What happens behind the scenes of the clothing you purchase at Zara, Mango, Forever 21.. and the like? What is the story of your mass produced garment? Where does it come from? Did you ever give it a thought? Well, let me give a slight glimpse into the manufacturing drama that goes behind it, as yours truly was a part of it all. I say it in the form of an article.So whether you live in Europe, USA or my own country India, you might want to read this!
Picture Credit : Wikimedia Commons
Somewhere in last winters, it felt like all the determination in the world filled up this gigantic but chaotic hall where everyone from the company’s owner to the tiny man who was only responsible for serving tea to the visitors, packed boxes upon boxes of the oriental print blouses that were deemed to be a hit this Spring/Summer. In those hours, even that many helping hands felt less and the only thing that briefly mattered to each one of us was to make sure that the shipment left on schedule in turn to reach its destination on time. Its destiny lied in reaching the glossy shelves of a retail store in a country overseas where a woman would lay eyes upon it, try it, love it and wear it without being aware of the back story and the anonymous people who made it possible. Unlike high-fashion and designer ready-to-wear lines, the price to pay for affordable fashion is anonymity.
But being neck deep for months in this drab-from-the-outside and intriguing-from-the-inside world of manufacturing mass or street wear fashion, really changes one’s perspective towards the moderately priced dress bought from a retail store. But this change is a cumulative process; neither does it happen in one day nor can it be attributed to one particular incident. It is the many diminutive and seemingly inconsequential episodes that weave a whole story.
That morning, a few months ago, I had an e-mail waiting for me from our buying house requesting options in neon colors and prints. Obviously a brand associated with them was looking to sell a few neon pieces the coming season. The Trickle-down theory was just that – a theory, until I experienced it in the most improbable of places. Entering a crammed bazaar in possibly Delhi’s poorest neighborhood, and into an even tinier shop, I showed the picture of what I was looking for. The enthusiastic sales boy inside laid in front of me yards of neon stripes in crepe, suggesting along that neon was the current fascination of the fashion world. These words of wisdom were coming from a person who hardly had any education, did not speak English, had no idea who Peter Som was and that the stripes he presented to me resembled a print in Peter’s collection for S/S 12. And he definitely earned monthly only a quarter of what one would pay for a Peter Som blouse; but, from the runway of one of the Fashion Capitals to the filthy street in the other corner of the world neon had arrived.
But unlike that boy, some people are indeed educated to homogenize into the clockwork of commercial fashion. They pick up some skills at college and learn others at the job. It has to be called a skill and no less to be able to monitor a work force of tailors sewing an array of styles, get approvals on everything from the fabric to the buttons, and order them too in the right quantities at the right price from the right vendor, or else you are left chasing the vendor whose mill is closed owing to rains or strikes (or alien invasions); thus, delaying your deadline. It would not be inaccurate to say that behind the scenes is where the real drama is in this industry. What one sees on the bi-annual runway or in the retail stores is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.
I, myself, have had my fair share of harrowing moments during my stint at the export house. I clearly remember the time when I could feel trails of sweat trickling down my spine as I struggled to find an e-mail from the buyer, which was important enough to be the difference between a passed and a failed quality inspection. The latter would inevitably result in thousands of Dollars in losses. Another time, just a seemingly innocuous typographical error on the consignment’s box was expected to lead to a series of wrathful e-mails and a chargeback. There is hardly any scope for human error in this field as the stakes are high. With the economies slowing down or just recovering the world over, the stakes feel even higher.
But now that I have experienced the journey that a single, arguably lifeless, garment goes through. The miniscule as well as towering events, the rise and fall of a plethora of attached emotions and the livelihoods of the many people that the garment represents has altered my perspective of commercial fashion. Now whenever I see the “Made in” tag, I am no longer capable of an ignorance. Instead I find myself seeking a mental connect to the people on the other side, in the country of origin, every single time.