Week1: Examples of poor working conditions from fashion history – silk spinning –

Textile trades were one of the most important manufacturing for development a countries. This industry conveyed foreign currencies and many countries propagated by these incomes in empire era. Silk trading was one of the biggest business which was a fundamental of wealth and power for the developing countries. On the other hands, jobs in textile factories are not easy and comfortable therefore these tasks are often entrusted to lower classes and socially weakness. Specially, it was in the empire era thus an awareness about human rights were not taken by the society besides there were caste and social class.

“The silk spinners were often among the poorest in the community and had the least protection when there was a downturn in the industry, or there was war or civil disturbance. In Bursa, the silk women worked for the silk merchants, bleaching and spinning silk. Around half of them owned their own spindles and so were not totally beholden to the merchants. The women had not formed a silk spinners’ guild so they did not have the obligations or expense of guild fees, but they did not have the protection afforded by guild rules either. Some worked in their homes, sold their spun silk in the street, or at special markets.”(Pricilla Lowry, THE SECRETS OF SILK: From Textiles to Fashion, St John’s Press, the UK, 2004)

“Traditionally, silk worms were raised by peasant women in the Rhone valley” (WOMEN AND THE MAKING OF THE WORKING CLASS: LYON 1830-1870, Laura S. Strumingher, Eden Press Women’s Publications, U.S.A, 1979)

This is the basic process of spinning silk.

“The traditional method of pulling and reeling silk continued throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, but gradually more and more pulling and reeling factories, called filatures, which used steam to heat the basins, were constructed in and near Lyon. Silk entrepreneurs were eager to improve the quality of the raw silk produced on the farm, which was often poor. The women who had to tend a stove while pulling and reeling was unable to do either job well. Her stove frequently gave out smoke that was bad for the delicate fibers of the silk, and it often operated irregularly so that the temperature of the water in the basin was not uniform. “(WOMEN AND THE MAKING OF THE WORKING CLASS: LYON 1830-1870, Laura S. Strumingher, Eden Press Women’s Publications, U.S.A, 1979)

Silk Industry (YouTube) – process of silk spinning


The part of process of using boiled water was always emitted humidity in a factory. Boiling cocoons also release special stinking. Before facilities were developed in factories, environments in factories was terrible with heat, humidity and reek. Consequently, this hard labour was operated by unfortunate.

Regrettably, Japan also has similar history and there are famous non-fiction novel “Ah! Nomugi toge” written by Shigemi Yamamoto is story about this sorrowful history.


This is also on the film in 1979



In the early 1900’s, Japan tried developing and got into the empire era so silk industry was one of the most important trading source as same as other countries. Okaya in Nagano prefecture in Japan was a huge silk industry area in mountainous region. Hundreds of girls from poor peasant families away from their village then came and stayed at factory from February to December. The youngest started their job from 12 years-old. Nomugi toge is the name of pass from the village to Okaya where the town the factory was placed. Now, the area is as known as a ski resort but for the residence in the area, deep snow give them many inconvenience. There were no cars and enough warm clothes and boots for these girls but when they go and back to between the village and the factory is winter so they had to walk 140km (87mile) of deep snow road in the mountainous area. After the long walk, they start job immediately. They approximately worked 13 or 14 hours in a day in the awful environment with heat, humidity and stink but they could get only few labour fee. The accommodation where factory workers stayed had windows but all the window were grated for the prevention of workers escape. Some of them had illness and health problems besides some of the girls got harassment from employer. Even they knew the work in the factory was extremely hard, there were no other way to get money for daily life so many poor peasant families sent their daughters to the factory with apologies.

In same time, there was another famous silk factory in Tomioka, Gunma prefecture in Japan. It was the first huge state-run factory and symbol of the modern industrial revolution in Japan. The city was suburbs but not mountainous area and closer to Tokyo than from Okaya to Tokyo. It was an iconic factory with French engineer so the facility was good quality. In addition, the French engineer brought modern working styles so the factory had work regulations and employee welfare also hospital and employee facilities are in there. Most of the workers are daughter from officials and military families. From the work regulation, they approximately worked about 8 hours in a day and had 76days off per a year. Even in this good environment, workers in Tomioka got better wage than workers in Okaya.

silk spining machine

working for silk

Similar situation is happening in some countries still now. My main idea of wealth gap is caused by countries wealth gap. Nevertheless, according to the history I think poor work in nowadays are not only made by the gap from developed countries and developing countries. There are gaps inside of developing countries or communities so even if the country become a developed country at economic situation, poor work will not be eradicated.  Constructing the knowledge and senses of human rights while they growing up their economy should be controlled by government.

Week 0 about my self

Firstly, I am writing down about myself. I started my fashion business career in 2000. It was just after graduate the university but I did not study about fashion in the university. I started working at lady’s clothes wholesale company in Japan as an assistant of Sales and Logistics Department. I learned the way to deal with retailers and methods of fashion calendar. In the second year, I got a chance to work as a textile buyer and a quality control at a ladies’ fashion design team. While I was working at the design team, I studied the process of planning and making clothes. Working with many competent engineers at weaving, knitting and garment factories were also improved acknowledge about fashion industry therefore I was into fashion business more and more. Caused of it, I started studying for a qualification of Textiles Evaluation Specialist in Japan. It was hard but interesting because I could use my experience on my job for studying it and sometime I faced similar case which I just learned from the textbook on my job.

After I spent six years in the company, I decided to finish my job in there to get some experience in the UK. I studied English at a language school then I worked at PR company in London as an internship program from the school. It was only four months and I just worked as an assistant staff even though I could find many difference from Japanese fashion industry to British fashion industry. In the next year, I’d got job in different company which I worked before. I was also doing a textile buyer and a quality control in manufacturing and retailing section for three years then I moved in wholesale section for 3years.

During my work in there, the environment of Japanese fashion industry had changed a lot. Fast fashion has made big succeed after H&M and Forever21 started their business in Japan.

They were very useful for not only youth but also mature people because economic situation was not really good as same as 10 years ago and many people work as temporary worker or part time worker. However a salary base of people who are getting proper job also don’t increase. Japan has been in deflation.

It was difficult situation for companies and soon, they start the cost cutting race. Most of the companies sift their manufacturing from Japan to China, Vietnam and some other Southeast Asian countries. On the other hand, I saw many domestic garment or knitting factories going bankrupt in same time. Usually, we can’t order small numbers of garments in oversea factories so we have to have amount of stocks. As a result, we need to have extra work for the special sale. When I saw these stocks which were piled up at the back yard treated as rubbish, I was pretty emotional. When I check prices on them, I was confused because the price was cheaper than textile price in Japan. It was easy to imagine how small labour wage they got in oversea factories.

I know many designers and factory workers work hard and often do overtime and stay at office even their day off. Workers in oversea are work hard but can’t get enough money. Clothes are sold invalid price then finally they are treated as rubbish. I remember my childhood, I was excited before wearing new dress. When I was in my favourite dress, I was so happy.

I wondered who can be happy with this situation. Consumer? I don’t think all consumer can be happy with this because this economic cycle give same effect to the other industry too and all most of consumer work in any industry. Ofcourse in other country, people who work with illegal labour cost are not happy. If their labour wage become better, companies try to find the other lower labour wage factory so they will lost their job.

Generally, Japan is talked that their mind is following ten years forward from western countries and Japan is not such an ethical country yet. For example, we didn’t have many activists before Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 but after the earthquake, people concern with nature, family and internal issue much more than before. I think Japan will be more ethical country and the action of consumer will change.

Here is a very interesting brand which named “Honest By”. This is established by Belgian designer Bruno Pieters in 2012.

“He wanted to show not only that he could source sustainable and fairly traded fabrics and raw materials, but also to give as much information as he could about the content and origin of those fabrics, and – this is the really brave part – how much each garment cost to make, from the price of the buttons to the cost of manufacturing.”(Telegraph, 09 March 2013)

This approach was kind of taboo in fashion business because they want to keep budget as much as they can. Also, I think most of consumers want to be ethic but can’t be ethic if they only see their own economic situation and their own happiness.

This is experimental approach but showing all proses and cost may lead consumer to understand valid price and it can be a reference to compare with their own situation and workers situation.


・Textiles Evaluation Specialist


・“Honest By”


・Telegraph, 09 March 2013