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Textile, Apparel, and Furnishings Careers, Jobs and Employment Information

Textile, Apparel and FurnishingCareer and Job Highlights

  • The majority of workers receive training on the job.
  • There is a projected decrease in employment in the majority of detailed jobs in this group because of a higher amount of imports, employment of laborsaving equipment, and innovations of new fabrics which don’t require as much processing.
  • Wages are low for the majority of workers.

Textile, Apparel and Furnishing Career and Job Overview

Textiles and leather are used to cover our bodies and furniture, and decorate our homes. Textile, apparel, and furnishings workers create these goods and turn them into an array of goods that can be utilized in our every day life. The occupations of these workers vary widely, some firms use computers to do work, others use workers to run industrial equipment and small power devices, while others employ workers to do work by hand.

Textile machine operators. Textile machine operators operate equipment that produce textile goods from fibers. Textiles form the basis of towels, bed linens, hosiery and socks, and almost all types of clothing, although they are also one of the most important materials used in goods ranging from roofs to tires. To produce textiles, first the natural and synthetic fibers must be prepared. Extruding and forming machine operators, synthetic and glass fibers prepare and run machinery that extrude—or force—liquid synthetic material like rayon, fiberglass, or liquid polymers out via tiny openings and extract out filaments. Different operators feed natural fibers like cotton, wool, flax, or hemp through carding and combing machines which clean and align these materials into short lengths known as “sliver.” Once silver is created, a variety of natural fibers and synthetic filaments might be joined to create the sought after texture, durability, or other desired trait. Textile winding, twisting, and drawing-out machine operators handle the sliver by drawing it out, twisting it, and winding it to yield yarn, making sure they fix all the breaks that occur during the process.

Textile bleaching and dyeing machine operators are responsible for machinery used in washing, bleaching, or dyeing the yarn or finished fabrics and other goods. Textile knitting and weaving machine operators place the yarn on equipment used in weaving, knitting, looping, or tufting the yarn into the desired product. Many goods and apparel are crafted from woven fabrics, while goods like those knitted, including hosiery, or those tufted, including carpet, are produced in almost the finished good state. A wide variety of equipment is used to carry out the various processes, but most of the duties performed by the operators are similar in nature, such as repairing breaks that occur in the yarn, watching the yarn supply, and monitoring more than one machine at any given time. Textile cutting machine operators cut the fabric into the desired dimensions.

Apparel workers. Apparel workers trim the fabric before sewing it to create clothing or some other product. The title of apparel worker covers many different kinds of workers working in an array of different jobs. Tailors, dressmakers, and sewers create tailored clothing, altering and repairing garments for customers as requested. The majority of apparel workers are employed by manufacturing companies and carry out assigned tasks related to producing large volumes of goods which will eventually be sent to retail stores around the nation.

Fabric and apparel patternmakers turn a clothing designer’s initial model of a garment into a pattern with several different sections which can be positioned on a sheet of fabric. Once these skill workers have talked about the design with its creator, they utilize a computer to outline the various sections of the piece and sketch in extra details such as the location of pleats, buttonholes etc. (Traditionally, patternmakers would lay out the sections on paper, tracing them with pencils and drafting instruments like rulers.) Patternmakers then must change the size of the pieces in the pattern in order to create garments of differing sizes. Additionally, patternmakers “mark” the fabric in order to identify the best layout position which will minimize waste.

After the pattern has been created and properly marked, the garment can be produced in volume. Cutters and trimmers are responsible for cutting out the piece by following the pattern, taking care to not make mistakes since errors can prove to be expensive. Pieces are cut out by positioning multiple layers of the fabric underneath the pattern, and then utilizing an electric knife to cut out the different sections of the product; some delicate materials might be cut manually. In some firms, computer-controlled machines perform all the cutting.

Sewing machine operators connect the various sections of the garment together, reinforcing the seams as required and attaching buttons, hooks, zippers, and accessories to the final product. Once the garment has been sewn together, others will clean it up by removing lint and loose threads, and then inspecting and packaging the goods.

Shoe and leather workers. Shoe and leather workers work for manufacturing companies or for personal service shops. In shoe manufacturing positions, shoe machine operators and tenders run an array of specialized equipment that cuts and joins the products as well as performs some finishing tasks. Those shoe and leather workers and repairers working for personal service shops do many different kinds of repairs and customized work as requested by their public customers. They make, adorn, or fix shoes, belts, purses, luggage, saddles and other leather goods. Additionally they might perform repairs on products consisting of plastic or canvas. At times shoe and leather workers will create custom shoes or modify footwear for customers with foot problems or special request. To do so they must cut out pieces of leather, shape the leather over a model foot, and then sew the pieces together. After that the soles and heels must be attached utilizing special sewing machines or cement and nails. The goods will also be dyed and polished using a buffing wheel which produces a smooth and shiny surface. To produce luggage, workers attach leather to a frame and then fasten any handles and hardware to the leather. Leather workers might also trim and securely fasten the leather inside of the frames as well as add any designs to the luggage by stamping or sewing them on. Additionally, those working as saddle makers perform all of the aforementioned duties as well as applying dyes and liquid topcoats to leather saddles in order to create a glossy finish. Saddle makers might adorn the surface of the saddle with decorative designs by stamping the leather or through hand stitching. Those owning their own business must of course keep their own books and supervise their employees.

Upholsterers. Upholsterers produce, repair, and restore furniture that is protected by fabric. Upholsterers use hammers and tack pullers to take off old upholstery and stuffing in order to strip it back down to the frame of the furniture. Then wood that is exposed must be refinished and sections that have loosened must be glued back down. When needed workers will put on new webbing, or the cloth mat covering the springs, and repair any old or broken springs.
To make brand new furniture one must begin with the frame. To begin with they must put webbing on the frame, which is done by tacking it to one side of the frame, stretching it as tight as it go, and then fastening it to the other side of the frame. After that each spring must be tied to the spring next to it as well as to the webbing. Then the springs must be filled with a batting material like foam so that the surface is soft. Then the fabric which will be used for the arms, seats, backs, and sides of the chair must be measured and cut, reducing wasted material as best as possible. At last the various sections of the upholstery must be sewn together and then affixed to the furniture via glue, staples, or tacks. Additionally, any added decorative pieces like fringes, rivets, or buttons will be attached to the furniture. Some upholsterers might perform pick ups and deliveries of the products they perform work on. Upholsterers also aid customers by showing them examples of fabrics and designs they can apply to the furniture.

Laundry and drycleaning workers. Laundry and drycleaning workers must perform cleaning of cloth garments, linens, draperies, blankets, and other items. They might also perform cleaning of leather, suede, furs, and rugs. When needed, they treat and clean spots and stains found on items prior to laundering or drycleaning. They also monitor machines throughout the cleaning process to make sure articles aren’t lost or misplaced the goods of a different customer. Articles are steamed and pressed by pressers of textile, garment, and related materials in order to eliminate any wrinkles and provide the article with shape. Workers than gather the customer’s articles and package them as necessary, then write up the itemized invoice for the consumer.

Textile, Apparel and Furnishing Career Training and Job Qualifications

The majority of companies prefer to hire graduates of high school to fill positions in textile, apparel, and furnishings occupations. For the best chance to earn a promotion as a supervisor, workers need to have prior work experience or have some vocational training in apparel manufacturing. Typically all workers will start doing routine duties upon being hired.

To work in manufacturing, textile, and apparel one needs to possess excellent hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, physical stamina, and have the ability to repeatedly carry out the same duties for a length of time. Machine operators typically receive on the job training form experienced workers or through machinery manufacturers’ reps. With time and experience, they will be allowed to take on harder tasks. However, it is difficult to be promoted much further. There are a few who will be promoted to production workers first-line supervisory positions, but majority only have opportunity to be promote to more skilled operator jobs. As machinery achieves new levels of technology and complication, those with a background in basic computers and electronics will be highly regarded. Additionally, as the industry shifts to cross-training operators and working in teams, more time will have to be spent in training on every machine and workers will need good social skills to be able to work with others.

Most retail establishments favor hiring custom tailors, dressmakers, and sewers with prior experience in the manufacturing, design, or alteration of apparel. Understanding the basics of fabrics, as well as the design and constructions process is paramount. Some custom tailors attain such skills by attending course offered by high schools and community colleges. There some private schools and colleges that exist which provide opportunities for advanced training in sewing, draping, patternmaking, and design. A few custom tailors with a lot of experience might start their own business. However, it is important to note that custom tailoring is quite competitive, and training in small-business operations can make the difference between succeeding and failing. Most laundries and drycleaners look for applicants with prior experience, although often times they bring on inexperienced employees.

Most precision shoe and leather employees obtain the skills of the trade by learning on the job. It is important that workers involved in shoe repair and leatherworking have good hands and mechanical abilities including being able to work with handtools and having manual dexterity and the mechanical aptitude to work with handtools and equipment. Those who must create custom products should also possess artistic abilities. Novices begin as assistants to experienced workers, although in manufacturing settings they might be trained through formal in-house training programs. Novices take on new tasks as they master others, and it can take up to 2 years to become fully qualified. If one attends a vocational training program, it might take anywhere form 6 months to one year. It takes a bit longer to learn how to make saddles. Shoe repairers must constantly update their skill set so that they can continue to service the ever changing footwear styles and materials. Some shoe repairers stay up to date by going to specialized training courses and workshops related to custom shoe making, shoe repair, and various other leatherwork courses sponsored by groups. Those workers who make and modify prescription footwear can receive certification as a pedorthists from the Pedorthic Footwear Association by obtaining 120 hours of training and successfully completing an exam. A few in the shoe and leather working occupations begin as workers or repairers and receive promotions to salaried supervisory and managerial jobs. Some workers choose to open their own business, but an understanding of business practices and management and as will as an ability to deal with customers courteously is a must if one wants be successful.

Many upholsterers learn the tricks of the trade on the job but a few acquire their training via apprenticeship programs. Others might obtain training related to upholstery through vocational schools and community colleges. Those desiring to work in upholstery should have good hands, good hand-eye coordination, and be strong enough to move heavy furniture. One must also have a good eye for detail, designing skills, and possess a lot of creativity. Training for this job might take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 years. Those working on customized products might be in training for as many as 8 to 10 years. Advancement within the upholstery industry is manifested through promotion to management or opening one’s own business. Since the upholstery industry is extremely fierce, running a shop is not easy. Experience or greatly skill workers employed by larger firms have the ability to move up to supervisory positions or become sample makers.

Textile, Apparel and Furnishing Job and Employment Opportunities

Employment of textile, apparel, and furnishings workers is projected to fall through 2012. One of the fastest decreasing occupational groups in the economy has been that of apparel workers, and the rise of imports, utilization of foreign assembly, and higher productivity due to automated equipment will continue to cause more losses in jobs. Additionally, a lot of the modern textiles need less production and processing. Due to the big size of the occupation, there will still be thousands of jobs opening each year caused by workers who retire or transfer to new job.

Since foreign producers have been able to increase their share in the U.S. in the past few years, employment in the domestic textile and apparel industries has decreased. Much of the manufacturing operations, particularly apparel, will be outsourced to foreign countries and imports will increase in the U.S. The reduction of production of apparel in the U.S. will mean that domestic textile manufacturing will also decrease as apparel is the biggest consumer of domestic textiles. Since the apparel market is so competitive, the industry will be under fire to keep costs down while increasing productivity with fewer employees.

Though the textile industry is at a high automation level, the industry will continue to look for ways to improve productivity by using laborsaving equipment and working with modern fibers and fabrics that enable companies to reduce production expenses. In spite of the technological improvements made by the apparel industry, it has had a hard time making processes completely automated because of the soft characteristics of textiles. The industry manufactures many different products which vary as the styles and seasons change. Advancements in technology like computer-aided marking and grading, computer-controlled cutters, semiautomatic sewing and pressing machines, and automated material-handling systems have raised production levels while decreasing the need for workers in a few a few corporations. The operation that is most labor intensive is assembling and sewing apparel, and many of these jobs are expected to be shifted offshore to countries that can provide the service at lower costs. However, advancements in production should help keep a lot of the presewing operations of design, patternmaking, marking, and cutting here in the U.S. Thus workers employed in these functions should not be as affected.

Beyond the manufacturing industry, some of the most highly skilled workers such as tailors, dressmakers, and sewers are projected to pass through falling demand for employment. The need for their work will decrease as more and more consumers grow accustomed to purchasing apparel manufactured in larger volumes rather than buy custom mad clothing.

Employment for shoe and leather workers will likely fall through 2012 as cheaper goods are imported into the country, domestic firms become more productive, and consumers shift to buying new shoes as opposed to having them repaired. Although the decrease should be countered partially by people buying costly leather shoes that they will get repaired when needed. Additionally, as the U.S. ages more customers will need custom designed shoes for medial purposes.
Employment for upholsterers is also expected to decrease through 2012 as modern furniture and automotive seats utilize upholstery that is noted for its durability and production facilities improve their efficiency through automation. The demand for products requiring reupholstering is also projected to decrease as new, generally speaking cheap furniture is produced and will be purchased to replace old furniture. Still the need for upholsterers who work on restoring priceless furniture will remain stable. The majority of reupholstering work requires a lot of manual labor and does not lend itself to automation. Prospects should be good for those with experience as relatively few young people choose this as an occupation and there are not many places that provide training.