Mass production is ruling the fashion industry. In Kahramanmaraş, I visited one of the biggest production companies of Turkey - İskur, which produces for Lacoste, S.Oliver, Otto Group, H&M, sometimes Primarkt/Pennys and Boyner. With 3000 people (260 of those in the garment sector) it is one of the biggest and most successful companies in the mass production.
When I arrived at İskur I looked at a surprisingly normal brown factory house. I entered, I walked through a little hallway with two or three offices and met Hakan Kalinkütük, the marketing manager of İskur. He opened another door in the back and ssssssuuuuuuummmmm
We entered a hall of buzzing sewing mashies.
Hakan Kalinkütük took me to the other end of the İskur factory and said that is where it starts. So here are the different steps of mass production of clothes:
Every piece of clothing starts with the fabric. The most popular fabric in mass production of clothing is cotton. In Turkey they grow cotton. Still, after 1990 when the oil became more popular, most of the cotton in Turkish clothes productions was imported from the US - because there are bigger fields with big, modern machines (one machine has actually the size of the a hut or a small house). The more efficient harvest proecces makes the cotton from the US cheaper than the cotton grown on the relatively small fields in Turkey, where cotton still gets hand picked often times. Still, climate-wise Turkey would be perfect to grow cotton.
At İskur fabrics are only stored with an incoming order, that saves stocking costs. The company itself started in 1988 as a spinning factory and produces today 4 tons each month. 5% of the fabric is used for their own yarns. The rest of produced fabrics are sold to low level productions.
Cutting produces a lot of loss in materials. To be more efficient in this step of production, machines calculate the cutting to minimize the waste of material.
If you look at this from the point of pollution of clothes waste, this a very good innovation. On the other habd it can be a pity: In some factories in India sewers get payed with those left overs from the clothes production, which is also why you can find so many blankets on Indian markets.
Printing is still mostly done in a maual work order, even though printing can be done by computers and laser. But this becomes effective only at such a high demand on clothes that it is not very frequently used. Especially because most labels tend to make "mini collections". Fast fashion brands like H&M produce such mini collections every week. And trends in fashion tend more towards individualism - so a small number of the same shirt supports the feeling of uniqueness - it is actually weird, because Hakan told me that most of the brands go shopping and look which pieces sell best and copy designs.
Sewing is the essential work which is talked about when it comes to fair/unfair working conditions. İskur is a very modern factory. As usual in the sewing part of factories, every worker has to care for sewing one part of a shirt (for example only sewing shoulder parts) and works in a line with 10 to 15 other workers sewing the next parts. That's the most efficient way to do it - any economist will know, that is just following the Smith Law of labour step diversity.
Quality differences are measured in time. While the Lacoste pays more to let shirts produce in a longer time with more controls, S.Oliver pays for a quicker production, which means every worker has less time for one shirt and of course they also save time on controls on the sewing in between.
At İskur 1000 shirts get produced daily in six lines, 220.000 pieces each month. Orders generally take 8 weeks, but can be done in 4 weeks.
Time is the main pressure on workers in poorer and more dependent countries like India or Bangladesh. But also in Turkey - especially Istanbul where most clothing productions of Turkey take place. The fake brands are still popular in Turkey and have a price range of 1-10 Euro in selling. It's a high demand but too many concurrents in the Istanbul market who are willing to work for less. This causes problems for Istanbul like bad payment, bad conditions for workers and child labor of mostly Syrian refugee kids. "Who can make more for less in shorter time" also became a business concept for companies like Primak and others, that always give their orders to different production factories.: Always to the one, which prduces the clothes for the best price.
The Label is the one thing which makes one shirt different from another in being an original or fake.
Labels like Lacoste are very strict in their label policies - and they have to. From the marketing point of view the label is the promise of quality, which justifies the price.
Labels like the Lacoste crocodile get produced separately and are delivered counted to the clothes production - if one Label gets lost the factory has to pay each with more than 20€ back to the brand.
The machine for making labels like the Lacoste crocodile is actually the most expensive machine at the İskur factory - it is a fine sewing machine for 30.000€.
Karamanmaraş is south east of Turkey, not far from the Syrian border and belongs to one of the regions, which gets governmental support. Clothing production in Karhamanmaraş is about 20% cheaper than İstanbul. 30-45% of the working costs are paid back to the factories, same with the used energy and electricity costs where 15% will be paid back to the factories. Still location matters. Istanbul is located close to Europe and has a harbor. Lacoste’s production market is based with 50% in Istanbul and uses places like Karhamanmaraş to outsource resources.
So but what is the production price and what's the selling price?
For example one shirt of S.Oliver is produced for 2€ at İskur and sold for 16€ by S.Oliver.
But the price on the label becomes less and less the price with which is calculated in business concepts - most of the clothes are sold discounted up to 70% and the rest is going to outlet centers, where mostly the pieces of more unpopular sizes land.
So if you look at mass production in general, it is less about the price (which seems a changeable number in matter of time) it is more about time. The time a piece needs to get produced sets the most pressure for anyone working in the value chain of Fast Fashion. To me it seems that if you really want to bring money to the person who sews your clothes, then you have to pay that person him/herself.