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The Cheap Labour Myth

Updated: May 14


Clothes Manufacturing

For years together, affordable fashion has made us picture sweatshops - a cluster of underpaid workers working in uncomfortable conditions. There was a time when this might have been true, albeit 50 years ago. Today, the industry has, to a large degree, upgraded and vastly improved in many garment-exporting countries. We are now in a new consumer-dominated industry, and the players must learn to meet consumers’ demands.


Yes! Everybody wants lower retail prices, but research reveals that very few consumers are willing to buy poorly made, unappealing clothing to save a few dollars. More importantly, affordably priced garments do not depend on low-cost labour. Consider the mass market. Traditionally, this sector was all about cheap commodities such as jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, etc., that were produced, particularly in Bangladesh, at low wage rates that were the most inexpensive among all key garment exporting countries.


However, cheap commodities are on the way out in the new phase. According to a recent survey, the decline in US imports by 26% - 32% has led to a downfall of the factories and their entire national industries that still rely on cheap labour. Retailers who try to increase consumer demand by reducing retail prices or by offering poor quality and cheap fabric are in trouble. This is a global problem affecting everybody everywhere. In this new industry, nobody is immune. H&M, the brand that followed the low-price strategy, seems to have become a more expensive version of SHEIN. SHEIN, as a brand, continues to provide the H&M consumer with more variety and cheaper clothing.


The declining mass-market commodity sector is being replaced by the mass-market fashion sector, such as SHEIN and Temu. Their garments, produced in China, entail wage rates four times that in Bangladesh. The cost difference is not the labour rate but China’s better factory management, organization, worker training and higher productivity.

The problem for Bangladesh and the other mass market commodity makers is that they cannot move from commodity to fashion. The mass market commodity factory produces 1-3 orders per month.


Each order may be as large as 1,000,000. The factory is geared to produce a single basic product. In contrast, the mass market fashion factory must produce 100-300 orders per month, each order typically 1000-5000 pieces. The factory must be flexible and equipped to manufacture a wide range of products. To survive the mass market, commodity factories must change. Regrettably, factory owners are yet to accept the need to change. The global garment industry is shrinking. Old-fashioned brand loyalty is disappearing.


Both retailers and their factory suppliers must move fast to meet consumers changing demands. Gradually, a failure to meet the needs of the future will be equal to a failure to survive. In the new consumer-dominated industry, successful retailers and their suppliers must accept that raising their standards is essential for survival. The good news for those willing to accept and embrace change is that the consumer will pay more, but only for quality make and design.


In today's clothing industry, Times Clothing is a leader in quality and style. While old-fashioned cheap clothes are becoming less popular, Times Clothing is focusing on making fashionable clothes that people love. They're adapting to what customers want, making sure their clothes are well-made and look great. Times Clothing is showing that in this changing industry, good quality is what really matters.

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