Made by Hand: II

Following on from my assignment 3 post, a new information has come to my attention. In the last post I was discussing the idea of goods made by hand are perceived as higher quality in Western culture. While in China, where the majority of goods are made by hand, they are commonly thought of as poor quality items.

This has been a recent surge in bringing the manufacturing of our own goods, which have been moved to China, home. Here are a couple of examples.

Hiut Denim are a new business backed up by a remarkable amount of experience – a whole town in fact. When the jeans factory in Cardigan (Wales) closed down, its workers spanned over three decades of expertise. These were and are real, honest, crafts people and Hiut has reemployed them to do what they do best.
Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades.
Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world what they could do.
That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town. – hiutdenim.co.uk

Channel 4 have also been looking into bringing manufacturing back to Britian. Mary Portas, they ruiner of charity shops, has a new series coming up which looks into getting unemployed people in Britain back to work in the manufacturing business.

In the middle of the worst recession since the war, retail guru Mary Portas believes a a window of opportunity has opened to restore some life back to British manufacturing.

Transport costs and foreign labour costs are rising, so Mary’s heading to Middleton, Greater Manchester, to set up a new production line for British-made knickers.

Mary wants consumers to understand the value of buying British: skills, UK jobs, pride in our manufacturing heritage.

 

 

It will be a challenge for Mary, who normally frequents an altogether different shop-floor. She not only needs to breathe life back into a mothballed factory, she has to persuade the old seamstresses to teach the new recruits, and track down some of the last fabric suppliers in the country.

Will she pull it off, or will her first ever foray into manufacturing be simply a brief encounter? – Channel 4

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Do we know where our products are made?

We all know that most of our clothes aren’t made in the UK. The vast majority are produced in Asia and the Middle East where textile-manufacturing costs are cheep. Everyone buys clothes made worldwide but few bother to find out where their new clothes are manufactured.

It is hard for the average buyer to take an interest in whether we buy them from an ethical, fair trade company or from a “sweatshop” factory employing children when all we’re given is “Made in …”. It is hard to find out where the products are actually manufactured and what the company policy is for workers. Often the brand will sub-contract textile factories in the Middle- East and Asia. The problem for the brand is they have to carry out consistent checks on these companies to ensure they haven’t contracted another factory that doesn’t abide the workers rights and working conditions.

In 2009, TNS Knitwear, who produced clothes for Primark, were found by a undercover BBC investigation, to be employing illegal workers who were working 12 hour days and receiving £3.50 an hour. The Manchester based company denied the claim and Primark carried out its own investigation. Primark is best known for its cheap fashion clothing and has risen in popularity through the recession. How much has this affected peoples spending in budget shops?

We asked the public on the street of Dundee if they know where their products come from and whether they would pay more for something more ethically manufactured then ones that were maybe a bigger brand but have vague ethical code. The majority of the people we asked assumed that their clothes were made in the Middle-East and Asia. They didn’t have much interest in finding where their clothes came from and it didn’t effect their choice of purchase. We asked if they would pay more for products produced in factories with better working conditions and pay. They said they would be more inclined to buy even if it meant paying a bit more for them. One woman had already heard about the scandal with Primark and had stopped shopping there because of it.

We we’re interested whether anyone knew if Apple products are actually being made in China. They all assumed that Apple built its products in America where they were designed. This shows how unaware we can be about our material possessions and the journey they took into creation. Perhaps brands should promote the journey of their clothes and make information about their ethics more available for the public.

I asked the staff at Superdry if they knew where the clothes that they sell are manufactured. The first person I asked said they were made in the E.U until I pointed out that the shirt next to me said “Made in China.” She left to get her manager who told me that the clothes were designed in England and manufactured abroad but she couldn’t tell me much more then that. She said that Superdry check all their factories for illegal workers and bad conditions. I found it interesting how the company don’t inform their staff of exact factories where maybe it could add a selling point for brands who have high prices to make their customers feel that it was ok to spend £50 on a pair of jeans if they knew it was of the best quality and made by workers who were well paid.

In a recession it is hard for people not to go for the good deals. They are normal happy that their new clothes might be lacking slightly in quality and will have a shorter life span then a high quality piece of clothing. When the global economy beings to rise then maybe there will be more focus on the manufacture of clothes within the general public.

How do we view products that are “Made In China”?

Perception of Origin in Textiles

How do we view products that are “Made In China”?

Many people still believe there is a sort of stigma that comes with products that are manufactured in China but is that really still the case? I am going to look into the home and different age groups and delve a bit further into the perceptions people have with clothing produced in China. From 3 different generations I have a control group of 3 persons. One of which is a student, aged 23 and Male. The second is a Father, aged 43 and last but not least a Grandmother, age – too polite to ask (roughly 70’s). Each was asked for three pieces of clothing, preferably a sweater or cardigan to further analyse. Hopefully this will be a good starting point to generate insightful opinions on how people’s opinions of their clothing and products being Made In China.

The Student
In this volunteer’s items were 3 jumpers, the G-star Jumper and Breed Jumper were both purchased in the UK and the Abercrombie and Fitch was purchased in the United States.
Upon questioning The Student, it was concluded that he wasn’t sure of where each item was manufactured but assumed that each would have been produced in China, or Taiwan. A wild guess but rightly so – All of these items were in fact made in China.
The Father
These item’s concluded of the following, 3 Jumpers – Pringle, Taylor Made and Ralph Lauren. And again the Volunteer assumed all of these items we’re produced in China, except the Pringle Jumper – commonly misconceived as a Scottish based company – Pringle is in fact owned and based by S.C. Fang & Sons Company, Ltd in Hong Kong.
The Grandmother

Having discussed her items, the third and final volunteer was a bit more wary of where her clothes were from but still not completely sure of where each piece was made. Having worked in the Dundee Weaving Mills as a young woman, Theresa was much more aware of the conditions of factory workers and was informed of the reports on poor factory conditions in sweatshops around the world that have a big impact on the textiles and fashion industry. Her clothes were from more high street labels and was surprised to hear that her cardigan from Marks and Spencers was infact made in Turkey as opposed to China as she’d previously assumed.

Table of Products and Manufacturer.

Product Jumper Jumper Jumper Jumper Jumper Jumper Jumper Cardigan
Owner Student Student Student Father Father Father Grandmother Grandmother
Brand G-Star A+F Breed Taylor Made Ralph Lauren Pringle Primark M&S
Origin China China China China Macau China China Turkey
Notable Differences none none none none none none none none
Aware of Origin no no no no no no no no
Do British Consumers Care?
“It makes no difference to me whether it was made in China or made in Scotland – as long as it is well made and won’t fall apart in the first wash!” – Student

When asked if either had preconceived ideas about any products or garments that were produced in China, they all seemed to have similar answers. So I asked some more questions to clear up their opinions.

  • How does this effect peoples perceptions of China and where their clothes are from?
  • Would people from different generations have similar/different views?
  • Are people even aware of whether or not their clothes are produced in china?

When discussing the products with the two younger volunteers, neither of the two were aware of where their clothing was designed or made. And surprisingly so neither we’re very interested. It seems as though that all the interviewee’s found that the manufacturing was not something they found important when selecting and purchasing a garment. The only thing that came up and was the fair trade and fair working standards issue with factory workers in China and India.

It has become a common perception that all clothing and electrical items are produced in China, and it is often believed that these items are shoddily made. The real fact is that these items are the best manufactured in the world. There is a reason many companies ask for Chinese suppliers to produce their merchandise and that isn’t just because of the millions and millions of people looking for jobs, it is because the quality and speed of production outcomes are the quickest and highest quality in the world.

Attitudes to China

If someone was to ask me about where the clothes I bought were from I would most likely start off by naming a local high-street store and like most people if I was asked where the clothing I bought was made, I would naturally assume it wasn’t made in the U.K. be it due to cheaper labour elsewhere in the world, more specifically “Made in China” perhaps.  Wouldn’t you say the same?

I found this interesting clip which basically highlights the amount of things that we are wearing are made abroad, it is not about Britain, it is about America, but I feel it is a similar situation anyway and states that China is well ahead in the manufacturing of clothing than anywhere else in the world.

Popular high-street stores may  include Topshop, Burton, USC, New look, River Island,primary  and H&M and prove to be favourites among students (I asked this target market),some being  more expensive than others, but all concerned with the latest fashion trends. Though the question is, are such high street  stores as conscious about the production of their clothes as they are with their image / the image of their customers and ultimately do the customers know and even care about the manufacturing of the products they are buying. In the image based society  that we live in today how much thought is actually put into anything other than the way the clothing looks and makes us feel? Do shoppers consider the wider issues regarding the manufacturing of the products they are buying at all?

With a few questions in mind I interviewed people gather some responses. I asked them to write their answers on a piece of paper shaped like a t-shirt to keep them engaged with the questions I was asking and somewhat preempting discussion of clothing and retail shops. I asked them the following questions:

  1. What is you favourite shop?
  2. What was the last item you bought from there?
  3. Do you know anything about where the product was made?
  4. If not, where would you guess it was made?
  5. Do you care where the product is made?
  6. What do you think of the quality of the product?
  7. What do you think about the quality of the product made in the U.K as opposed to those made elsewhere int he world.

From the responses I received I came to the assumption that the majority of people do not actually care about where the products they buy are made.  The majority did say that the clothes were probably made in “poorer countries” and/or Asia.To an extent people didn’t mind where their clothes came from however when given a moment to think about their response a few did bring up the issue of child labour, and how that did  concern them, but because they do not usually think twice about their purchase  at the time they don’t feel guilty about it. I can’t judge them on the topic discussed, otherwise I’d be a hypocrite. When I go into a shop to buy, a dress for example, I see it for what it is, a dress, a dress I can wear on my next night out with friends and look fashionable, then I would probably check the price label to see if I could afford it…Never in the process of purchasing this said dress do I think to myself, where is it made and who made it. It is said “ignorance is bliss” after all, would our favourite shops be our favourite shops if we knew all the ins and outs of the manufacturing side to them.

When I discussed with people what did they think about the quality of the clothes, they said that they could be better but for what they are paying for it suited them just fine and they didn’t mind that the clothes were made abroad rather here in the U.K . I am beginning to wonder if I should be more concerned for the lack of manufacturing  actually happening close to home,in Britain, considering I am a Textile Design student. What does the future hold for me and my designs (hypothetically speaking if… I were to become a Textile designer with such important decisions to make), must they be “shipped off” to other countries simply to make ends meet and make a possible profit and how would I feel about the wages of the people making the products, the labourers, the hours they work and the wage they are paid.

I feel that most of the shops I go into to not particularly advertise an “eco/ethical friendly” environment. There is usually no information about where the clothes are manufactured other than the labels on the individual garments. As I do study textile design I feel that this is a topic that I should research greater and could be a consideration to be incorporated into my own work.

Chinese Batik And Silk

Made In China: Textile Design

Silks and Batik

Silk Legends

Silk was discovered in ancient times and is developed from various types of arthropod’s cocoons during metamorphosis eg. spider silk, silk worm, mulberry worms.

Like many ancient Chinese discoveries, it is unknown who exactly or how silk was discovered or first created. There are many tales and legend with this discovery – one of which being the tale of the young woman who lived with her father and their magic horse, who could fly as well as understand human language. Once when the girl’s father went out to work  he didn’t return and the girl made a promise to the horse that if he could go out and bring back her father that she would marry him. When the horse returned her father back home, the girl’s father refused to allow the marriage to take place and killed the horse. He then skinned the horse and hung its hide out to dry, the hide then took flight and grabbed the daughter then flew away only to land on a Mulberry tree and when the daughter was released onto the branch she turned into a Silk Worm.

Another more convincing story being that in Ancient times, workers found the silk cocoons by accident and thought they were fruit from the Mulberry tree. After failing to eat these incredibly hard “fruits”, the ladies tried to boil them to soften the shells but when this too failed, the women lost their patience with the hard white fruits and beat them with sticks thus discovering the silk.

Silk Production

Silk is produced from Silk Worms (Bombyx Mori) which feed on the leaves from the Mulberry Tree and produce silk during their metamorphosis. It takes on average 24-28 days for a silk worm to grow old enough to begin to spin a cocoon. From this cocoon, the silk must be harvested at the right time for unwinding before the moth hatches out of the cocoon, spoiling the strands. So the cocoons are heated to kill the pupae inside. When reeling the silk into raw strands, 1 silk cocoon may harvest 1000 metres of raw silk – It has been said that it may take 111 cocoons to produce 1 man’s tie.

Batik Printing

What Is Batik?

Batik is a method of printing silks and other similar fabrics by masking images and pattern on fabric with hot wax, dying the fabric then washing in hot water to dissolve/separate the wax from the fabric allowing the masked areas to be repeat printed over or left  bare. The wax is applied using a tool called a Tjanting, which is a small round bowl-type tool with a small peak from which the hot wax would controllably dispense.

This process can be repeated until the desired image is created. A highly skilled process, Batik is one of China’s Ancient treasures and it was commonly passed on from mother to daughter for generations as a skill that every young girl must learn.

Batik was found in China as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581- 618), It is said to have been developed by Chinese artists who then took the technique to the likes of Japan, the Middle East and Indonesia.

Batik is a very skilled process when done well but can be very simply yet effectively copied for simple designs, I in fact taught a group of Students at my work placement this method of printing in a small class at the end of the week for students who had completed their class work. Using small sections of silk, hot wax and batik fabric dyes, we took turns in sketching out our designs onto paper then tracing around them through our silk squares and leaving the hot wax to dry before painting on some fabric dyes.

The kids thoroughly enjoyed this process and it proved that this would have been a great way for young Chinese girls to spend time with their mothers and grandmothers learning a valuable trade as Batik became a very popular method of printing and decorating silk.

Silk

China were the innovators in the production of silk many centuries ago and  managed to withhold the secrets of  how the material was made. Silk  therefore only traveled to the western world through the many trade posts stretching from China  all the way to Europe, known as “The silk road”(although not actually just one road).  Silk was grown, harvested and weaved in China and in the early years were only to be worn by Royalty as it was an extremely rare material, but as China developed their techniques it soon become available to people of “social status” /”aristocrats” then to the masses. Asia is still to this day the largest producers of silk, China being the largest then followed by India and imports  travel worldwide to reach popular demands. When Europe finally  did find out how to make silk  the production increased in Italy for a long time, but as mentioned, today Asia are the largest producers, this could possibly be due to the combination of skilled a workforce and cheaper labour in the countries compared to other countries.

Silk is a natural(protein) fibre that is obtained from the cocoon of the  silkworm which is native to China (hence their innovation in this material).  The silkworm’s main food source comes from Mulberry leaves , but it is possible for different species to feed on different types of leaves and therefore produce different variations of silk raging from fine to coarser silks. Non-mulberry silks, as they are known, include Tasar, Eri and Muga silks and they have distinctive colours and properties.

Once silkworms eat the mulberry leaves and reach their full growth they then begin to spin a cocoon around themselves. After they hatch into moths the cocoons that are left behind are collected to produce silk.  The cocoons are boiled in water then spun into threads and/or weaved into silk. Silkworms have been completely domesticated and do not exist in the wild, so essentially they are only bred for the production of silk.

Silk is the strongest natural fiber that there is, it is extremely versatile and strong which makes a practical material to use in many products. It is also luxurious, delicate, smooth, shiny and simply a beautiful material  that can also be easily dyed and these properties make it extremely attractive to different industries.Having so many   incredible qualities allows  silk  to be such a popular material. In both the fashion industry and interior markets silk is used in their products from clothing to fine furnishings. Silk is a popular material for clothing (for both womanswear i.e dresses and menswear i.e ties) as it can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer and it is extremely light and flexible, so is therefore comfortable to wear. To add to the attractiveness of silk, it can be dyed different colours to fit changing fashion trends and beads or embroidery can be easily added to the fabric.

Alongside the “boom” of silk production the Chinese artwork and crafty embroidery styles also developed. Working into the silk with fine embroidery threads produced incredibly beautiful and detailed designs whither it be of people, animals/mystical creatures, flowers or objects. As an ancient form of artwork there are four major styles that developed in China which were “Su embroidery”, “Xiang embroidery”, “Yue embroidery” and “Shu embroidery” and all had slightly different techniques. “Su embroidery” was known to be very intricate, “Xiang embroidery” used many colours emphasising tonal changes,” Yue embroidery”  was complicated and used very bright colours and “Shu Embroidery” was very neat. As well embroidery another popular art form developed  in China and applied to silk was “silk painting” as silk was “invented” before paper so it was a popular material to paint on to.

China was fortunate enough to innovate the production of silk all thanks to the silkworm native to the country and are innovators in techniques that can be applied to silk. As a textile student I enjoy using silk as I am aware of course it’s great properties and  of course it’s  popularity. I can easily add my printed design onto the fabric and work on top of them to add more texture(embroidery), all things that the Chinese developed centuries ago are still being applied today.

Chinese Embroidery

Embroidery is one of China’s traditional styles of decorating fabrics, especially silk. China was the first country to develop and make use of silk fabric which eventually lead to embroidery. I’ve chosen to look at Chinese embroidery as i feel it’s quite a distinct feature in Chinese textiles and artwork. Some of the oldest pieces of Chinese textiles were created using embroidery techniques. Chinese embroidery has a long history dating back thousands of years to Neolithic times and they always used silk because of its strength and durability. There is not a precise date when embroidery was first practiced in China but many pieces have been discovered at archaeological sites. Some pieces have been discovered in tombs which date back to as early as the second century B.C.  One of the oldest and largest pieces of Chinese embroidery was the image of Shakyamuni preaching on the Vulture Peak ( see below).  This was discovered in Mogao, Gansu Province, 8th century AD. This piece of work was made from hemp cloth which was then embroidered with very fine woven silk.

The images used in Chinese embroidery can symbolise and represent lots of different meanings. Images such as animals, dragons, birds, florals were embroidered onto various items including robes, theatrical costumes, purses, shoes, wall pieces and interiors etc. Embroidery is a very skilled and intricate style of artwork and some pieces could take up to several years before they were completed. Finest pieces of embroidery were very expensive and only wealthy men and women could afford to buy them.

There are different styles of embroidery used in china. These are the 4 major regional and historical styles of Chinese embroidery.

Suzhou Embroidery ( Su Xiu )

This style dates back 2000 years and originates from Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. Suzhou embroidery was one of the first embroidery styles to be developed in China, but its detailed needlework and intricate images are still produced today. Some of the distinct features of Suzhou embroidery is that it was often two-sided, where the image was embroidered on both sides of the silk. Its beautiful patterns and images, subtle colours, variety of stitches were very skillful and time consuming (in some cases taking years to finish). The images used on this style of Chinese embroidery were quite typical using nature and environmental themes-flowers, birds and gardens with pastel colours. I’ve noticed that the main animals used in chinese embroidery are tigers, pandas and dragons.

Hunan Embroidery ( Xiang Xiu)

Xiang embroidery was created in Changsa, Hunan Province and has been used for hundreds of years. This style has been influenced by other embroidery styles however it has many characteristics which make it unique. The embroidery uses a lot more loose threads compared to the Suzhou style. There are several distinct needling techniques used in embroidery but the Xiang style uses a more ‘random’ way of needling, where the randomness results in colours and textures being mixed togther. Its distinct features include black, white and grey colour palettes with strong focus on the contrasts between light and dark. There is also a strong use of tigers and landscape scenes used on Xiang textiles. Xiang embroidery is still practiced today and has become very popular around the world being used on clothing, interiors and art pieces.

Guangdong Embroidery ( Yue Xiu/ Guang Xiu)

This originates from Chaozhon, Guangdong Province and dates back 1,000 years. This style of embroidery contains intricate and symmetrical patterns, using strong contrasting colours and varied stitches.  The main influence of this style was national folk art and the images most commonly used were of flowers and plants.

Sichuan Embroidery ( Shu Xiu)

This style originates from western areas around Chengdu, Sichuan Province. This is the oldest known embroidery style in chinese history and has been used for thousands of years.  As with most embroidery they always used silk and satin, as they were very strong and would last a lot longer than other materials. The distinct features of a Sichuan style piece were- emphasis on even stitching, pastel colours using, images of young women and the environment. Sichuan embroidery is used to decorate interiors such as quilt covers, pillowcases, curtains, fashion garments, shoes and painted screens. All of these embroidery styles are extremely beautiful and have characterisitics which make them very unique and interesting to look at.