The apparel industry is made up of thousands of manufacturers. It includes almost all types of clothing, except hats, shoes, hosiery, and fur, which are excluded because of the fundamental differences in materials and manufacturing methods.
The apparel industry generally is subdivided into two categories. Men's and boys' clothing includes suits, overcoats, other outer garments, slacks, shirts, ties, underwear, and sleepwear. Women's and girls' clothing encompasses coats, suits, other outer garments, dresses, blouses, skirts, slacks, and accessories, such as scarves, underwear, and sleepwear.
The U.S. apparel industry began in the Mid-Atlantic region, especially New York City. Today, California, Texas, New Jersey, and other states account for a large percentage of all workers in the textile industry. The pool of experienced workers in these states is far greater than in any other area of the country, and the largest concentration of factories producing men's apparel is located there. These plants usually are larger than those making women's garments because men's clothing undergoes fewer design and style changes and thus is better suited to mass production.
In the women's and girl's outerwear sector of the apparel industry, the majority of the cut-and-sewn garments originate in New York City, but much of the sewing is contracted out to firms throughout the world. In addition, some relatively low-priced women's and children's garments, such as low-end cotton dresses, which do not require highly skilled operators, are made throughout the country.
The production of a garment consists of designing the item, cutting the cloth, sewing the pieces together, pressing the garment, and merchandising the product.
A fashion designer creates the look of a piece of clothing. He or she draws a picture of the item and works with sewers and others to make a sample of it. The designer then makes modifications of the design based on suggestions from apparel executives and other management personnel. In May 2018, approximately 19,750 fashion designers were employed in the United States, according to the Department of Labor.
Once an item of clothing has been designed, it is sent to the merchandising department, where it is prepared and presented for sale to retailers. Merchandisers must understand clothing trends as well as pricing. Some merchandisers buy piece goods used in the manufacture of garments, while others are concerned with pricing the garments. Because the apparel industry covers such a wide variety of garments and uses practically every type of textile manufactured, merchandising problems vary from one segment of the industry to another.
When the garment style has been produced, shown to retail buyers, and accepted by the merchandising department, the manufacturer gives the orders to the cutting department of the factory. There are five basic operations in the cutting department: marking, spreading, cutting, assembling, and ticketing. Small shops may combine two or more of these operations into a single job.
Markers trace the pattern pieces on large sheets of paper. In some cases, they trace the pattern with chalk directly on the cloth itself. Spreaders lay out bolts of cloth into exact lengths on the cutting table. A machine cutter follows the pattern outline on the cloth and cuts various garment pieces from layers of cloth. Using an electrical cutting machine, the cutter slices through all the layers at once. In more automated facilities, markers send the layout electronically to a computer-controlled cutting machine, and the cutter monitors the machine's work. Thus numerically controlled machine operators are replacing many cutters.
Newer technology has been developed so that computer-controlled markers and cutters often are used. Computers allow for more precise information to be programmed into set patterns and more uniform shapes to be cut.
After the garment has been cut, assemblers bring together the various pieces needed, including lining, interfacing, and trimmings, to make a complete garment. They match color, size, and fabric design and use chalk or thread to mark locations of pockets, buttonholes, buttons, and other trimmings. They identify each bundle with a ticket. This ticket previously was used to figure the earnings of workers, who were paid according to the number of pieces they produced. Present technology uses bar codes and computers to calculate the worker's pay and track the bundles through the production line. The bundles then are sent to the sewing room.
Sewing machine operators put the material together into its finished form. These and other production workers must be careful to follow the patterns supplied by the designers. Some pressing is done as a garment is assembled; sometimes it is done at the completion of all sewing. Delicate garments must be pressed by hand. There were 136,450 sewing machine operators employed in the United States in 2018, according to the Department of Labor.
The finished clothing then is inspected and sent to the shipping room. From there, the material is sent to the markets the manufacturer has created for the product. Manufacturers must have a good sales staff so that stores will choose to carry the newly created clothing line. Marketing plays a very important part in the success or failure of a line of clothing.
Once the prices for each garment have been established, salespeople for the manufacturer travel to New York and other merchandising centers to show their goods. A great deal of selling in the women's wear field is done in the showrooms of New York. The Department of Labor reported that 407,410 buyers and purchasing agents worked in the United States in 2018.
The menswear division also has its semiannual buying periods, and large retailers go to the New York market to purchase a substantial proportion of their seasonal requirements. The orders usually are larger than in the women's wear field, because a retailer can make long-term commitments without fear that the garments will be out of style within a short time.
Executive offices of apparel manufacturers usually are located in the same states as the factories, but nearly every important apparel manufacturer has a sales office in New York City. This is where large retailers usually do their buying and where industry-wide sales meetings are held each new season. Stores at some distance from New York employ local residents to comb the market for merchandise and advise them on placing orders. Some stores have organized cooperative-buying offices. These have increased the importance of the New York market as a selling and buying center where fashion ideas originate and where buyers and sellers congregate.