Gender, Labor, And Power In The Global Apparel Industry By Jane L. Collins

Jane Schneider’s interpretation of the fairy tale in which the demon offers to help a young woman spin straw to gold is the depiction of how industries have thrived at the expense of social welfare. The argument can be supported further by Jane Collins’ statement that the corporations subcontracting garment manufacturing around the world are obscure figures, promising assistance in creating wealth but mortgaging the future of the nations (Collins, 2003, p. xi). Apart from the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, there exist other tales elaborating on some major changes in the world of work. A unique example of a work-related fairy tale is the story of a hyena that got a bone stuck in his gullet and pledged some reward to a crane if she removed it. After receiving the assistance, the hyena breaches the agreement by saying that even allowing the crane’s head off his throat was compensation enough. The story shows how trust is important in work environments and it is why the labor market has experienced the introduction of different legal documents to facilitate the relationship between an employee and the employer.

According to Jane Collins, one of the notable ideas that have struck the garment-making industry is the “mill family” notion. However, the “mill family” idea propagated the social problem of racial discrimination within the garment-making industry. She writes: “One had to be white to be a member of the mill family” (Collins, 2003, p. 71). Moreover, gender disparity is another problem that this specific concept created. For instance, the majority of employees, particularly the females, were not incorporated into the brotherhood of the “mill family” in a candid manner (Collins, 2003, p.72). In addition, the cogitation reduced females to people who had no freedom to choose what was best in their lives. Protecting white women from contact with black men was an integral part of “mill family” safety and respectability (Collins, 2003, p. 72). Therefore, the paternalistic “mill family” was a suppressive concept aimed at curtailing the freedoms of the blacks and white females in the mill industry.

Different lessons can be learned from the case studies that are presented by Jane Collins. She argues, “Managers, in the apparel industry have anciently depended on gendered ideologies of sewing work to undervalue ladies’ skills and lower their wages” (Collins, 2003, p. 16). Indeed, this is true because, in the case of the garment industry, managers are deploying the policies in this way, justifying the hiring of inexperienced young females in areas without robust labor markets (Collins, 2003, p. 16). Consequently, inexperience is used as a guide to lower their earnings and fixate their salaries at lesser scales that are far below their male counterparts. With low wages, women’s contributions are overlooked, and their work competencies are undervalued and this explains their limitations towards career progression in these mills. To address these flawed gendered ideologies against women, managers need to establish an all-inclusive community in the workplace to overcome the policies that denigrate women and their roles.

A strategy that is employed by many apparel industries is the “hyper-Taylorist” method of work organization. The stratagem works because it allows the firms to pay low wages and produce high-quality goods (Collins, 2003, p. 60). Garments companies maximize their production under a piecework system while inspectors assess the quality of their production systems using statistical process control techniques (Collins, 2003, p. 60). Many clothes are bound to be produced from the piecework system as a worker is paid a fixed price for each unit of apparel produced. Indeed, any worker who wants to earn more has to produce more quality garments for him to earn more from his work. Consequently, it is the apparel company that benefits more from the work as it has quality products at the prices that it had set for the production of every quality garment produced. Apparel industries are, therefore, able to produce quality clothes and employ less-experienced individuals at low wages and at the same time, juggle effectively between low labor costs and quality production.

Hegemonic despotism is a form of labor control that is bred out of geographical mobility. The result of this form of labor control is that the fear of job loss by workers is used by employers to undermine the formation and power of trade unions. After the fear of job, the loss has been created in the workers, fears of capital flight, plant closure and disinvestments, and transfer of operations replace the former (Collins, 2003, p. 9). To illustrate, the ability of firms to transfer their production operations allows the companies to pit workers in different locations against each other, thereby diminishing wage negotiations and weakening unionization. The direct effect of hegemonic despotism is that employees are forced to surrender their benefits to retain their jobs. In a case where workers’ unions are already formed, the bargaining powers of such organizations are weakened by the expansion of the boundaries of the labor market in which their members participate (Collins, 2003, p. 98). Essentially, the politically contrived economic realities of free trade always tamper with the operations of workers’ unions.

Creating global social movements is difficult as it is forming a union that unites workers from distant locations across the world. A major challenge to establishing global social movements is the existence of diverse state goals. As a matter of fact, different nations have different forms of government, and it becomes a daunting task to harmonize varying state objectives when forming international organizations. For instance, some states are religion-based while others are secular-based, and in this regard, some members of a nation would be slow to join an organization that they deem not to be in line with their religious affiliations. Secondly, there is a growing debate all over the world about wars and ideas of militarized neoliberalism. More explicitly, some governments have targeted international organizations citing their financial support as the cause of dissidence. Going by that specific reason, some nations have barred different organizations from operating within their areas of jurisdiction. As evident, creating global social movements is a tough exercise that requires a proper understanding of the policy frameworks of different governments across the world.

The book, Threads: Gender, Labor, and Power in the Global Apparel Industry is authored by Jane Collins. Collins has based the book on a multi-sited ethnography of the international apparel industry focusing on four different locations. Notably, the author has explored the effect of being a worker in an industry with a global labor market and how participating in such a market affects social relations of work and the organization of production. Furthermore, the writer has been objective in her assessment of the issues of gender discrimination in the apparel industry workforce as well as historical racial segregation in the mills. Undoubtedly, the book is a tracer of flow resources and power between four different locations, at a time when the mill industry was experiencing competitive pressure. Therefore, the book is important for any scholar who is passionate about labor, gender issues, and power in the garment industry.


Collins, J. (2003). Threads: Gender, labor, and power in the global apparel industry. The University of Chicago Press.