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The Influence of Industrial Revolution on The Modern Day Textile Industry

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Despite the Industrial Revolution beginning in the 18th century, some of the influences of the revolution are still relevant today. A large part of the Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes from 1760 to the mid 1800s. An industry which was greatly impacted by this change and growth was the textile industry. The industrial revolution has evidently inspired part of the modern day textile industry, however with technological developments as well as societies changing views, some modern textile companies are moving away from the typical processes of the industrial revolution and are redefining their own ways. The benefits of the industrial revolution, such as mass production and the first department stores and how these concepts expanded the textile industry will be explored, along with the flaws that occurred as a result of those key ideas such as poor working conditions for labour. Further, the industrial revolution’s influence on fast fashion, will be highlighted through Australia’s largest global retailer, Cotton On Group. In addition to this, how even those in the fast fashion industry have had to adapt the industrial revolutions style of manufacturing in order to comply with societies new ethical stance and increasingly eco-aware lifestyle will be highlighted. Moreover, to demonstrate how the industrial revolution has not inspired all clothing companies in the industry today and instead how society is progressing past those manufacturing ways, slow fashion brand, Reformation, will be delved into in order to demonstrate how there are different demands which are now expected to be met.

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The industrial revolution ultimately started the textile industry and established long-lasting concepts which have still impacted todays society. Ideas such as mass production and the invention of departments stores highlight some of the benefits of the industrial revolution, however there were many flaws in the system which also occurred. Mass production was one of the main concepts in the industrial revolution, it involves the production of goods on a large scale with the use of an automated mechanical process, it increased efficiency, reduced average costs and enabled more goods to be produced at a rapid speed. This meant the textile industry grew and women no longer had to use needles made from bone and iron to slowly sew by hand, due to machinery that enabled mass production. (Heskett, 1980) One of these ground-breaking machines was the sewing machine, an invention by Connecticut native Elias Howe, this invention in 1846 touched off a technological, industrial, and social revolution. It mimicked the motions of hands sewing using a lockstich mechanism with an eye-pointed needle, this is the same system that is used today. It sped up the pace of industrialisation, whilst giving women the chance to prove they could operate complex machinery. One of the main benefits of mass production and machinery inventions such as the sewing machine is it enabled clothes to be produced and put on the market for lower prices, as the time taken to make the textile was hugely minimised. This idea is commonly seen used in todays textile industry, cheap clothing is mass produced whilst hand made clothing is attached with an expensive price tag. Further, another influential part of the industrial revolution was the invention of department stores. In contrast to today’s clean and bright department stores and the opportunity to buy online, in the past department stores were a new idea, they were seen as great for women to touch and feel fabrics before they bought them and allowed women to get out and leave the house, it sparked these ideas or fixed prices, credit systems, seasonal sales, more affordable commodities, a diverse range of goods and standardised goods, all something commonly seen today particularly in regard to our textile industry. The first department store was opened during the industrial revolution, Harding, Howell & Co’s Grand Fashionable Magazine was located in Pall Mall in London’s St James district and was open from 1809. This store was divided into departments consisting of fur and fans, fabric for dresses, haberdashery, jewellery and clocks, perfume and millinery. (Glancey, 2015) This concept is very relevant in todays society not only with large stores such as Myer and David Jones, but as will be explored further, Cotton On Group has adopted a similar approach. Despite these concepts having a positive impact on the progress of the industrial revolution, the logistics of the textile operation was also met with many flaws and issues which has seen the modern textile industry move away from some of the industrial revolutions systems. For example, in textile factories, there was child labour and women and children were forced to work long hours for very low pay. Due to the thousands of workers in factories and the lack of hygiene and sanitation, outbreaks of illness and disease often occurred. Pneumonia was also common when workers went from the humid conditions inside the textile factory, straight out to the cold air outside. Children were often forced to crawl onto machines to clean it which was also very dangerous. This type of unethical behaviour was common throughout the industrial revolution and is something todays textile industry is held accountable for if it occurs due to societies awareness.

Ultimately, the industrial revolution has played a large role in todays textile industry as many of its key concepts are still relevant in modern society. In particular, fast fashion – inexpensive clothing manufactured rapidly by large retailers in response to the latest trends — a huge idea in the textile industry today is ultimately inspired by the concept of mass production which began during the industrial revolution. Fast fashion uses mass production to focus on quantity and speed rather than quality. This is evident through fast fashion brand, Cotton On Group. The company as a whole has 7 brands under its name and is spread across 18 countries with over 1400 stores. Cotton On Group works with approximately 400 different factories, the majority of which are in China, Bangladesh and India. One of Cotton On’s suppliers in Bangladesh, called The Renaissance Group, boasts 10 factories and 20,000 team members across multiple production stages. (Cotton On Group, 2019) The sheer amount of people in the factories and size of the production process links back to mass production, which evidently highlights how Cotton On Group has been influenced by the invention of mass production in the industrial revolution. A specific example of mass production is the ‘Gina Square Neck top’ from Cotton On, made from 55% cotton and 45% viscose, retailing at just $14.99, the extremely cheap price of the product further emphasises Cotton On’s adoption of the industrial revolutions mass production as low retail costs were also significant during the revolution as if the top was hand made using the system before the revolution, they could not afford to sell it for such a low price. The connection to how the industrial revolution is relevant today is further highlighted as this top was made by a sewing machine — although more technologically advanced now — this is an invention of the industrial revolution highlighted earlier. However, not all of Cotton On’s processes are inspired by the industrial revolution, due to societies ethically aware thinking, they have had to adapt their brand to meet those standards and combat the flaws in the industrial revolutions processes which negatively impact on society. These areas include wages, the reason which companies such as Cotton On as well as factories in the industrial revolution could sell clothes for cheap, is because of the low wages which their factory workers are paid, Cotton On has had to address this ethical issue in their ‘Rules of Trade’ ensuring minimum wages are paid. Another issue Cotton On Group has moved past is child labour in the industrial revolution, by banning all child labour and forced labour. The conditions of the factory also have to be safe and hygienic, unlike the unsanitary factories in the Industrial Revolution which caused illness among workers. Working conditions is not the only thing Cotton On has had to progress from the Industrial Revolution, but also they’re sourcing of materials, due to the more environmentally friendly mind set of customers the company has made commitments to programs such as Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) as well as the Kenya sustainable cotton program, along with these partnerships, Cotton On has a goal of using 100% sustainable Cotton by 2021, as the textile industry uses about 378 billion litres of water annually and this is mostly for cotton production. For example, the top below would use approximately 2000 litres of water to produce. Mass production is not the only concept which has influenced the structure of the textile industry today, another aspect of the industrial revolution which has been adopted by the textile industry to an extent is the invention of the department store — a large shop stocking many varieties of goods in different departments. This concept can be seen through the brand Cotton On Group to an extent as they now have Mega Cotton On stores which house up to 3 of their different brands in one store. Delving deeper into how Cotton on Group has adopted this concept can be seen through the features which made a department store what it was during the industrial revolution as discussed earlier such as fixed prices and seasonal sales can be used to describe the experience in a Cotton On store, further emphasising how the impact and influence of industrial revolution is still relevant. (Glancey, 2015) However, again, to adapt to modern day society Cotton On has had to use an online shopping platform in addition to their brick and mortar stores to keep up with the technology of todays society. This emphasises how the industrial revolution has in fact influenced todays textile industry but also how modern technology has caused companies today to explore other avenues of sales.

Although the industrial revolution does still impact the textile industry today, many companies have adopted the slow fashion style of manufacturing, rejecting the industrial revolutions processes, begging the question of whether or not society is moving beyond the ways from the past. Slow fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for longevity and quality rather than a cheap price tag. It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and aims for zero waste. It is ethical and looks at the connections between, raw materials, the environment and human labour. An example of a slow fashion business is Reformation, it is a Los Angeles-based brand known for its effortless, feminine pieces. The brand promotes sustainability through its clothes by making them out of plant-based fibres, for example the ‘Nina top’ seen in figure 5 is 53% viscose and 47% rayon, the top is similar in appearance to the Cotton On top, yet the Cotton On top uses a mixture of cotton instead, a fabric which Reformation regards as one of the most harmful fabrics on the environment. Reformation’s commitment to ethically sourcing can be seen through their fabric choice, for example viscose is a man-made fibre made from wood pulp. They are committed to making sure the forests in which they source from are conserved, protected, and restored. In order to do so they work with the non-profit group Canopy to help drive positive change for their forest products, ensuring all our forest-based products come from sustainably managed forests. This highlights how a slow fashion brand such as Reformation is not following the practices from the industrial revolution as during the industrial revolution they were not concerned with their environmental or ethical footprint, they were simply focused on manufacturing as many products as possible. Another comparison can be drawn through the price of the Reformation top, $222 and the Cotton On top, $14.99, this large price difference despite the two tops looking stylistically similar, emphasises how Reformation is rejecting the industrial revolution idea of producing things as cheaply as possible, instead the companies commitment to better materials, quality and ethical practises is reflected in the expensive price point. This leaves consumers today with the choice of whether to support the traditional manufacturing processes in order to receive a cheap price-point, or whether to think ethically and pay for more to support that. Reformations manufacturing process is further distinguished from Cotton On, as unlike the fast fashion brand, 65% of Reformations manufacturing is done locally in Los Angeles, this contrasts to the idea of mass production as Cotton On – inspired by the industrial revolution — outsources to factories globally which although have strict rules can be difficult to completely monitor. In comparison Reformation keeps the manufacturing process close to home, which indicates why the price is also high as the minimum wages in the US are very different to those in countries such as Bangladesh. However, the top below has been made by a sewing machine, an invention of the industrial revolution, this highlights how even in slow fashion there are still inventions that are relevant even if the processes surrounding it is vastly different. The industrial revolutions invention of departments stores are another concept which highlights how modern slow fashion brands in the textile industry are adopting other concepts of sales. Reformation, although has 17 stores in the US, 1 store in Canada and 1 in the United Kingdom which are green business certified retail stores, the brand has a significant online presence shipping to over 200 countries around the world. The Reformation stores that do exist evidently do not take on the image of a department store full of standardised goods. The individual clothing items hanging sparingly in the window emphasise not only a new store sales technique but also, the lack of racks full of clothes further cement the idea that slow fashion rejects mass production. This emphasises the fact that the textile does operate very differently today compared to how it did in the industrial revolution as a result of technological advancements.

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Ultimately, the industrial revolution was a very influential part of history and the effects of it can still be seen, although it can be argued that “the Industrial Revolution not only helped people move along in the late 1700s and early 1800s but also it has made the people what they are today” (Thibodeaux, 2016) however the extent to which it has influence and inspired our current textile industry is questioned due to how much society has progressed since the 18th century. Despite this it is evident that fast fashion today has many of the same aspects of the industrial revolutions manufacturing process as well as a similar approach to sales. However the fast fashion industry has still had to make changes in order to fit in with todays society. In comparison today’s new approach in the textile industry, slow fashion, has very little relation to the industrial revolution, this begs the question of whether or not, societies changing views and increasing level of awareness will see the textile industry moving away from the mass production and department store — inventions of the industrial revolution — all together, or whether the sheer size and power of the fast fashion industry will stand its ground. Overall, the textile industry has a variety of different approaches, some are inspired by the industrial revolution and some are inventing new approaches to fashion. 

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