Stitch by Stitch: A Visit to the Factory Floor

It takes me approximately two minutes to get ready in the morning

  • 00:00-00:30 – “what is clean and matching?” [flurry of options thrown on my bed]
  • 00:30-00:40 – “can I get away without ironing?” [exchange top and bottom pieces until I can]
  • 00:40-01:00 – “did I wear the same thing last week to a meeting with the same person?” [memory is a little slow in the morning]
  • 01:00-01:30 – put on clothes 
  • 01:30-01:40 – mirror check to confirm matching status
  • 01:40-01:50 – locate socks, shoes, accessories if any
  • 01:50-02:00 – ready! [now to more important things like packing lunch]

Last week I visited one of CASI’s partner organizations Shahi Exports in Mysore, Karnataka and I can say with total confidence that my two minute routine of wearing ready-made clothing for 30+ years will never be the same.

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18 lines, 2,000 employees, bolts of fabric stored for exactly 2.5 days of work flow, cad drawings, electric saws, stickers, stitching, collar turning, zipper attachments, flap ironing, color checking, washing and drying, folding, labeling, quality inspection (again and again and again), packing, shipping, and then to a shelf somewhere in the world!

This little run down did not do any sort of justice to the real process flow diagram but perhaps can give you a sense of how fast things are moving and how challenging it was for me to keep up. I had the pleasure of visiting the Mysore factory with Mr. Prasad, Senior Manager HR and Mr. Natesh, Manager Industrial Engineering who knows everything thing there is to know about running this factory. Mr. Natesh spent several years in Vietnam working in the garment industry before joining Shahi.

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Most of the people that work at this factory are women – they come from nearby villages and arrive at the factory by 9 am and leave by 5:30 pm. Their children might attend the nursery (creche) on the factory grounds and if any employee ever falls ill at work, they can easily drop by the doctor who is just a few steps away.

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Day in and day out most workers perform the same task – over and over and over and over. Whether it is operating a sewing machine, pressing a small piece of fabric, matching shades of colors on finished products, operating a larger machine, or running quality checks at different check points – the work is routine and steady and there is a lot of pressure to keep time. I learned that there are a few unique workers called “floaters” who are able to do several types of tasks and can fit in anywhere along the production line. Each line works together as a team to maximize their efficiency and they are rewarded as a group if they are able to improve their work.

Time is of essence, and Mr. Natesh has worked creatively to minimize the distance between employees to improve their team work.

IMG_3865I saw the Kanban system in action! Check out these cards here.

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My few hours spent at the factory with eyes wide open could have observed 16 different styles under process in that single day (likely only one color and size was moving thorough the factory line). It takes around 41 standard allowed minutes (SAM) from fabric cutting to final piece for a garment.

60 operations for these pants!

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Hundreds if not thousands of people handle the clothing we wear without us even knowing it. Have you ever thought about the people who put each and every stitch into what we wear everyday? What would they be doing if they were not sitting at a machine? What are their worries in life? How do they consider their jobs, their futures, their relationships with their families and colleagues? What do they want for their children? What could make their lives easier, better, happier? Are these even questions that people might ask themselves? Turns out, this is what CASI internships are all about.

Two days later I visited the Shahi Exports factory in Bangalore and was greeted with a warm celebratory welcome! I already knew that Amy, Chan, Kendra, and Valentine were hard-working CASI interns from the 2016 class with passion for listening, asking questions, and creating long-lasting relationships and friendships. It is certainly a gift to follow them a few months later and see how well they are remembered and loved!

This morning I am thinking differently about my jeans as I pull them on – the color that was oh so carefully selected before it got worn out, the designer who took a pattern and made it simpler for a factory line, the stitching that is tried and tested before advancing to repeat mode by the thousands, the zippers that were sourced specifically and shipped in bulk, the pockets, the flaps, the buttons, the logo, the ironing, the packing, the label.

Perhaps I’ll move a little more slowly as I pick through the options in my closet knowing that it took so many people to put it together.

More soon from my visit to unit number 12.

Aparna Wilder
Associate Director, CASI Student Programs and Outreach

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About Aparna Wilder

Associate Director, CASI Student Programs and Outreach After graduating from Penn, Aparna spent six years living and working in India. She volunteered with Indicorps and started her own production house, global rickshaw, that makes short films in collaboration with NGOs and non-profit organizations. Aparna is a TED India Fellow and holds an MPA from Columbia University.