Clothing industry or garment industry summarizes the types of trade and industry along the production and life chain of clothing and garments, starting with the textile industry (producers of cotton, wool, fur, and synthetic fibre), embellishment using embroidery, via the fashion industry to fashion retailers up to trade with second-hand clothes and textile recycling. The producing sectors build upon a wealth of clothing technology some of which, like the loom, the cotton gin, and the sewing machine heralded industrialization not only of the previous textile manufacturing practices.
By the early 20th century, the industry in the developed world often involved immigrants in "sweat shops", which were usually legal but were sometimes illegally operated. They employed people in crowded conditions, working manual sewing machines, and being paid less than a living wage. This trend worsened due to attempts to protect existing industries which were being challenged by developing countries in South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Central America. Although globalization saw the manufacturing largely outsourced to overseas labor markets, there has been a trend for the areas historically associated with the trade to shift focus to the more white collar associated industries of fashion design, fashion modeling and retail. Areas historically involved heavily in the "rag trade" include London and Milan in Europe, and the SoHo district in New York City.
The garment industry is a major contributor to the economies of many countries. The industry for Ready Made Garments has been criticized by labor advocates for the use of sweatshops, piece work and child labor.
Working conditions in low-cost countries have received critical media coverage, especially in the aftermath of large scale disasters like the 2013 Savar building collapse or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
The textile and garment sector accounts for 70% of Pakistan's exports, but the working conditions of workers are deplorable. Small manufacturing workshops generally do not sign employment contracts, do not respect the minimum wage and sometimes employ children. Violations of labour law also occur among major subcontractors of international brands, where workers may be beaten, insulted by their superiors or paid below the minimum wage. Factories do not comply with safety standards, leading to accidents: in 2012, 255 workers died in a fire at a Karachi factory. With 547 labour inspectors in Pakistan supervising the country's 300,000 factories, the textile industry is out of control. Nor are workers protected by trade unions, which are prohibited in industrial export zones. Elsewhere, "workers involved in the creation of trade unions are victims of violence, intimidation, threats or dismissals".
Many Western multinationals use labour in Bangladesh, which is one of the cheapest in the world: 30 euros per month compared to 150 or 200 in China. In April 2013, at least 1,135 garment factory workers died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory, Dhaka. Other fatal accidents due to unsanitary factories have affected Bangladesh: in 2005 a factory collapsed and caused the death of 64 people. In 2006, a series of fires killed 85 people and injured 207 others. In 2010, some 30 people died of asphyxiation and burns in two serious fires.
Employees of Ethiopian garment factories, who work for brands such as Guess, H&M or Calvin Klein, receive a monthly salary of 26 dollars per month. These very low wages have led to low productivity, frequent strikes and high turnover. Some factories have replaced all their employees on average every 12 months, according to the 2019 report of the Stern Centre for Business and Human Rights at New York University.
The report states:" Rather than the docile and cheap labour force promoted in Ethiopia, foreign-based suppliers have met employees who are unhappy with their pay and living conditions and who want to protest more and more by stopping work or even quitting. In their eagerness to create a "made in Ethiopia" brand, the government, global brands and foreign manufacturers did not anticipate that the base salary was simply too low for workers to make a living from.