Our day began with a visit to the Jiangsu Sunshine Group. This company is a producer of wool fabrics and garments. They control the entire process of wool production, from sourcing fibers and spinning yarns to weaving fabrics and making apparel (they say their mission is to move the wool from sheep to body). They source their merino wool from Australia, and it is the finest wool in the world. After the wool is sourced and scoured, it moves on to top making, which cleans the fibers and makes it dyeable. Next, the wool is dyed based on the instructions of their customer. The next step is spinning, during which the wool becomes a yarn. The fineness and direction of the twist is dictated by the customer. Then, the spun wool is woven into a fabric, and it is finished to add smoothness. The final step of the process is inspection, during which the garment is checked for flaws. They sell wool in multiple forms: as yarns, fabrics, and final sewn garments. They also have their own brands, including Sunshine Fashion and Pompei (for Chinese military uniforms). They supply fabrics and garments to many well-known international brands as well, including Hugo Boss. Their fabrics are some of the most luxurious in the world.
The company was founded in 1986 and it was grown to be the worlds largest manufacturer of worsted wool fabric. They produce some of the most luxurious wool in the world, and they consistently rank #1 in the Chinese domestic market with a 15% market share of wool products. They utilize the most advanced equipment and control the entire production process, which allows them to achieve maximum efficiency. From start to finish, a piece of wool will go through 308 different procedures in their factory! Before visiting the production facilities, we were given a tour of their stunning show room.
In a year, the Sunshine group produces 3.5 million shirts and 3.5 million suits. Their mission is to "make the world full of Sunshine."
From the top of their office building, you can see Sunshine's entire factory campus.
We toured their top dyeing and spinning facility, where we unfortunately were not allowed to take photos. In here is where wool is cleaned, smoothed, and prepared for the dyeing process. Interestingly, the machinery is identical to what I saw in similar factories in India, but the factory here seems much more organized and is significantly larger. In the first facility, we saw how the fibers begin in their raw form (in massive bales shipped from Australia) and are transformed into smooth, clean, dyed fibers.
Next, we went to see where these fibers are spun into wool yarn. The machines used in this factory separate the raw wool and spin it in different thicknesses and twists based on the preferences of their customers. What I found to be really incredible is that in this massive factory, there were so few workers. Their machines are so advanced and automated that they really only need workers to switch the spindles out of the machines. In total, they have 180,000 spindles and can produce 30 million meters of worsted wool fabric a year. I was able to sneak a couple of photos of this factory on my phone!
We visited the weaving facility where spindles of yarn are turned into fabrics. They have these gigantic spindles that are just full of yarn; it's pretty incredible. The giant spindles are loaded into machines and laid out as vertical strands (warps), then a horizontal yarn is inserted (wefts) and the result is a woven fabric! Unlike most weaving machines, they use shuttle-less machines, which eliminates problems in fabric shading and allows the machine to work much faster.
We next saw the process of fabric finishing, which occurs after the fabric is woven. During this step, fabrics can be manipulated physically and chemically to improve the feel, or to add elements like water resistance.
This factory visit was particularly exciting for us because in one of our FSAD classes, we learn all about these machines and the process of dyeing and finishing fabrics, but seeing it in person is so much more fascinating than reading about it in a textbook!
Compared to the factories I saw in India, this factory seems a lot more automated and requires much fewer workers. Also, it seems that the Chinese apparel production groups are much more focused on vertical integration and controlling every step of the production process, whereas the companies we visited in India were more specialized in a particular part of the process.
After lunch, we said goodbye to the Sunshine Group and moved on to our next visit, at the Chenfeng Fanjia linen factory, another factory owned by the Chenfeng Group. This factory was established in 1957 and they were the first linen factory to produce fabrics in various colors. The factory was bought by Chenfeng in 2014. This facility has 320 employees, and they produce 800,000 meters of fabric per month!
Their process starts with yarns, and they weave the yarns into fabric and finish the fabrics. They mainly export their fabrics to America, Europe, and Japan. In addition to fabric production, Chenfeng Fanjia also does quality testing at this site. Since they produce linen fabric, they test their products for defects before sending out orders. The linen is inspected using AATC standards to determine whether or not it is of the proper quality.
For our first stop on our factory tour, we saw cotton threads being spun and sized in order to add strength. The sizing is only done on cotton, and linen yarns don't need to be sized because they are naturally much stronger. The threads are spun onto a giant spindle, and these go on to serve as warp yarns when the fabrics are woven. We then were led through the factory to see the entire fabric production process. This tour was very similar to the tour we took this morning, and here are some of the highlights:
By the end of the day, we were exhausted from all of our visits! We traveled to the city of Suzhou, where we will be staying for the next two days. This weekend, there is a holiday in China, so we will be taking a break from factory visits to do some sight seeing and learn a bit more about Chinese culture!
In addition to touring factories, we've gotten glimpses of China as we drive from location to location, and there are some really interesting things I've noticed. In the evening, the entire sky transforms into an ombré of pinks, oranges, and purples and the sun is bright red and massive. There are so many trees along the road and there are also quite a lot of bodies of water (many are manmade) that give the surroundings a very beautiful ambiance. There are pretty much no rules when it comes to driving. While there are street signs, traffic lights, and roads, cars pretty much drive however they want and on whatever side of the road they want. It's frightening, but it's also quite impressive that there aren't more accidents. The Chinese people we've met are all so nice and so welcoming. They also don't seem very used to seeing Americans. One Chinese woman at dinner this evening remarked in admiration that my skin is "white as snow," and I wish I could take that as a compliment! I've only been here for a few days, but I am already in love with China, and I can't wait to see more of this amazing country over the next few days!