Garment factories receive fabric from overseas textile manufacturers in large bolts with cardboard or plastic center tubes or in piles or bags. The fabric typically arrives in steel commercial shipping containers and is unloaded with a forklift. Garment factories often have a warehouse or dedicated area to store fabric between arrival and manufacturing.
“Relaxing” refers to the process that allows material to relax and contract prior to being manufactured. This step is necessary because the material is continually under tension throughout the various stages of the textile manufacturing process, including weaving, dyeing, and other finishing processes. The relaxing process allows fabrics to shrink so that further shrinkage during customer use is minimized.
Garment manufacturers perform the relaxing process either manually or mechanically. Manual fabric relaxing typically entails loading the bolt of fabric on a spinner and manually feeding the material through a piece of equipment that relieves tension in the fabric as it is pulled through. Mechanical fabric relaxing performs this same process in an automated manner.
Many garment manufacturers will also integrate quality assurance into this process to ensure that the quality of the fabric meets customer standards. This step is performed by manually spot-checking each bolt of fabric using a backlit surface to identify manufacturing defects such as color inconsistency or flaws in the material. Fabrics that fail to meet customer standards are returned to the textile manufacturer.
Spreading, Form Layout, and Cutting
After fabric has been relaxed, it is transferred to the spreading and cutting area of the garment manufacturing facility. The fabric is first cut into uniform plies and then spread either manually or using a computer-controlled system in preparation for the cutting process. Fabric is spread to:
- allow operators to identify fabric defects;
- control the tension and slack of the fabric during cutting; and
- ensure each ply is accurately aligned on top of the others.
The number of plies in each spread is dependent on the fabric type, spreading method, cutting equipment, and size of the garment order.
Next, garment forms—or patterns—are laid out on top of the spread, either manually or programmed into an automated cutting system. Lastly, the fabric is cut to the shape of the garment forms using either manually operated cutting equipment or a computerized cutting system.
Embroidery and Screen Printing
Embroidery and screen printing are two processes that occur only if directly specified by the customer; therefore, these processes are commonly subcontracted to off-site facilities. Embroidery is performed using automated equipment, often with many machines concurrently embroidering the same pattern on multiple garments. Each production line may include between 10 and 20 embroidery stations. Customers may request embroidery to put logos or other embellishments on garments.
Screen printing is the process of applying paint-based graphics to fabric using presses and textile dryers. Specifically, screen printing involves sweeping a rubber blade across a porous screen, transferring ink through a stencil and onto the fabric. The screen printed pieces of fabric are then dried to set the ink. This process may have varying levels of automation or may largely be completed at manually operated stations. Like embroidery, screen printing is wholly determined by the customer and may be requested to put logos or other graphics on garments or to print brand and size information in place of affixing tags.
Garments are sewn in an assembly line, with the garment becoming more complete as it progresses down the sewing line. Sewing machine operators receive a bundle of cut fabric and repeatedly sew the same portion of the garment, passing that completed portion to the next operator. For example, the first operator may sew the collar to the body of the garment and the next operator may sew a sleeve to the body. Quality assurance is performed at the end of the sewing line to ensure that the garment has been properly assembled and that no manufacturing defects exist. When needed, the garment will be reworked or mended at designated sewing stations. This labor-intensive process progressively transforms pieces of fabric into designer garments.
Spot Cleaning and Laundry
In addition to identifying manufacturing defects, employees tasked with performing quality assurance are also looking for cosmetic flaws, stains, or other spots on the garment that may have occurred during the cutting and sewing processes. Spots are often marked with a sticker and taken to a spot-cleaning area where the garment is cleaned using steam, hot water, or chemical stain removers.
Some customers request that a garment be fully laundered after it is sewn and assembled; therefore, garment factories often have an on-site laundry or have subcontract agreements with off-site laundry operations. Commercial laundry facilities are equipped with at least three types of machines: washers, spinners, and dryers. Some facilities also have the capability to perform special treatments, such as stone- or acid-washing.
After a garment is fully sewn and assembled, it is transferred to the ironing section of the facility for final pressing. Each ironing station consists of an iron and an ironing platform. The irons are similar looking to residential models, but have steam supplied by an on-site boiler. Workers control the steam with foot pedals and the steam is delivered via overhead hoses directly to the iron. In most facilities, the ironing platforms are equipped with a ventilation system that draws steam through the ironing table and exhausts it outside the factory.
Packaging and Shipping
In the last steps of making a product retail-ready, garments are folded, tagged, sized, and packaged according to customer specifications. Also, garments may be placed in protective plastic bags, either manually or using an automated system, to ensure that the material stays clean and pressed during shipping. Lastly, garments are placed in cardboard boxes and shipped to client distribution centers to eventually be sold in retail stores.