UBC Theses and Dissertations
Flexible manufacturing in Vancouver's clothing industry Mather, Charles
Flexible production techniques have been implemented in a number of industries in response to the crisis following the long post World War Two boom. These new methods have recently captured the attention of social scientists from a broad range of perspectives. In the large North American automobile industry, where flexible manufacturing is best documented, firms are introducing programmable equipment, work teams are replacing the assembly line, inventories are kept at a minimum, improving turnaround time and quality are important goals, and markets are smaller as specific consumers are targeted. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the experience of the automobile industry is not representative of other manufacturing sectors. The implementation of the new techniques is likely to be different where the organisation of production is different, the structure of the industry is less concentrated, and where norms of consumption are distinct. This thesis focuses on the clothing industry in Vancouver, British Columbia. For this study, interviews were conducted with fourteen clothing firms in the city, ten workers (most of whom were Chinese female immigrants), union officials, equipment salespeople and a government official. The primary research question was to understand the pervasiveness of the new techniques and their effects on workers and the industry in Vancouver. The results of this study suggest that it is overwhelmingly the very large fashion firms that have invested in flexible machinery. These firms are large enough to lay out the capital for the new machines which improve turnaround time and flexibility, both vital for manufacturers of fashion apparel. A second advantage of the equipment for factory owners is that it reduces their dependence on skilled male workers who command the highest wages on the shop floor. For women workers in the industry (machinists), the new machines simply speed up work, making an already debilitating job worse. On the other hand, many smaller fashion firms are unable to raise the capital for the equipment even though the potential benefits are significant. In addition, standardised clothing manufacturers in Vancouver have not purchased the new technology because it does not suit their needs. Firms without the new technology weather downturns in the economy primarily through workers in the secondary labour market, which, in Vancouver is dominated by immigrant women. At this stage it seems that are barriers to the widespread implementation of flexible equipment in Vancouver clothing industry.
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