Monday, June 20, 2011

Fearful Forecast of Facts for the Future of Fashion

So the US Department of Labor came out with statistics for the 10 Fastest Growing Occupations for the years 2008-2018.  It's an interesting extrapolation of probabilities based on current trends and statistics.  Not sure if it's incredibly accurate, but it's an interesting read.

They also listed the 10 Fastest Declining Occupations (Projected).

And that's where it's scary.

They're projecting a decline of 71,500 sewing machine operators in the US over that period.

Interestingly, 6 of the top 10 occupations that will experience a decline are in the garment/shoe industry.

Table 3. Occupations with the fastest decline
Percent change
Number of jobs lost
(in thousands)
(May 2008 median)
Education/training category
Textile bleaching and dyeing machine operators and tenders
$ 23,680
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Textile winding, twisting, and drawing out machine setters, operators, and tenders
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Textile knitting and weaving machine setters, operators, and tenders
Long-term on-the-job training
Shoe machine operators and tenders
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Extruding and forming machine setters, operators, and tenders, synthetic and glass fibers
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Sewing machine operators
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Semiconductor processors
Postsecondary vocational award
Textile cutting machine setters, operators, and tenders
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Postal Service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators
Short-term on-the-job training
Fabric menders, except garment
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Wellhead pumpers
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Fabric and apparel patternmakers
Long-term on-the-job training
Drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Order clerks
Short-term on-the-job training
Coil winders, tapers, and finishers
Short-term on-the-job training
Photographic processing machine operators
Short-term on-the-job training
File clerks
Short-term on-the-job training
Derrick operators, oil and gas
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Desktop publishers
Postsecondary vocational award
SOURCE: BLS Occupational Employment Statistics and Division of Occupational Outlook

This is scary to me...  How on earth can sewing machine operators get by on less than $20,000 a year?  And if the garment industry is paying too much for labor so they're going overseas, how little are those people actually getting paid?!?  It's no wonder there's such a huge discrepancy in lifestyle and standard of living in some cases--it's startling how little it takes to actually pay someone for their hard labor...

Sadly, I think the fashion industry has brought this on themselves...  The decreasing prices, and the cheaper garments have set a tone that's just scary.  People rant and rave when they have to pay more than $5 for a blouse nowadays.  Our cultural expectations for cheap, cheaper, and cheapest clothing out there have set the fashion industry in a tailspin.  Their planned obsolescence on an industry level--generating more and more of the "new" and encouraging consumer consumption and replacement--can't be sustained forever.  It's been a century in the making, since the advent of the House of Worth and the dominance of industrialized garment making.

These particular statistics hit me pretty hard.  Having worked in theatrical costume shops before, I know that sitting behind a sewing machine takes a special stamina.  It isn't unskilled work, either--the stitchers that I worked with took years to develop the talents they demonstrated on a daily basis.  Albeit manufacturing is piece-work and has a different set of skills, but surely it's worth more than $20,000 a year...?

So, what does this mean?  For us, as crafters and sewists and artists?  Does the price of our work decline commensurately?  If we create garments or crafts or art that are labor intensive, are we pricing ourselves out of the market?  What does that mean for us, and our customers?  Is our culture willing to pay for a quality piece with artistic depth and skill?  Does it really recognize the difference, or does it just think it does?

Until next time, Live Life with Relish, cuz it's gettin' dark out there...

All images from Kheel Center, Cornell University, via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.

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