Textile worlds apart

A more extended visit to the College for Textile Engineering and Technology to see the production facilities was enlightening to the difference in teaching methods and facilities. Learning through memory versus learning through making. My experience in textile engineering colleges is limited and initially I had hopes we could develop some of the designs from the workshops into woven fabrics. Unfortunately the facilities won’t allow us to do this: most looms are not in operation and solely serve to demonstrate different textile production methods. The tutors and students were delighted to show me round and explain what they are working on. The testing lab was busy testing school bags for the government, the students were working in the chemistry physics and electronics labs or attending lectures. I had the opportunity to talk to students about their experiences and our conversations continued this morning during the colour workshop and we talked about the possibilities of textile design being introduced to CTET.

I still think there is enormous potential for design in Bangladesh, but changes need to be made for this to happen. Production facilities need to work, materials need to be available, technical skills need to be enhanced, experimentation needs to be encouraged. I don’t know what the solution can be, and all I can do is raise the issue, inspire conversations and foster ideas. The second group of students was once more hard working and persistent, gave me big smiles and even tried to teach me a little Bangla! I hope our students in the UK can recognise how fortunate we are with our facilities and experience.

A chance meeting at the hotel restaurant this evening with a couple of people from Europe here on textile business was even more enlightening. I learnt the Ready Made Garment (RGM) industry is enormous and continuously growing. That doesn’t mean the quality of work environments or salaries are improving.  An average monthly salary of 15 Euros for 6 days a week 10 hour a day job makes Bangladesh the cheapest country in the world to produce garments. For comparison, the average monthly salary in India for the same work is 120 Euros (70 Euros 3 years ago) and in China its 150 Euros. Buyers get a pair of trousers for 1,5 Euro (this price is for the Cutting Manufacturing and Trimming and does not include the fabric cost). 5 Euros can buy 12 sewn shirts. The RGM industry constitutes 80% of the country’s export and amounts to 12,3 billion US Dollars a year. Our throw away culture in the West drives this industry and at the same time generates these jobs, but the global competition for cheap labour continues to keep salaries and working conditions low. I am writing this with no experience of what these factories look like, and no cross reference for the figures. I will do some research and I hope to be able to visit one soon so I can share my findings with you.

We also spoke about the Bangladesh they have seen, the factories they have visited and their experiences in the sector. The words smog, traffic and comfort came up. I feel privileged my experience of Bangladesh the past 4 weeks has been so rich. I have met generous wonderful people and seen some of the most beautiful textiles I have come across in my life. I have learnt and understood and reflected on my life, my education, my freedom, my values, my family and my friends. This journey has been amazing, it has made me remember life is too short to feel inconvenienced. It’s a matter of chance I was born into a privileged upbringing, and nothing can be taken for granted. The tragedy in Haiti this week reinforces this.

In a few hours I am off to the Ubinig project in Tangail for a few days to learn how to make a bamboo reed. I will fill you in on country life living when I get back on Monday night. See the blog entry ‘new found paradise’ on 4th of Jan to see more about the Ubinig project, and to see a picture of my bamboo reed teacher. https://bangladeshtextileresidency.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/new-found-paradise-ubinig-training-sections-in-tangail/

Please note the copyright for all the pictures and videos posted on the blog and flickr belong to Ismini Samanidou and Gary Allson and may not be used without permission


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