There are approximately 789,000 textile, apparel, and furnishings workers in the United States. Job growth statistics indicate rapidly declining work opportunities over the next ten years. This is due primarily to competition from abroad and to increased worker productivity achieved through increasingly sophisticated technological advances.
Some textile occupations will not suffer as great a decline. Dry cleaners, upholsterers, and laundromats or laundry facilities are expected to offer more work opportunities than other textile, apparel, and furnishings jobs.
Fibers, cloth, and upholstery materials are created by textile, apparel, and furnishings workers who then work the materials into a variety of goods. In addition to providing the basic material for clothing, linens, and other fabric products, textiles are essential in the manufacture of roofing materials, tires, and other products made from composites. Textiles are the basis of towels, bed linens, hosiery, socks, and nearly all clothing, but they also are key components in products ranging from roofing to tires.
Textiles, apparel, and furnishings include fabric manufacturers, clothing designers and creators, upholsterers, laundry and dry-cleaners, and even heavy industrial machine operators. Of these subgroups, laundry and dry-cleaning workers who launder clothing, linens, curtains, blankets, and other fabric goods, including leather products, are the largest subgroup. Textile or garment pressers usually work in laundering or dry cleaning businesses, starching and pressing items to dispatch wrinkles and sharpen creases before packaging the items and writing up the bill. Tailors and dressmakers, who typically work in department stores or laundries, make alterations, or repair damaged clothing.
Far more apparel workers are employed in manufacturing than cleaning or retail. Patternmakers turn a designer prototype into component pattern pieces to lay on fabric lengths.
Computers outline the pattern pieces and indicate details such as pleat position, pockets, collars, and buttonholes. They are also responsible for adjusting pattern dimensions in order to create the same garment in a variety of sizes with the least amount of fabric waste.
The manufacture of bolts of fabric and other textiles begins with fiber preparation. Machines that extrude and form glass or synthetic fibers are prepared and loaded with rayon, fiberglass, or polymer liquids that are pulled into filaments. Machines that create textile from natural fibers are set up to clean, card, and comb the materials and organize them into short lengths so that they can be twisted or woven into yarns. Dyeing machines are controlled by operators who monitor washing, bleaching, and coloring of the materials. Some of the product is loaded onto knitting or weaving machines, monitored by operators who load yarn and make repairs to weak or broken yarn lengths. Textile cutting machine operators cut the patterned pieces for sewing machine operators to assemble into finished garments. The final step is inspecting the finished products, removing loose threads and other debris, and packaging the items.
Shoe machine operators follow similar steps such as cutting, joining, reinforcing, and polishing the goods. Cobblers work in shops to repair shoes, bags, luggage, saddles, and other leather goods.
Upholsterers make or restore upholstered furniture. Construction begins with wooden frames that are webbed and into which springs are tied. Batting or foam covers the springs, and then fabric is cut and stapled, glued, or sewn on.
Textile, apparel, and furnishings workers mostly work 40 hours per week, some on day shifts and others in the evening or on weekends. The types of work environments vary widely. Tailors and dressmakers are often found in retail stores that are well lit and clean, while manufacturing mills and plants can be noisy, hot, and poorly ventilated. Newer factories have remedied some of these conditions. Machine operators must wear protective eye and ear devices, as well as ventilators because of the amount of particulates in the air. Many machines are dangerously fast; workers must not wear clothing that could get tangled in rapidly moving parts. Some of these jobs are physically challenging. Workers may be on their feet for most of the shift, while others must sit for extended periods. Bending and pulling can cause muscle or skeletal discomfort, and repetitive motion can result in carpel tunnel syndrome.
Cleaning establishments are hot, loud, and expose workers to dangerous chemicals. Leather workers and upholsterers must be careful of sharp tools.
Many of these workers may not have a high school diploma and must learn on the job. Those on the fast track for advancement to supervisory or managerial positions, however, have postsecondary training. Excellent hand-eye coordination coupled with manual dexterity and the stamina for repetitive tasks are important traits. Many employers have begun to cross train employees on several machines.
Salaries vary widely, depending on the specific job. From high to low, the approximate median hourly pay is as follows:
Patternmakers–$18; textile knitting and weaving machine operators–$13; extruding and forming setters–$15; upholsters–$ 14; shoe machine operators–$12.50; tailors and dressmakers–$12.00; textile machine setters and operators–$12; textile dyeing machine operators–$12; leather workers–$11.00; textile cutting machine setters and operators–$12; hand sewers–$11; sewing machine operators–$10; pressers–$9.50; laundry and dry-cleaning workers–$10.