TAL Apparel’s new $70 million factory in Dongguan, a manufacturing zone two hours’ drive from Hong Kong, shows how manufacturing is changing in China.
The factory’s pristine white floors and brightly lit aisles look more like a modern office suite than a clothing factory. In one corner, automated cutting machines slice out fabric for men’s trousers, a process that wastes less material and requires only about half the staff needed to cut patterns by hand. In another section of the plant, a computerized system of ceiling tracks ferries the pants on hangers. At the end of the assembly line, the high-quality garments emerge sporting brand names like L.L. Bean and Dockers.
S.N. Yip, a director at TAL, says that only the most modern, efficient factories can thrive in today’s China. He said, ‘If you want to run a sweatshop, this isn’t the place.’
The average monthly pay of China’s factory workers increased 66% between 2004 and 2007 to $234, an amount that is well above the wages earned in other Asian countries.
However businessmen say that clusters of factories in similar industries in the zones that have formed along the mainland’s coast create a ready supply chain for important raw materials and components, while China’s superior infrastructure makes shipping products overseas extremely efficient. These factors have convinced many industrialists to stay put.