domestic apparel industry also benefits from laws requiring that clothing worn by the Armed Services be produced in the United States—a law that was recently extended to cover uniforms worn by Transportation Security Administration officers. Although demand for these uniforms is greatly outweighed by a much larger consumer goods market, it nonetheless will continue to employ some textile workers in more labor-intensive segments, such as cut-and-sew apparel manufacturing.

Other domestically produced items tend to be custom or high-end items. One advantage the domestic industry has is its closeness to the market and its ability to react to changes in fashion more quickly than its foreign competitors. Also, as retailers consolidate and become more cost conscious, they require more apparel manufacturers to move toward just-in-time delivery systems, 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 interchange—mainly using barcodes—information is quickly communicated to the manufacturers, providing information not only on inventory, but also about the desires of the public for particular fashions.

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 functions—for example, warehousing and order fulfillment—to 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 Nation's consumers with garments at an acceptable cost.

Working Conditions[About this section] [To Top]

Hours. Most 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 5-day, 40-hour weeks in office settings, although some of these employees also may work longer hours. 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 increasingly common.

Work environment. Working conditions vary greatly. Production workers, including frontline managers and supervisors, spend most of their shifts 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.

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 injury caused by repetitive motions. The implementation of modular units and specially designed equipment reduces such 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.

Employment[To Top]

In 2008, there were 497,100 wage and salary workers in 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 198,400 workers.

Table 1. Percent distribution of employment and establishments in textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing by detailed industry sector, 2008
Industry segment Employment Establishments
Total 100.0 100.0
Textile mills 30.6 17.7
  Fabric mills 13.5 6.7
  Textile and fabric finishing and fabric coating mills 9.7 8.8
  Fiber, yarn, and thread mills 7.4 2.2
Textile product mills 29.6 38.7
  Textile furnishings mills 15.0 12.9
  Other textile product mills 14.5 25.8
Apparel manufacturing 39.8 43.6
  Cut and sew apparel manufacturing 31.4 37.7
  Apparel knitting mills 5.2 2.3
  Apparel accessories and other apparel manufacturing 3.3 3.5

Most of the wage and salary workers employed in the textile mills, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries in 2008 were found in California and in the southeastern States. California, Georgia, and North Carolina, together accounted for about 44 percent of all workers. While most apparel and textile establishments are small, employment is concentrated in mills employing 50 or more persons.

Occupations in the Industry[To Top]

The textile and apparel industries offer employment opportunities in a variety of occupations, but production occupations accounted for 66 percent of all jobs; many of which are unique to the industry (table 2). Additional jobs found at the headquarters of some of these textile and apparel companies are generally classified in a separate industry.

Production occupations. As in most manufacturing industries, the process of creating finished products is broken into a number of steps. Workers in these industries usually repeat a small part of the manufacturing process, using tools and machines where needed. This allows manufacturers to create textile products from raw materials quickly and efficiently.

Fabric and apparel patternmakers convert clothing designers’ original models of garments into separate parts that can be produced in mass quantities. They use computers to lay out the parts and draw in details to indicate the position of pleats, buttonholes, and other features, making adjustments as needed for different sizes.

Extruding or forming machine operators set up and operate machines that extrude or force liquid synthetic material, such as rayon, fiberglass, or liquid polymers through small holes and draw out filaments. Other operators put natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, through carding and combing machines that clean and align them into short lengths. Textile winding, twisting, and drawing-out machine operators make yarn from this material, taking care to repair any breaks. Textile bleaching and dyeing machine operators control machines that wash, bleach, and dye yarn or finished fabrics. Textile knitting and weaving machine operators place the yarn on machines that weave, knit, loop, or tuft it.

Textile cutting machine setters, operators, and tenders use patterns to prepare the pieces from which finished apparel will be made. Sewing machine operators join these pieces together, reinforce seams, and attach buttons, hooks, zippers, and accessories. In some cases, hand sewers may be employed to do specialty work and make adjustments.

Shoe machine operators and tenders tend machines used in making footwear. They perform a variety of functions, such as cutting, joining, and finishing. Shoe and leather workers and repairers may finish work that cannot be performed by a machine. Others are employed in cobbler shops, where they repair shoes and other leather products, such as luggage.

Pressers receive a garment after it has been assembled. Pressers eliminate wrinkles and give shape to finished products. Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers inspect finished products to ensure consistency and quality.

Other occupations. Industrial machinery mechanics 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. Engineers and engineering technicians 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.

Table 2. Employment of wage and salary workers in textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing, 2008 and projected change, 2008-2018. (Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2008 Percent Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
All occupations 497.1 100.0 -47.9
Management, business, and financial occupations 23.1 4.7 -48.0
  Top executives 8.3 1.7 -52.5
Sales and related occupations 12.8 2.6 -46.0
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 9.6 1.9 -45.5
Office and administrative support occupations 53.7 10.8 -48.6
  Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks 5.4 1.1 -45.6
  Customer service representatives 6.0 1.2 -40.3
  Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks 9.2 1.8 -51.9
  Secretaries and administrative assistants 5.6 1.1 -49.0
  Office clerks, general 6.5 1.3 -45.4
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations 21.7 4.4 -42.7
  Industrial machinery mechanics 6.9 1.4 -39.6
  Maintenance and repair workers, general 8.1 1.6 -43.8
Production occupations 329.6 66.3 -48.0
  First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers 20.3 4.1 -45.6
  Team assemblers 7.4 1.5 -37.2
  Printing machine operators 5.3 1.1 -44.2
  Pressers, textile, garment, and related materials 7.2 1.5 -55.5
  Sewing machine operators 123.9 24.9 -52.5
  Tailors, dressmakers, and sewers 7.6 1.5 -45.8
  Textile machine setters, operators, and tenders 88.2 17.7 -43.9
  Cutters and trimmers, hand 5.7 1.2 -48.3
  Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers 16.1 3.2 -48.9
  Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders 4.7 1.0 -47.3
  Miscellaneous production workers 13.5 2.7 -45.9
Transportation and material moving occupations 37.1 7.5 -50.8
  Industrial truck and tractor operators 5.9 1.2 -46.2
  Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 12.3 2.5 -51.6
  Packers and packagers, hand 11.8 2.4 -51.9
NOTE: Columns may not add to total due to omission of occupations with small employment.

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

A high school diploma or GED is sufficient for most entry-level production occupations, although familiarity with computers and some postsecondary training is needed for more technical jobs and to operate sophisticated machinery. As the production of textiles and apparel items becomes more technologically advanced, education and training is playing a larger role in the workplace. Administrative and professional workers often require more formal postsecondary education.

Production occupations. Most production workers in textile and apparel manufacturing are trained on the job. Although a high school diploma is not required for many jobs, some employers prefer it. Extensive on-the-job training has become an integral part of working in today's 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. Patternmakers and markers usually design pattern pieces and layouts on a computer screen, so 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 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 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 high school diplomas and some vocational school training have better chances for advancement.

Other occupations. Fashion designers create original garments that follow well established fashion trends. Therefore, they need to have 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 bachelor’s degree in art or fashion design is preferable, although an associate degree may suffice. Applicants may be required to submit drawings and other examples of their artistic ability. Graduates of associate degree 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.

Engineers generally need a bachelor's 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.

Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Jobs in textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing will continue to decline rapidly as advances in manufacturing technology allow fewer workers to produce greater output, and 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 48 percent through 2018, 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. Employment projections for industry sectors are shown in table 3 below.

Table 3. Employment in textile, textile product and apparel manufacturing by industry segment, 2008 and projected change, 2008-18 (Employment in thousands)
Industry segment 2008
Employment
2008-18
Percent change
Textile, textile product and apparel manufacturing 497.1 -47.9
  Textile mills 151.1 -47.6
  Textile product mills 147.6 -38.1
  Apparel manufacturing 198.4 -55.4

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 older, less efficient 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 advanced 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 more bargaining power with 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, which usually leads to job losses, especially in non-production areas. 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 sector's 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.

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 today's high technology computer-operated machines. Further, many of the skills used in this industry are comparable to those in other manufacturing industries, so workers may move between industries depending on the opportunities available in their areas of specialty.

Competition is expected be keen for fashion designers, as many designers are attracted to the creativity and glamour associated with the occupation.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Industry earnings. Average weekly earnings of nonsupervisory production workers were $525 in textile mills, $453 in textile product mills, and $415 in apparel manufacturing establishments in 2008, compared with $724 for production workers in all manufacturing and $608 for production workers throughout private industry. Earnings within the textile industry depend upon skill level and type of mill.

Wages in selected occupations in textile and apparel manufacturing appear in table 4. 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.

Table 4. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing, May 2008
Occupation Textile
mills
Textile
product mills
Apparel
manufacturing
All
industries
First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers $21.19 $20.05 $18.30 $24.25
Textile knitting and weaving machine setters, operators, and tenders 12.42 13.27 10.48 12.21
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers 11.79 12.17 9.66 15.02
Textile winding, twisting, and drawing out machine setters, operators, and tenders 11.27 12.37 10.79 11.53
Textile bleaching and dyeing machine operators and tenders 11.18 13.17 9.65 11.38
Textile cutting machine setters, operators, and tenders 10.96 11.28 9.36 10.88
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 10.87 10.72 9.60 10.89
Helpers—production workers 10.60 10.31 9.08 10.48
Sewing machine operators 9.61 9.75 9.03 9.55
Packers and packagers, hand 9.46 9.25 8.98 9.16


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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