Nature of the Industry
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 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.
The three individual industries—textile mills, textile product mills, and apparel manufacturing—have 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 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 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.
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.
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