Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sweat shop

Well I'm starting to get an inkling of what people in a textile sweat shop have to do. Just the merest inkling though.

After doing a load of calculations and setting up an immense spreadsheet, I've worked out that I need to dye in the region of 850 pieces of fabric in the next 4 weeks!

However, before the fabric can be dyed, it has to be cut to size and the edges serged using my trusty overlocker. Yesterday I cut and serged 168 pieces of varying sizes and it took several hours.

Yet what I'm doing isn't tricky. I'm stitching in a straight line, on fairly thick and firm fabric and it doesn't matter if the line wobbles a bit. The people who work at piecing clothing together are working with all different weights of fabric, from flimsy gauzes up, and they have to put pieces together accurately with neat stitching.

They also have to work in appalling conditions. I recently watched an episode of a program that is following a group of fashion students as they travel around countries like India, doing the jobs of the workers who contribute to one stage or another of clothing production for the UK high street. The episode I watched showed them working in a manufactory where they (6 of them) were expected to piece 36 blouses together over a 2 day period. Each completed piece was checked by the supervisor and if rejected if had to be taken apart and redone. The room they were working in was spartan to say the least, lit by generator-driven flourescent lights, a generator that they had to operate themselves. The place was dirty and bug infested, and not only did they work there, but they lived there too, sleeping on the floor with a few blankets for warmth. Oh and they get paid a few pence per succesfully completed garment, almost all of which is sent back to their families in the villages to pay for their children to get the education they didn't, so that they can get good, well paid jobs and have nice homes.

I don't mind admitting that I had tears in my eyes at the quiet dignity of one of the men they talked to, as he explained that yes, he could get himself a better education and a better job by spending his earnings on night classes, but at the expense of his children's current education which just wasn't an option.

I may be having to work hard, hunched over my machine for hours at a time, but I know it's only for a few weeks, and that I will see all the profits of my hard work for myself. I have a comfortable padded chair to sit on, a clean, well lit room in which to work, and an ipod loaded with Harry Potter audio books to occupy my mind.

Musn't grumble.