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many “Made in China” products are there in your wardrobe? As someone having experienced
working in an apparel store GU (a sister company of Uniqlo) before, this is one
of the most sensitive questions to explore in depth. GU is obviously a Japanese
fashion company, but little elements constitute the whole brand of
‘Japanese-ness’ except for the name – the products actually came outside of the
country and all dedicated to Japanese market only. Even if we purchase items labelled
as western brands, they might be made from zero in China or might be already owned
by China’s capital. Nowadays, in fact, a general perspective of globalism has been
applied to every genre of fashion industry; from apparel to high-end. “The new
China is most often interpreted as a potentially dominant player in the global
garment industry” (Christopher and David 2006, p.3), and other developing
economies in Asia, such as India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, undertake this
current to help promoting further interregional trades and mass production. It
does not appear that the circulation might be weakened or discontinued in the
future. As some activists from industrialised countries warn, however, we must
recognise that there lie critical issues in working conditions in textile and
apparel manufacturing firms in those developing countries (Emre 2014), and excessive
exploitation of workers there actually (or ironically) are sustaining the
system of the circulation.

globalisation has contributed to yield new fashion epicentres across the globe
and broadened the market, the overwhelming economic supremacy of developed nations
has yet kept the less developed from changing the industrial performances
within the territories, personally supposing that relationship between the
developed and the developing should not likely to change that easily. This
statement is to analyse how mass production of fashion brands is systemised in
modern China, how globalism defines geographical roles and the power
relationships in the industry, and how labour force of fashion industry in
emerging nations are treated, and finally to detect critical issues and find
solutions brought from these elements.

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most developing countries, one of the most important segments for domestic economy
was/is the apparel industry, as it is perceived to prompt both modernisation and
skilled labour of the population (James 2000). This statement can be juxtaposed
with the opposite situation in the developed world; the manufacturing of
apparel is in fact heavily reliant on manual labour and replacement to machine
has not been accomplished, so the industry wants to shift its production to
countries promising the lower wage: clearly mentioned by Hans-Christian and Xin
(2008). Companies in industrialised nations seeking for the ‘Promised Land’
firstly eventuated in China in the late 1980s. The background of the country selected
for apparel sourcing accounted not only for an advantage of low labour cost and
large manufacturing capacity, but also low risk of economic, political, and fiscal
instability and most importantly, better trained workforce compared to the
other emerging countries (Hans-Christian and Xin 2008). The potential of China
sharply boosted in the 21st century, with an accelerated globalism and
the rise of ‘fast fashion’ such as Zara and H; this ‘historic accident’
even started to threaten the established formation of fashion cities of Paris,
London, Milan, New York and Tokyo, thus Shanghai gained its presence over the
contemporary fashion marketing scenes (Christopher and David 2006). This is why
we recognise the presence of ‘Made in China’ fashion products in everyday life,
and the concept of China as the ‘World Factory’ is indispensable for consumers
not only in developed countries but rest of the world.  


the end of Cold War, a wind of globalism has been blown against European luxury
brands owing to the higher demand mainly in Asia and Middle East. Because
western Europe became an economically matured region and had limited spaces for
production, luxury brands needed radical expansion as apparel had had traced
the same way before. It was not until the late 2000s that economic downturn due
to the financial crisis yet destructed the motto of French and Italian high-end
companies’ crafting quality goods at home, and gradually started to move their legs
outside Europe. Meanwhile, China once again obtained an initiative to invite
them, starting not only to target purchasers in richer states but also to promote
further domestic consumption in accordance with the growing number of the
middle class in its metropolitan areas. Quite a few times is Chinese people’s
purchasing power over high-end fashion compared to Japan’s Bubble Boom
(1986-1991), but this has much more volumes in terms of population and
financial power.

Italian brand Prada (Figure 1) was one of which fascinated by China’s
potentiality and capacity, and recently the firm has been greatly indebted to
it, proving that approximately 20% of Prada’s products, from garments, handbags,
shoes, and also accessories of both men and women, are created in China
(Christina 2011). However, this current of moving the production sites to China
and targeting the region is evoking a couple of critical issues over the brand
identity. One of which is rampant use of ‘Made in Italy’. By borrowing
Christina’s words (2011), “To be labeled ‘Made in Italy,’ only a
majority of the cost of an item’s production must take place within the
country’s borders.”
But transparency of the origin of the
goods might be equivocal even they claim to be created in the country. In terms
of this problem, some begin to be sceptical to China’s economic position, for even
several production sites of luxury brands in the Italian city Prato are in fact
organised by China’s capital with no indigenous workers, and incorporating at
least 30% of the country’s textile imports from the Greater China (Sylvia 2013),
but still the products are titled ‘Made in Italy’.      

second issue is, as stated above, proceeds of Prada has been heavily
susceptible to China’s purchasing power, so the brand is experiencing a cycle
of drops and gains along with a speed of economic growth (GDP) in China. As Mark
(2016) pointed out, the worldwide profit of Prada plunged by 27% in 2015, and he
suggested that most plausible reason behind this could be enforcement of an
anti-extravagance campaign by the government, that contributed to inhibit the middle
to upper class Chinese from purchasing luxury goods. Whilst some luxury brands
like Chanel were not directly affected by the campaign, Prada has evidently taken
Chinese purchasing power for granted.


the contrary to the situation during the 1990s to the 2000s, China’s economic
stability in the late 2010s might not be that promising for European fashion companies,
but at least it is obvious that they must have been desperate to realise mass
production and to satisfy ever-growing needs over the goods, and they might
have overestimated potentiality of Chinese labour force and economic boom which
has continued two consecutive decades. Furthermore, it is probable that a
schema of Europe entrusting emerging regions with mass production of fashion
implies hierarchical relationship of those privileged and not. It is time to
comprehend China may be no longer a convenient country for western companies.


that we have analysed how both apparel and high-end companies in industrialised
nations have managed to expand their production sites in China since the 1980s,
next topic will be on how the other emerging economy struggles to catch up with
China as the next ‘World’s Factory’ and what circumstances and ongoing critical
issues lie in the working places there. When it comes to the post-China in
regards with an industrial hub, Bangladesh is the most cogent candidates for
it. Some might think of India or Indonesia for potential candidates, but the
Bangladesh as a whole completes what needs to be the epicentre of fashion
business. With a population of more than 160 million and its considerably high
density, the country has been keen on welcoming apparel brands and trying to
establish a quality of ‘Made in Bangladesh’. In comparison with most recent
China, whose overconcentration of manufacturing facilities, long-lasted economic
growth, and rise of wage and land value making the foreign industries reluctant
to expand their business (STUDY FOR TWO, 2017), Bangladesh still provides as
low wage as the industrialised nations demand. In addition to these
circumstances, the nation used to be a part of the British Empire and for a
long period did it accumulate knowledge of manufacturing (products were dedicated
mostly to Britain at the time), and motivation for building infrastructure for
freight pushed productivity. Hence the recent data from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of Japan shows, clothing occupies approximately 80% of the country’s
whole export in 2017 (46.8% for knitwear and 36.2% for other clothing), and its
export value is second most after China. The success of clothing-export
industry has been one of the most primary stimulants for modernising communal
system of the country and has influenced the society beyond the immediate and
palpable fiscal and economic benefits (Hugh 2009).


the collapse of a fabric factory Rana Plaza (Figure 2) in northwest Dhaka in
2013 immediately disclosed a grave darkness of the apparel industry. Roughly
1100 out 3000 workers found dead in the building and more than 300 were missing
at the time. This was due to illegal construction of devoid reinforcement;
oscillation of reactivated 4 electric generators on the upper floor and
vibration of several thousands of sewing machines incited destruction (STUDY
FOR TWO, 2017). Although this terrible workplace accident directly derived from
faulty construction, the more staggering element besides that was overdependence
of the west’s clothing companies on cheap labour forces and neglect of severe work
environment. Physical violence, sexual harassment, coercion of overtime work,
and refusal of acquiring maternity leave with paid were notified by the report
of the accident, and even after the disaster, the country’s garment sector is
yet in afflicted condition that is supporting more than 20 million lives
(Naimul and Kanya 2015).

the west’s neglect of hazardous work environment was so controversial that few
remedial measures had been implemented since the previous research by Hugh
(2009); whilst labour union in the United States grumbled over suffering of low
employability of textile factories for the sake of mass imports by Bangladesh,
some reports revealed the presence of child labour. According to Hugh, there
were several factors of the factory owners’ using underage workers; they are relatively
more ardent and have fewer learning restraints compared to adults; their
working performance and skills are relatively better; absence of birth record
obscures their real age; it is hard to distinguish children from 14 to 16
because of malnutrition. Some illustrious fashion labels such as Levi-Strauss therefore
decided to cancel orders and imposed guidelines on factory owners that the use
of children as workforce was to be absolutely forbidden. However, what makes
this issue intricate was that too much political pressure and penalisation towards
Bangladesh only made the owners consider a hypothesis of “Bangladesh is a
victim of international conspiracy” (Hugh 2009), given the United States had
neither interest in welfare system for Bangladeshi children nor apprehension for
their living environment outside the sector of fashion industry.

it goes without saying that the western world tends to, or wants to criticise jeopardy
of human rights violation to the governments of emerging countries as a
political card, its double standard attitude has indirectly suppressed them
from ameliorating working environment. On the other hand, the governments as
well are being silent on that matter since the profits originating from fashion
industry constitute the most in the country’s staple economy and it is not
inside the borders but mainly the developed nations that has contributed to
push the amount.


people in the industrialised world might enjoy ‘a beautiful side of globalisation’,
for their lives seem to be methodically systemised and except for poverty do
they face no difficulty in satisfying clothing, food, and livelihood at the
same time in comparison with those in some of the extreme examples in the
developing world. As industrialisation becomes ripe, they are inclined to
pursue on reasonableness and efficiency at the same time so that they want to avoid
spending on clothing costing no less than $50. Hence, they normally do not
perceive the ‘history’ of every single garment they purchase in daily life.
That looks like a natural reaction, but at least it is a significant thing to
realise that to meet the excessive demands from the developed world, major fashion
retails fall into a price war. Jochen (2016) mentioned in his statement more clearly
that swift manufacturing and intensification of production are eventually forcing
young generation in economically prospected countries (mostly women) to work painstakingly
with overtime work nightmare (Figure 3).


mentioned in the first paragraph, we live in the utmost globalised world, but
what we define ‘globalism’ cannot be a plausible phrase if we take a gap of
power relationships between the developed and developing countries into
consideration. Beyond the issue of disparity in income levels so-called the
North-South Problem, moral responsibilities of those in developed countries is
needed to tackle on whole resolution of labour crisis. There must be a couple
of things to implement for this. To begin with, more fashion companies
positively need to unveil their lists of manufacturing plant and manufacturing
process in order to inform the purchasers how their garments have ‘travelled’
before stored in a retail. Second, as Liz and Gaynor (2006) suggested, more
mainstream media should broadcast the internal circumstances of the companies
so that consumers will be able to grasp what ethical issues are rampant in
particular companies, and the consumers themselves should call for improvement
of human rights of the workers. And third, instead of decrying for excessive
exploitation of workers and completely boycotting the products, consumers in
developed countries must make an agreement to allege they are not wishing for extremely
low-price clothing made by the sacrifice of the workers and popularise this
motto for fashion market in the future. By fulfilling these ideas, conceivably,
we will be able to prevent further disasters at workplaces in emerging economies
and the retailers’ moral responsibilities will be progressively ameliorated. And
we will learn to narrow the gap between the developed and emerging world, ultimately
step closer to a true meaning of ‘globalism’. 

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