Unraveling the Thread: Why Women are the Backbone of the Textile Industry
Updated: Mar 9
The textile industry is one of the world's oldest and most pervasive industries. For centuries, women have played a vital role in shaping this industry. They have contributed in multiple ways, from spinning to weaving, designing, marketing, and much more. Today, women’s influence is evident in their leadership and management skills, as well as in their creative designs and original concepts. On this International Women's Day, let's celebrate the contributions of women to the textile industry and recognize their importance in its growth and success.
In the past, women were primarily responsible for spinning yarn and weaving fabric. This often involved the use of manual tools and machinery, and they endured challenging working conditions while putting in long hours either at home or in factories. Despite the difficult circumstances and minimal wages, their knowledge and talents were essential to the development of the textile industry. Many women were able to sustain themselves and their families through their work.
The idea of an International Women's Day came about in 1910, in Copenhagen, during the 2nd International Conference of Socialist Women, which brought together a hundred women from 17 different countries. However, the first International Women's Day was celebrated the following year, on March 19, 1911, to demand women's right to vote, the right to work, and an end to discrimination at work.
On March 25th of that same year, a fire at a textile factory in Triangle Shirtwaist, New York, killed 140 workers among the 500 who worked there (mostly Italian immigrants and Jews from Eastern Europe who were locked inside the factory, including some women as young as 14). This tragedy, linked to the exploitation of working women, had a lasting impact and was later commemorated on International Women's Day, which drew a connection between women's struggles and the labour movement.
On March 8, 1917, textile workers' demonstrations took place in Petrograd, Russia. More than 90,000 women took the streets to demand better working and living conditions and to oppose the policy of Tsar Nicholas II and the war that ravaged Europe (1914-1918). These workers and soldiers' wives demanded "bread for their children and the return of their husbands from the trenches". This event, known as Bread and Peace, enshrines March 8th as International Women's Day.
As the textile industry developed, women continued to play a crucial role. They worked in factories and mills to produce textiles on a larger scale in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although they faced discrimination and received poor wages, many women were able to advance up the ranks to become managers and supervisors, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that women comprise 60-90% of the global workforce in the textile and garment industry, in textiles women represent ~55%, and in garment manufacturing ~80% of employment. In the United States, over 650,000 people are employed in the textile industry, with women constituting 60% of the workforce. In India, the textile and apparel industry is the largest employer of women, providing jobs to over 35 million women.
Women-owned businesses play a significant role in the textile industry. In the United States, women own over 21% of all textile, apparel, and accessories manufacturing businesses. Women designers and entrepreneurs have launched successful fashion brands and textile businesses, creating jobs and driving economic growth. For instance, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg's fashion brand has generated over $1.2 billion in revenue since its launch in 1972.
For centuries women have been pioneers in creating cutting-edge designs, patterns, and new textiles and materials. Women have also been vocal advocates for change, fighting for more favorable working conditions and fair pay for workers around the world. They have used their platforms to raise awareness of the textile industry's social responsibility and environmental sustainability issues.
Source: Voa News
The importance of diversity and inclusion in the textile industry has recently been recognized. There is now a greater emphasis on elevating the voices and perspectives of women and other marginalized groups within the industry. New initiatives and organizations supporting women in the textile sector have emerged like “Women for Women International” and “Global Fund for Women”, offering tools and networking opportunities to empower them.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently booming and has the potential to rapidly transform the textile industry. Women are playing a vital role in this transformation. The use of AI can optimize production by predicting supply chain disruptions, reducing waste, and improving energy efficiency. Women's contributions to AI research and development have been instrumental in making these advancements possible.
One of the most exciting applications of AI in the textile industry is the creation of sustainable materials. Women are leading the charge in developing new textiles from natural and recycled materials. AI can aid in the development of these materials by predicting which combinations of materials will produce the desired characteristics, such as strength or flexibility.
With Smartex, textile workers - many of them women - are also using AI in the production process to reduce waste. By incorporating AI into production, we can push the boundaries of what is possible in the textile industry.
In conclusion, women continue to make significant contributions to the textile industry with the adaptation of AI, diligence, creative designs, and original concepts, as well as through management, leadership, and activism. By applying AI to the production and design of textiles, women are creating more sustainable and innovative materials.
On International Women's Day, it is important to recognize and celebrate women's crucial role in this field and the value they can bring to any business or industry.
At Smartex, we do not show any preference or bias towards gender or ethnicity during the hiring process. We welcome everyone to be a part of our team! Check out our careers page for more information.