Many many years ago, I traveled to Cambodia for my master’s thesis field research.

My thesis was on women workers in garment factories in Phnom Penh. I visited a couple of factories. I saw mostly women on factory floors and mostly men in sample rooms.

When I talked to these women (mainly migrant workers) to understand how they were living and what hopes they had, one of their biggest dreams was to learn how to… sew clothes. 

They wanted to learn this skill so they could make clothes for themselves and in the future, when they’ll go back to their village, they could make clothes for others and maybe earn an income. 

I was absolutely flabbergasted. I couldn’t comprehend why they wanted to learn how to sew when they make clothes all day since they were working in garment factories!!! 

In order to better understand this dear dream of theirs, we have to remember that the making of clothes in a factory is broken up into steps that are completed in sequence. Each worker works repetitively on a very specific step and rarely gets involved in the bigger picture of the production. 

They could work days, weeks, months, and even years repeating just one single step, never having an opportunity to add any breadth to their technical skills.

That probably explains why these women made garments, yet, these women were unable to make a piece of garment…

Later on, when I was developing my own brand, I worked with and visited many factories and workshops in various parts of the world. 

Whether these factories and workshops were making handbags, shoes, or garments, it was always the same old story: most of the assembly line workers were women when most of the pattern makers were men.

Pattern making is a bridge function between design and production. A pattern maker is like the architect of a garment. In addition to a higher salary, a pattern maker has the opportunity to learn new skills throughout his/her career.  

I’ve been asking around why pattern makers are mostly men. I’ve been told many times that it is a tradition as pattern making is a trade that fathers taught their sons and it’s been going on this way for generations.

Some people think it’s a “tradition”, what about if we try to think of it as a “status quo”?

This change of wording is important because this is how we could allow ourselves to challenge the status quo and create real change.

It’s been over 15 years since I went to Cambodia and I witnessed for the first time this imbalance in the factory work leading to a huge opportunity gap between men and women.

Change is on the way, slowly but surely. 

Today’s article is dedicated to Josie Mackenzie, Bai Zamri, Ihita Shandilya, and Mati Ventrillon for the spectacular work they are doing with their business to accelerate change in the garment industry.

creative change garment industry

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