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Langsey Newsletter
Where is the Next Generation of Fashion Manufacturers?

A recent conversation with a friend left me thinking about the impact of the younger generation on China’s fashion manufacturing industry.

My friend Ms Zhao, a factory owner who I have worked with for many years, was in Australia to visit her only son at university here.

Guess what her son studies? Not textile, not fashion, not manufacturing, not even an MBA… but animation!

“That’s cool,” I said.

However, Zhao didn’t look so happy.

“My son will never come back to help me with my factory. Meaning I’ll have to sell the factory when I’m too old to work,” she said.

Zhao has been running a woollen knitwear factory in Jiangsu Province for more than 20 years, but without help from the younger generation, she will have to let the factory go. And she is not the only one concerned about this problem.

Not only in China but worldwide, young people love studying fashion design. Becoming a fashion designer seems to be a cool career to them, but fashion manufacturing is decidedly not. To young people, manufacturing is boring and tough, not sexy!

So where is the next generation of Chinese fashion manufacturers? Who will keep the industry going?

Chinese Manufacturing Families – A Background

To understand more about this issue, let’s first take a look at the importance of the manufacturing industry for Chinese families.

China has become the world’s largest manufacturer, and is well-known for its many factories, including fashion and apparel.

Apparel factories are normally located in countryside areas of China, where transportation is undeveloped, and living surroundings are crude. Factory owners generally start their career being junior sewing workers in production lines. Often with only basic education, they have the opportunity to be promoted to team leaders, production managers, and finally general managers – if they work hard and think smart.

I admire the hard-working values and ethics of apparel factory owners. They constitute the mainstay industry in China and are normally the biggest tax-payers in their local towns. They always work extremely hard, often working overtime every day. Their everyday life is filled with a vast array of activities, from yarns to buttons, from sewing machines to irons, from local government inspections to workers’ politics.

They may dress very simply and look like normal farmers, while being responsible for the whole world’s latest fashions.

China’s New Generation are Leaving the Industry Behind

Many Chinese families have been factory owners for generations, with each generation passing on ownership to the next.

However, these days we’re seeing less interest from the younger generation in taking over the family factory. Instead, young people are choosing different areas of study and work, as with Zhao’s only son.

Among the many factory owners that I know, most of their children have studied (or are planning to study) in big cities or even overseas. Go back to their hometown? Inherit their parents’ apparel factory? No way!

It’s very common for factory owners to invest any money they make into giving their children (normally only one child) the best education. This is to advance the chances of their children finding a “high-end” job, such as an office job in a big city.

In the last decade, more factory owners have been striving to send their children to the US, Australia and other developed countries.

While this is fortunate for the children of factory owners, what does it mean for the factory owners themselves? And the future of the family’s apparel factory?

Will Chinese Manufacturing Follow in the Footsteps of Europe and the US?

In the United States of America, the size of the textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. The same can be said for Europe, resulting in the rise of Asia as the major supplier of textiles and apparel in the world and the emergence of China as a key exporter.

In fact, traditional textile manufacturing industries in both the United States and Europe have wilted in the face of increased competition from Asia. Whereas 25 years ago, Europe and the US dominated the global textiles industry, today most of the world’s production and trade is in Asia – and more specifically, China.

The decline of manufacturing in those countries can be linked to the shortage of young workers in those countries at that time – which makes the current situation in China even more concerning. Will China soon follow the same route as Europe and the US?

Unfortunately, wherever the economy has developed, apparel manufacturing industry is soon kicked out and moved to a less expensive place. First, from the US and Europe to China, and now from China to South East Asia.

One day the labour cost in South East Asia may also increase to a higher level –raising the question of where manufacturing will move to next?

The Future of Fashion Manufacturing

Some people ask if high technology can solve the problem, replacing the next generation, while also saving them from the fatigue of mechanical work.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, we are already seeing apparel sewing robots making t-shirts and jeans for humans. But experts recognise that there is at least 30 years until robots could take over all the apparel manufacturing jobs completely.

In the meantime, there is no doubt that we still need human workers in the fashion manufacturing industry. We still need a new generation of fashion manufacturers.

I believe the fashion industry has to pay more respect to manufacturers, acknowledge their work, and pay them fairly, if we are to encourage the younger generation to continue working in the industry.



Li Zhang
Langsey Company
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: +61 402 279 257


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