Jobs Outlook: Textile, Apparel & Furnishing Occupations

Employment of textile, apparel, and furnishings workers is expected to decline through 2014. Apparel workers have been among the most rapidly declining occupational groups in the economy, and increasing imports, the use of offshore assembly, and greater productivity through new automation will contribute to additional job losses. Also, many new textiles require less production and processing. Employment in specialty apparel and textiles, where it may be necessary for production facilities to be close to their market, might not decrease as much as in other areas of apparel and textile production. Because of the large size of this occupation, however, job openings arise each year from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the occupation for other reasons.

Employment in the domestic textile and apparel industries has declined in recent years as foreign producers have gained a greater share of the U.S. market. Domestic production of apparel and textiles will continue to move abroad, and imports to the U.S. market will increase. declines in U.S. apparel production will cause reductions in domestic textile production because the apparel industry is the largest consumer of American-made textiles. Fierce competition in the market for apparel will keep domestic apparel and textile firms under intense pressure to cut costs and produce more with fewer workers.

Although the textile industry already is highly automated, it will continue to seek to increase worker productivity through the introduction of labor-saving machinery and the invention of new fibers and fabrics that reduce production costs. Despite advances in technology, the apparel industry has had difficulty employing automated equipment extensively due to the “soft” properties of textile products. The industry produces a wide variety of apparel items that change frequently with changes in style and season. Technological developments, such as computer-aided marking and grading, computer-controlled cutters, semiautomatic sewing and pressing machines, and automated material-handling systems have increased output while reducing the need for some workers in larger firms. However, assembly continues to be the most labor-intensive step in the production of apparel, and increasing numbers of sewing machine operator jobs are expected to be lost to low-wage workers abroad. Still, improvements in productivity will allow many of the presewing functions of design, patternmaking, marking, and cutting to continue be done domestically, and employment of workers who perform these functions will not be as adversely affected.

Outside of the manufacturing sector, tailors, dressmakers, and sewers—the most skilled apparel workers—also are expected to experience declining employment. Demand for their services will continue to lessen because it is often cheaper to buy new apparel than to have clothes altered or repaired.

Employment of shoe and leather workers is expected to decline through 2014 as a result of growing imports of less expensive shoes and leather goods and increasing productivity of U.S. manufacturers. Also, buying new shoes often is cheaper than repairing worn or damaged ones. However, declines are expected to be offset somewhat as the population continues to age and more people need custom shoes for health reasons.

Employment of upholsterers is expected to decline through 2014 as new furniture and automotive seats use more durable coverings and as manufacturing firms continue to become more automated and efficient. Demand for the reupholstery of furniture also is expected to decline as the increasing manufacture of new, relatively inexpensive upholstered furniture causes many consumers simply to replace old, worn furniture. However, demand will continue to be steady for upholsterers who restore very valuable furniture. Most reupholstery work is labor intensive and not easily automated.