Monday, January 17

Made in Pakistan

The vast majority of my clothes are bespoke. They're all cut by hand and stitched by machine one at a time. Of course, I'm not talking about some fancy custom suits or anything; no these are my clothes of choice, the stuff I wear whenever I can, my shalwar kameezes and qurtas, made of fabric I pick myself and then sent to good old Jameel for him to put together for me and only me. A suit costs around a tenner to source and produce, so we're really not talking about big ticket items here.

Nevertheless this does mean that I appreciate hand made stuff. I've seen fabric being knitted and then dyed. I've witnessed first hand the cutting and sewing that goes on. I've personally thanked the tailor who has, with his own hands, created something to hide my modesty and keep me warm (well, ish).

On the other hand I do also have some mass market stuff - you know from places like Gap and the like. Despite my relationship with tailors and the like, I am desensitised to items which make a shop rack. As far as I'm concerned they just appear on the shop rack by magic.

Today, I accompanied my father to a denim factory to see a friend of his. Although I've been to some factories before, I can't remember visiting or having access to one of this size and scale. Six thousand skilled workers and tens of production lines gives an idea of the capacity and output of the place, but more than that it was the machinery, both literally and metaphorically, which really impressed me.

Production was a mixture of manual labour and automated process. There were different sections for cutting, stitching, washing (it turns out that some jeans are actually quite literally washed with stones), quality assurance and packing, all in units of thousands at a time. Amusingly most of the cutters were men and most of the stitchers were women, but apart from that particular observation the workforce was mixed.

And they weren't just making do with what they had - no, they had access to industrial quality equipment, processes and management. Chain mail gloves for the cutters, health and safety notices including evacuation maps and fire handling equipment and multiple staff notice board listing union members and leaders were the subtle signs of professionalism here. More obvious was the heavy security and how power was all generated onsite. A lot of workplaces are quite proud of the ISO accreditations they've worked hard for, and it's easy to see why. I wonder how the standards here compare to those of factories in other countries?

I really missed my camera. There were so many shots screaming to be taken; not that I would have necessarily been able to - the looks we were getting were firmly placed somewhere between "dirty" and "curious". Similarly, I really wanted to talk to some of the people there, but I figured that was equally impossible.

And just like with my ethnic clothes, here before my eyes I could finally see the value being added to raw materials. This is where that twenty pounds (or at least part of it) went. How much to these particular workers, I'm not sure but I'm not sure I'll be taking stuff off the rack for granted any more. I even started wondering how many people were involved in the clothes I was wearing at the time.

Today was most definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far, both from an informative and enjoyable point of view. And despite not having anything at all to do with the factory, I couldn't help but feel a little proud of what Pakistan is able to achieve. Of course there's always room for improvement and I'm sure there was plenty of the bad stuff that I didn't see, but still, the potential and attitude was definitely there.

It certainly made me wonder how much the country was capable of if it wasn't bogged down with corruption and instability. And ironically just as I was thinking this in the car while leaving Korangi we happened to witness a car being held up by two motorcyclists. It's just such a shame.


  1. dork22:36

    '...and multiple staff notice board listing union members and leaders were the subtle signs of professionalism here.'

    Yes but how many of the workers could actually read the signs?

  2. Dork,

    Not quite sure what your point is here. Although literacy probably isn't as high there as it is in other places, I didn't see any evidence of those who weren't able to read not benefiting from unions and staff councils.

  3. Anon78611:39

    Great post. I enjoyed reading that and it was a bit of an eye-opener too.

  4. 'This is where that twenty pounds (or at least part of it) went.'

    Not even close :( They're lucky if the factory gets a third of that.