Fashion Education in China: An Exclusive Dialogue with Fashion Majors from the Donghua University

(Student fashion show–from College of Fashion and Design at DHU)

To enhance students’ global awareness and facilitate international exchange, we are very pleased to have three special guests from the Donghua University (DHU) to answer questions proposed by FASH455 students regarding the fashion education in China:

  • Caixia Chen: a PhD student in the College of Fashion and Design at DHU. Caixia received her B.S. in fashion design and engineering from DHU as well. Her research interests include fashion marketing and fashion supply chain management.
  • Zongyu Xiong: a M.S. student in the College of Fashion and Design at DHU. Her research interests include cost management in the fashion supply chain.
  • Jingjing Wang: a freshman majoring in Fashion Design and Engineering in the College of fashion and design at DHU.

Donghua University (DHU), located in downtown Shanghai and formerly known as the China Textile University, has one of the oldest and most prestigious fashion programs in China.

Question from FASH455: Why do you choose to be a fashion major—personal interest or guaranteed job offer?

Caixia: Personal interest.

Zongyu: Personal interest is the main reason above all. And I also hope that I can engage in fashion-related jobs in the future.

Jingjing: I choose to be a fashion major because of my personal interest. But my future work may not be in the fashion area.

Question from FASH455: What classes do you take as a fashion major in China?

Caixia: Fashion marketing, fashion manufacture management, fashion buyer, fashion English, Fashion trade, fashion forecasting, draping and pattern-making.

Actually, the Donghua Universty offers two fashion majors. One is fashion design which focuses on designing. The students majored in fashion design are good at drawing. Another one is fashion engineering, which focuses on draping, pattern-making, fashion trade, fashion marketing etc.

Zongyu: Global marketing of clothing, Market research and forecast, Consumer psychology, Clothing Materials, CAD, Fashion Illustration, Clothing craft, Draping and some theoretical course.

Jingjing: So far I’ve taken clothing marketing and merchandising, garment production management, fashion retail management, etc..

Question from FASH455: What is the percentage of fashion majors in your school that receive job offers immediately after finishing their studies?

Caixia: As I know,  around 100 fashion engineering majors graduate from the college of fashion and design at DHU every year. Among them, about 50% receive job offers immediately after finishing their studies, and about 20% will continue to pursue a master degree in China. Another 20% will choose to study abroad.

Zongyu: According to the official statistics released by DHU, the employment rate reached 92.18% for the total 729 class of 2015 graduated from the college of fashion and design.

Jingjing: About 90%.

Question from FASH455: How do your professors tell you about the fashion industry in the United States?

Caixia: U.S. is one of the largest textile and apparel importers in the world. China — by far is the largest supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S..

Zongyu: I’m sorry for my limited knowledge. I just know a little about the recent trend of American textile industry moving back to the U.S..

Jingjing: The fashion industry in the United States is quite developed, and it has an important place in the world. However, it also meets bottlenecks at its present development stage. Some classic brands are managed less well than in previous years.

Question from FASH455: How do you think globalization has affected China, especially its textile and apparel industry?

Caixia: It is of grave concerns to some Chinese manufacturers that more and more international buyers now switch to source from lower-cost countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. However, in my opinion, Chinese manufacturers still enjoy competitive advantages. For example, Chinese suppliers can provide better quality products and more value-added services. Furthermore, by adopting new technologies, Chinese factories are able to offset the impact of increasing production cost through improved efficiency and product quality.

On the other hand, globalization has made it more difficult for Chinese fashion companies to develop its own brands. In particular, the local Chinese fashion brands are facing grant challenges with the flood of international brands to the Chinese market.

Zongyu: For Chinese companies,  globalization not only has resulted in more competition pressures,  but also has created more opportunities to get access to the world marketplace.  Chinese companies realize that they have to embrace a global version and develop high quality and innovative products so as to stand out from the market competition.

In terms of the Chinese consumers, globalization has brought them with more choices of better quality and lower-priced products.

Jingjing: Globalization is a two-edged sword, creating both opportunities and challenges for China. In the past, low-cost labor is a major competitive advantage for China. But now China’s cost advantage is gradually diminishing compared with other less developed countries whereas China is still not “strong enough” to compete on technology with advanced economies.

Questions from FASH455: What are the working conditions of garment factories in China?

Caixia: Below are the pictures I took when visiting some garment factories in China. From these pictures, you can see how the working conditions look like.

factory 1

factory 2

Zongyu: Dragons and fishes jumbled together, meaning there are companies in either good or bad conditions. But compared with the past, working conditions in the Chinese garment factories overall have much improved. Most factories have met the 5S (5s is the name of a workplace organization method that uses a list of five words: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain) or 6S(5s plus safety) requirements.

Jingjing: Following the principle of 5s management, Chinese garment factories overall are getting cleaner, more orderly and more modernized.

Question from FASH455: Does it bother the Chinese people that American companies send work to China to produce cheap labor?

Zongyu: It is just my personal view: exporting textile and apparel is necessary for China as a developing country to generate economic growth and create job opportunities. But China is also transforming and upgrading its economy.

Jingjing: I think it is a normal phenomenon in the developing world. Actually, Chinese companies have started to offshore production to less developed countries with cheaper labor.

Questions from Caixia, Zongyu and Jingjing for FASH455 students:

  1. What do Americans think of “Made in China”?
  2. Do the classes you take help with your career preparation?
  3. Have you taken any internship classes at UD? What did you do?

I am Textiles and Apparel

This video is a recent joint effort by faculty in the textile and apparel (T&A) programs across the country with the hope to inspire critical thinking on the future of the T&A academic discipline and help others know better about what we are doing in terms of teaching and scholarships.

How should the T&A academic discipline define itself in the 21st century? What are our unique contributions to the university community, the society and the world? How are we different from programs such as “Art & Design” and “Business”? What is your vision for the future of the T&A academic discipline? Please feel free to share your view.

How to Save “Made in NYC”: Sewing Skill or New Technology?

The video is a recorded panel discussion hosted by the Texworld USA in July 2015 on the topic of apparel “Made in NYC”. Most panelists have years of experiences working in NYC as a fashion designer, including:

  • Eric Johnson, Director, Fashion & Arts Teams Center for Economic Transformation, NYC Economic Development Corporation
  • Erin Kent, Manager of Programs at The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
  • Michelle Feinberg, NY Embroidery Studio
  • (The event was moderated by Arthur Friedman, Senior Editor, Textiles and Trade, WWD)

According to the panelists:

  • “Made in NYC” have a bright future in two niche markets: sample production for fashion designers and high-quality craftsmanship clothing. As one panelist put it “Designer needs to have tangible garment to show to the buyer”. However, there is no mention about “Made in NYC” serving the mass market in the discussion.
  • Two factors are regarded as critical to the survival of “Made in NYC”: training more professions with sewing skills and investing/upgrading equipment and technologies.
  • In support of the development of the local apparel manufacturing sector, several initiatives funded by the city government and private sources have been launched, including NYC Fashion Production Fund (provide financial support to young fashion designers), Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (support purchasing equipment and skill training) and Design Entrepreneurs NYC (equip fashion designers with the skills they need to successfully run a fashion label, including marketing, operations, and financial management).

However, the future of “Made in NYC” is not without major challenges:

  • One panelist lament that “fashion schools do not teach students much on how to make things”. However, another truth is college students today face a high opportunity cost of spending times on practicing sewing skills. This is particularly the case when most fashion jobs available for college graduates in the U.S. are business or merchandising focused. The constant upgrading of technology and manufacturing equipment in the fashion industry further raise the question as to whether learning traditional sewing skills is a worthwhile investment.
  • The brand image of “Made in NYC” overall is still less prestigious than “Made in Italy” and “Made in France” in the eyes of consumers.
  • Fashion designers in NCY heavily rely on imported fabrics (including those imported from Europe) today. Some questions can be asked: what is the meaning of clothing “Made in NYC” in the 21st century global economy? Should NCY promote the development of local textile manufacturing? If so, how to make it happen? Or should fashion designers in NCY support lower tariff rate and removal of trade barriers on imported fabrics?

Background (adapted from the New York City Economic Development Corporation)

New York City’s fashion industry employs 180,000 people, accounting for 6% of the city’s workforce and generating $10.9 billion in total wages, with tax revenues of $2 billion. An estimated 900 fashion companies are headquartered in the city, and in 2012, there were 13,800 fashion establishments here. Home to more than 75 major fashion trade shows plus thousands of showrooms, New York City attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Apparel Industry is Not All about Labor Cost

While most discussions on improving corporate social responsibility practices in the apparel industry still focus on conventional solutions like higher labor standards and more effective monitoring programs, a recent Boston Consulting Group report suggests supply chain innovation also has its role to play.

One key argument of the report is: Although cost still matters in apparel sourcing, lower-cost can be achieved through means other than seeking cheap labor. For example:

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Engendering end-to-end supply chain efficiency through managing raw materials. Apparel companies may work with their suppliers further down the supply chain to optimize fabric selection, which usually account for as much as 60-70 percent of the total cost of a finished garment (v.s. 30-40 percent of labor cost). Some apparel companies have started to use fewer yarns and weight classes so as to reduce fabric count and lower down sourcing cost. Some other companies are realizing significant cost reduction by timing orders so as to level the load over the course of the year. [Note: looks like Uniqlo’s model]

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Building an integrated supply chain. As cited in the report, to balance sourcing cost and speed to market, one major apparel retailer builds 15 to 20 percent of the season’s styles and pre-positions about two-thirds of its raw material before the season (both in-house and from production partners). During the season, the company analyzes sales, staying in constant communication with its stores and with the design team. It resupplies items that are selling well through accelerated production and delivery, usually within three to four days. Designers then create new styles by adapting the best sellers using the pre-positioned material. [Note: looks like Zara’s model]

Innovating ways of production. The report suggests that bonding and gluing technologies (i.e. use bonded adhesive films and processes such as ultrasonic heating and high-frequency radiation to fuse together layers of fabric) can produce an entire small garment in 30 to 40 percent less time than conventional cut-and-sew. Digital technologies such as digital prototyping of textile designs can also significantly help apparel makers reduce waste and boost efficiency in pattern making. The potential application of 3D printing may further allow apparel makers to produce smaller batches, and possibly even allow for made-to-order production of individually designed and sized garments. This would not only allow companies to match the market’s growing need for speed, but also reduce the costs of retail inventory surpluses and associated price reductions.

Two additional thinking based on the report:

First, much attention has been given to the changing business environment of the apparel industry, such as rising labor cost in Asia, shifting market growth towards emerging economies and more sophisticated consumers’ demand in the era of omni-channel retailing. But what if the nature of the apparel industry is also changing: if one day labor cost is no longer a key factor in deciding where to produce and apparel production itself is no longer labor-intensive at all? Although automation of apparel production was not achieved in the 20st century, it may not be something totally impossible in the 21st century. We need to have bold thinking here.

Second, while the apparel industry is innovating its business model (i.e. the way to produce, the way to deliver products and the way to serve its customers), T&A educational programs also need to embrace innovative thinking. For example: are traditional course offerings sufficient enough (or still relevant) to prepare students’ job readiness in the 21st century? How to proactively respond to the changing nature of the apparel industry which has started to adopt more and more new technologies? What if we redefine the meaning of “T&A” majors and redesign the model of preparing the workforce for the apparel industry? (just like the question: for wearable technology, shall IT companies make apparel or apparel companies make IT products?)

Study Suggests Positive Social Impact of the Garment Sector on the Lives of Bangladesh Women

While our case study 1 focused on the problem of corporate social responsibility practices in the Bangladesh garment sector, a recent study based on examining 1,395 households in 60 Bangladeshi villages in 2009 suggests that the growth of the garment sector has resulted in positive impacts on the lives of Bangladeshi women.

Specifically, the study finds that:

1) Girls exposed to the garment sector delay early marriage and childbirth at early ages (12-18). Many studies have suggested the negative welfare implications of early marriage and childbirth.

2) Girls exposed to the garment sector gain extra years of education. According to the study, on average, one additional year of working in the garment sector statistically will lead to a 0.48 years of education for girls. The authors further suggest that increased demand for skills in garment factories was one of the main driving forces behind such a positive correlation.

As argued by the authors, in developing countries such as Bangladesh, social policies such as education are often tied to trade policy and industrial policy.

However, one another interesting finding is that the average wage level of respondents working in the garment sector was almost 22% lower than those working in the non-garment sector in Bangladesh.

So, based on our case study and the above research findings, do you have any new thoughts about improving the corporate social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry? Do you think Western retailers shall stop sourcing apparel from Bangladesh because of the reported problem of factory safety and workers’ working condition? Please feel free to share your views.

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EU Commission: Skills for Jobs in the EU Textile and Clothing Industry to Evolve

In a recent analysis report, the EU Commission foresees that skills needed by jobs in the EU textile and clothing industry will continue to evolve from 2013 to 2025. Specifically, the report argues that:

First, employment in the EU textile and clothing sector is forecast to decline by 13.4% from 2.5 million in 2013 to 2.1million in 2025. Even with shrinking employment levels, because of the need to replace nearly 1 million workers forecast to retire or leave the sector, about 611,000 job openings are anticipated from 2013 to 2025.

Second, employment in the EU textile and clothing sector is no just declined, but also evolved. From 2013 to 2025, demand for “crafted and related occupations” as well as “plant and machine operators and assemblers” will decline 34% and 13% respectively, whereas job openings for “technician and associated professional occupations” are estimated to grow at a modest rate. Among the estimated 611,000 job openings, 93% will require high or medium level qualifications.

Third, in terms of specific skills needed by the EU textile and clothing sector based on where the sector might progress towards 2020:

1) Technical production competencies will remain central to recruitment with increased focus on the demand for versatile staffs that can operate across different workstations.

2) Supply chain management, business, sales and marketing skills (including the skills in international trade) are growing in importance. For many EU textile and clothing companies, “trade has taken place of production”.

3) The EU textile and clothing industry is further expecting skills on technology, innovation and sustainability. Leading technology-led areas include mass customization, 3D body measurement, advanced CAD and eCommerce technologies, internet infrastructures for custom-tailored clothing and business-to-consumer eCommerce among retailers.

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Review & Comments: “The People’s Republic of Capitalism”

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  • How do you like the documentary “The people’s Republic of Capitalism” we watched last Thursday?
  • What impressed you most? What surprised you most?
  • How do you compare your life with any characters in the documentary? (the Missourian lady, her boss who moved factories to China, the Mexicans who worked on US cotton farms, the Chinese girl working on the production line, the Chinese high school student who comes from a poor rural area and her mother….)
  • What arguments made in the video you do NOT agree?

Please feel free to share your thoughtful comments and I look forward to exciting discussions with you.