Industrial charm
By Daria Glazkova  ·  2024-01-10  ·   Source: NO.2 JANUARY 11, 2024
Daria Glazkova tries on cashmere products at a factory in Shanghai (COURTESY PHOTO)

When people buy a new piece of clothing, how often do they think about how and where it was made?

We often fail to see the direct connection between familiar things and industries. Most of us do not think about where water and electricity come from before they reach our homes. Most of the time, we do not bother to think about how goods get into stores; people just buy and consume them. Everything humanity uses today, all those objects and phenomena on which our existence directly depends, is the result of the work of numerous industrial enterprises and facilities.

I am a supply chain professional from Russia and a connoisseur of industrial beauty. It is fair to say that sustainable industrial production is my passion. While in Shanghai, I had the opportunity to visit a local textile factory near Pudong International Airport.

It should be mentioned that textile factories are not common in Shanghai due to extremely high rents. It is generally accepted that Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, is the textile capital of China. But the one I walked into in Shanghai contributes to the cashmere market—mostly sweaters and cardigans.

As anyone who has worn a cashmere sweater can attest, there is no other material that feels softer and more comfortable against the skin. Cashmere is synonymous with comfort and warmth, and, contrary to popular belief, it is only suitable for winter. It is interesting to note that cashmere itself is not made from the "wool" of sheep, as many believe. It is made from the down (undercoat) of a special breed of mountain goat that is hand-collected.

These goats have two layers of hair: guard and cashmere. The guard hair is the outer layer which is thick and wiry. The inner layer is the cashmere layer.

However, the weather conditions must be severe: a very cold winter and a very hot summer. Otherwise, the fluff becomes thicker and loses its unique features. Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is a major producer of high-quality down.

Here are some interesting statistics. It is worth noting that the amount of fluff from one goat is very small, about 150-200 grams. And you need around 400-500 grams for one cashmere pullover—in other words, the undercoat from two to five mountain goats.

Having explained the basics, let me take you into the factory itself. It is located on the second floor of an industrial building. A freight elevator takes you to your destination. Huge windows, bright rows of fluorescent lights and knitting machines. Variegated and pastel colors of skeins of thread greet the onlooker. The workshop is a large space, including a visitor room and a showroom, as well as the necessary staff facilities such as a kitchen and changing rooms.

There is also a separate workshop where the knitting equipment is installed. The technician sets a program for the semi-automatic knitting machine. According to the program, the machine starts knitting parts of the sweater. Then other parts (sleeves, cuffs and main body) are sewn together with the help of yet another special machine. Rigorous quality control, brand labeling, dry washing and ironing are done. The product is ready to meet the customer. 

I am sure there is always a place for aesthetics in industrial production. It just needs a little more attention and curiosity for the ordinary things. It is made by people, courtesy of their hands and minds, following the consistent laws of nature.

Last but not least, we live in an era of environmental awareness and sustainability. There are simple things each of us can do to take better care of the world around us and make it healthier.

Supporting local producers whenever possible is one of them. Cashmere is the perfect example of how to avoid so-called "fast fashion." It is grown and made in China, and will keep you warm for years to come.

The author is a Russian student at East China Normal University in Shanghai 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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