Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Succeeding at Sewing; the Most Sweeping Reform in Industrial History Leaves China Poised to Rule the Garment Trade

By Wehrfritz, George | Newsweek International, January 10, 2005 | Go to article overview

Succeeding at Sewing; the Most Sweeping Reform in Industrial History Leaves China Poised to Rule the Garment Trade


Wehrfritz, George, Newsweek International


Byline: George Wehrfritz and Alexandra A. Seno (With Sudip Mazumdar in New Delhi)

John Cheh sells the shirt on his back. As chairman of Esquel China Holdings in Hong Kong, he runs a top producer of men's woven cotton shirts--or category 340Z under the World Trade Organization quota system that expired last week. "It's a high-end shirt with high yarn count. It has the feel of quality," he says, stroking his collar. Sold by Nordstrom for about $50, the label reads: MADE IN MALAYSIA.

That claim complies with the quotas hammered out by trade negotiators over the decades, to be sure. But Cheh's shirt--along with millions of other garments now sold in the United States and Europe--is a camouflaged Chinese export. The cotton grew in Xinjiang, became yarn at a spinning mill in the Silk Road oasis town of Turfan and journeyed some 3,000 kilometers by truck to be woven into fabric in China's Pearl River Delta. In local garment factories, thousands of young women cut the cloth into patterns, stitch panels together and gather buttons, zippers and clasps into kits that are then "finished" by workers who sew the pieces together in nations like Malaysia. Even the MADE IN MALAYSIA labels are made in China.

It was this wasteful supply chain that the World Trade Organization aimed to sever back in 1994, when it resolved to abolish quotas that have contorted the global garment industry like a bonsai tree. Quotas officially expired on Jan. 1 in what amounts to the largest simultaneous industrial rationalization in the history of, well, industry. What comes next is globalization's first great test of the new millennium. Most forecasts portend dramatic change: billions in savings on production costs, the death of an industry of middlemen who specialized in quota dodging and falling prices for shirts, shorts, scarves and socks as manufacturing consolidates in the nations that do it best. Nearly all analysts believe China will come out on top in a battle for control of the $350 billion industry, but not for the reasons you may think.

More than 60 countries now export garments to the West, and several dozen are likely to be driven out of the textile trade (following story). Nations like Cambodia that bet their futures on the promise of preferential access to U.S. and European consumers have now lost that special privilege. Unions and lobbyists around the world are fighting to erect new barriers to slow the exodus of jobs and contracts to China, claiming that its current and expected future dominance is built on a system of state-run "sweatshops," implying rock-bottom wages in miserable factories.

This is a distortion, at best. China's textile advantage has little to do with its wages (which are considerably higher than those in India, Indonesia or Vietnam) or even with labor costs more generally (which account for only about 10 percent of the cost of a shirt). Recent outbreaks of labor unrest in the Pearl River Delta are a story of worker expectations rising faster than wages--not "a race to the bottom," as some activists would have it.

What truly distinguishes China are its state-of-the-art factories, its rapidly improving transportation network--and its talent for exploiting the absurdities of the quota system. China estimates that it now turns out more than 20 billion finished garments a year, roughly four pieces of clothing for every person on Earth--the largest output by a single country ever recorded. And that figure does not even include the uncounted billions of kits that end up as clothes "made in" Malaysia, Mauritius or the Maldives.

China's current dominance of the textile trade extends well beyond its own official quotas, and lays the basis for its future expansion. The mainland's garment industry has grown 500 percent since 1990, from $10 billion to $50 billion, and now has 40,000 clothing manufacturers that employ some 15 million workers. In a recent Goldman Sachs poll of large American retailers, most expected China's share of the U.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Succeeding at Sewing; the Most Sweeping Reform in Industrial History Leaves China Poised to Rule the Garment Trade
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.