On Monday this week we had a successful trip to Changzhou, a city of about 2 million in Jiangsu Province that is located about a 2.5 hour drive from Shanghai. Changzhou is a booming textile town, but also known for other types of manufacturing. In Changzhou we met with our contact, Mrs. Ding, a woman who has her own company as a buyer of textile products. Mrs. Ding is a middle person; she places orders with factories for the production of textiles and clothing. She introduced us to Mrs. Zhang, the niece of the owner of Shen You yarn and weaving factory, a small and efficient factory that employs about 10o people to manufacture textiles.
Our time at Shen You was fantastic. We had a tour and I shot a little bit of video; we have been given the opportunity to return to Shen You for more in-depth filming, which I greatly look forward to. Mrs. Zhang and Mrs. Ding led us through the factory, starting from the point where the yarn is spun off giant spindles and tied onto a large barrel, the first step in setting the design of the fabric. Next, the yarn is threaded onto “needles” [we don't yet have the technical terms] that will ultimately form the fabric when they are connected to the weaving machine. This part has to be done by hand; there is no other way. We entered a room where there were about 4 stations set up to prepare the patterns. Young women sit across from each other and hand thread back and forth until they have completed the pattern. This work seems to require quite a bit of concentration to complete, and the room was rather quiet. Next, the machines are loaded with these threads and the fabric is woven. Standing in the weaving room, I couldn’t help but think about the textile factories that used to be scattered all over the Carolinas. The scene was so familiar to me given the hundreds of images I’ve seen of textile mills in the South.
When the fabric is finished, it is taken to a large room with tables, spread out, and examined for flaws. Young women are unfolding fabric and examining it inch by inch for inconsistencies and making repairs by hand if they find any problems. The young women here were laughing and talking to one another. They told me that they would have dressed up if they knew an American director was coming to film them! I was rather taken by these young women, many of whom are probably migrant workers; they are incredibly fresh, open and witty. I am really looking forward to returning to Shen You for more filming, hopefully next week.
I hope, too, that we’ll be able to follow Mrs. Ding as she places orders for textiles. We stopped off at a factory with her on our way to Shen You and waited outside the factory gates. On either side of the gate were rows of small shops and pedi cabs and trucks were driving up and down the small street piled high with textiles. A large truck rambled by filled to the top with bolts of denim, and then a small pedi cab crept past. Mrs. Ding explained that when factories have a very big order and not a lot of time to fill it, they will hand off part of the order to very small, family owned textile companies that are run out of peoples’ homes. We hope we’ll be able to film in one of these small factories, too.