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Textile, Apparel, and Furnishings Occupations - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Some production workers may become first-line supervisors. A small number or workers in shoemaking and leatherworking occupations begin as workers or repairers and advance to salaried supervisory and managerial positions. Some open their own shops. These workers are more likely to succeed if they understand business practices and management and offer good customer service, in addition to their technical skills.

Upholsterers, too, can open their own shops. However, the upholstery business is highly competitive, and successfully operating a shop is difficult. Some experienced or highly skilled upholsterers may become supervisors or sample makers in large shops and factories.

Textile, apparel, and furnishings workers held 787,500 jobs in 2008. Many manufacturing jobs can be found in California, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Jobs in reupholstery, shoe repair and custom leatherwork, and laundry and dry-cleaning establishments are found in cities and towns throughout the Nation. Overall, about 11 percent of all workers in textile, apparel, and furnishings occupations were self-employed; however, about 43 percent of all tailors, dressmakers, and sewers and about 29 percent of all upholsterers were self-employed.

Job Outlook
Overall employment of textile, apparel, and furnishings workers is expected to decline rapidly through 2018, but outlook varies by detailed occupation. In addition to some employment growth in a few specialties, the vast majority of openings will stem from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

Job Growth
Employment in textile, apparel, and furnishing occupations is expected to decline by 15 percent between 2008 and 2018. Apparel workers have been among the most rapidly declining occupational groups in the economy. Increasing imports, the growing use of offshore assembly, and greater productivity through automation will contribute to additional job losses. Also, many new textiles require less production and processing.

Domestic production of apparel and textiles will continue to move abroad, and imports to the U.S. market are expected to increase. Fierce competition in the market for apparel will keep domestic apparel and textile firms under intense pressure to cut costs and produce more with fewer workers. Although the textile industry already is highly automated, it will continue to seek to increase worker productivity through the introduction of labor-saving machinery and the invention of new fibers and fabrics that reduce production costs. Technological developments, such as computer-aided marking and grading, computer-controlled cutters, semiautomatic sewing and pressing machines, and automated material-handling systems have increased output while reducing the need for some workers in larger firms.

Despite advances in technology, the apparel industry has had difficulty utilizing automated equipment for assembly tasks because of the delicate properties of many textiles. Also, the industry produces a wide variety of apparel items that change frequently with changes in style and season. Even so, increasing numbers of sewing machine operator jobs are expected to be lost to workers abroad. Employment of sewing machine operators is expected to decline rapidly by 34 percent.

Tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers—the most skilled apparel workers—are expected to experience little or no change in employment. Most of these workers are self-employed or work in clothing stores. The demand for custom home furnishings and tailored clothes is diminishing in general, but remains steady in upscale stores and by certain clients. Designer apparel and other handmade goods also appeal to people looking for one-of-a-kind items.

Employment of shoe and leather workers and repairers is expected to decline rapidly by 14 percent through 2018 as a result of growing imports of less expensive shoes and leather goods and of increasing productivity of U.S. manufacturers. Also, buying new shoes often is cheaper than repairing worn or damaged ones.

Employment of laundry and dry-cleaning workers is expected to grow 3 percent, slower than the average for all occupations. Many of these jobs continue to be locally-based, thus an expanding population will result in some employment growth.

Employment of upholsterers is expected to grow 7 percent, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by custom upholstery services, which is expected to increase as consumers seek to restore antique furniture and items with sentimental or intrinsic value.

Despite a rapid decline in overall employment, the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the occupation for other reasons will lead to numerous job openings. Relatively low earnings and poor working conditions will continue to result in a high job turnover.

Earnings of textile, apparel, and furnishings workers vary by occupation. Because many production workers in apparel manufacturing are paid according to the number of acceptable pieces they produce, their total earnings depend on skill, speed, and accuracy.

Benefits vary by size of company and work that is done. Apparel workers in retail trade also may receive a discount on their purchases from the company for which they work. In addition, some of the larger manufacturers operate company stores from which employees can purchase apparel products at significant discounts. Some small firms and dry-cleaning establishments, however, offer only limited benefits. Self-employed workers generally have to purchase their own insurance.

In the manufacturing industry, many workers are union members. Workers who are covered by union contracts often have higher pay and better benefits.

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