Hey, Marita here 👋
After four years in the textile industry, with thousands of conversations with our manufacturers across Europe, I thought I understood a lot about clothing production. I was wrong.
Take, for example, our Wool Fleece Jacket. In a naive moment, I pictured it pretty much being spit out by a robot. A couple of weeks ago, I visited our supplier, Utenos, in Lithuania for the first time to witness the production with my own eyes. As expected, they do have machines that handle parts of the production, but I was primarily astonished by the craftsmanship involved in textile production. Logo printing, marking on the item where different parts need to be sown, all the stitching, attaching hangtags, ironing, and packing – it's all done by a human being. A person stands there tying the label that consumers like us simply cut off and discard within seconds. Another person manually presses each logo print. And there are countless of skillful hands that carefully sew together all the fabric pieces into a complete garment.
For our wool fleece jacket, which we observed being produced, the sewing time alone is 80 minutes. In addition, there are numerous other operations to create the final product, like knitting the fabric, dyeing, and cutting. The laser cutting, is an example of a task performed entirely by a machine, but the machine need to be set up in alignment to the pattern, and the fabric be laid perfectly on the cutting table. After cutting, a person checks every piece that has been cut to ensure it looks right. It struck me how incredibly ignorant I have been of all these processes when shopping and wearing clothes throughout my life.
If we want to continue dressing in quality garments produced in Europe, we must also recognize textile production as an important and honorable profession. The textile industry provides employment to 75 million people, which is 1% of the world's population. Most are underpaid women in Asia. European labor receives more decent wages, which naturally affects the prices of the garments. I also noticed that the average age of the employees in the factory is high. Young Lithuanians aspire to become YouTubers and influencers – working at a sewing machine is no longer attractive. Lithuania is now recruiting labor from other European countries like Ukraine and Romania, as well as from Asia. This obviously creates some challenges, both due to language barriers and cultural differences, but also because of different perceptions of what good quality is. Personally, I am concerned about the implications this will have on textile production in Europe in the coming years.
It takes an incredible amount of effort and dedication for you and me to be able to wear clothes that look good, feel comfortable, and maintain their quality day after day. Every thread, every stitch, and every print represent countless hours of craftsmanship and attention to detail. This visit was a wake-up-call for me and a reminder to treat the clothes in my wardrobe with even more respect. It also left me with a thorough understanding of the extraordinary work that goes on behind the scenes in the textile industry.
Once in a while, one of the Northern Playground employees sends out a letter giving you an honest look behind the scenes of the company. We believe that transparency is an essential part of being a socially responsible company. This is the 27th letter. Read the other ones here.