Throughout history, textile manufacturing has been the first step in the move from an agronomy-based society (farming) to industrialisation (factory). Textile mills provide entry level factory jobs with regular hours and paychecks that require minimal amounts of education and training. Textile mills have traditionally been located in rural areas with vast supplies of labour and freshwater. In earlier times, the water was used for providing power. Today, vast amounts of water are still used for the wet processing (preparation, dyeing, and finishing) of textile substrates.
Since the mid-1980s, the textile manufacturing industry has witnessed a dramatic shift from local vertically integrated manufacturing to global supply chain management. The difference between manufacturing and management is enormous. What was once a collaborative environment of product design, development, and manufacturing has been transformed into an adversarial and competitive world driven only by lowest cost.
A major negative of supply chain management is that manufacturers have lost their seat at the table for product design and development, and are now held hostage by the brands. Manufacturers are forced to produce whatever the brands develop, at their price, or else.
How we (textile manufacturers) arrived at this embarrassingly low point of trending social media coverage of multicoloured rivers, mountains of dumped apparel, micro-plastic particle pollution, and poor labour conditions should not be a surprise to anyone. We continue to experience a paradigm shift where short-term greed and profiteering are more important than the proper care of our planet, our people, and our products.
Many of the outstanding issues with the global textiles industry are based on old practices and technologies that were acceptable ‘at the time’; however, the times have changed and the old practices are no longer acceptable.
In order to have meaningful and sustainable improvements, everyone (design, development, manufacturing, marketing, and sales) involved with producing a coloured textile product must immediately implement a three-step process. To truly be successful, all the three steps must be addressed simultaneously. We cannot arbitrarily pick only one or two steps and ignore the balance. The improvement process will not be quick, easy, and/or inexpensive.
- Step 1: Stop using bad practices;
- Step 2: Acknowledge damage and accept responsibility for repair;
- Step 3: Move forward with new technology and accepted practices.