The other side of the fashion industry
How often do you see factories full of seamstresses sitting by their sewing machines nowadays?
Instead of producing garments from a manufacturing base on home-soil many manufacturers, like Damella, have moved abroad to keep costs down. Many people have lost their jobs and for a worker, like Sig-Britt Hedstrom, this development has been life changing.
Damella is a Swedish manufacturer of home and beachwear for women and men. Started in 1937, the company has today nine stores and is available in 900 retailers across Northern Europe. By the end of the 1980’s the business was blooming and was able to produce 10,000 petticoats a week. Today Damella buys them instead.
To enter the headquarters of Damella is like opening a history book. The light-coloured broadloom takes you on a trip to the 1970s and the wooden walls make you feel like you are lost in a forest. The building has probably seen many chapters in 70 years.
My meeting with Sig-Britt Hedstrom starts with a blistering, but warm embrace. I immediately feel a layer of dust from her surprisingly, dark everyday clothes, sneaking its way up my nose. At least, it is a sign of some activity still left in the factory.
The latest developments at Damella have affected deeply the 62-year-old worker who has been in the fashion business for 44 years. As a seamstress she had to watch many of her colleagues being dismissed. “It was depressing. For some of them, it was really hard to find a new job. I guess I was lucky that got to stay,” says Sig-Britt with a small voice, seated in her woody office, an office with all trace of personality hidden somewhere under the broadloom.
Seating there I felt as if we are seated on the front row and the factory is the catwalk, the models the only thing missing. “Nothing is done when I am not out there,” she says ironically, laughing; her thin necklace moves around on her chest.
Even though she laughs I feel sadness hitting her, as if she’s been transported back twenty years. The removals began just about two decades ago. “In fifteen years we went from 200 employees to less than 15, that is remarkable”. Her eyes go down on her wrinkled hands with traces of hard work.
You would imagine that someone who has worked so long in the industry has a genuine interest for fashion. “When I was a little girl I wanted to be a nurse,” she Sig-Britt Hedstrom looks me in the eye and smiles, “I really love children, but when I finished school I needed a job and my brother worked at the warehouse here”. Sometimes destiny has another thing in mind for you.
“Because we are buying cheap garments the quality is not always good and I feel does not justify the prices we sell them for,” Sig-Britt tells me with concern, “of course we sell good stuff, but it is not good enough.”
Even though Damella and its staff have been dealing with many changes, Sig-Britt is still working in the company. “Now I have other work tasks and they are more alternative. One day I am in the warehouse and suddenly I need to work with the samples as well. It is really stressful to be on all places at once. Sometimes I wish I could split myself into two persons”. Her short grey hair dances in rhythm as she laughs.
I can sense her honesty when she declares that it is not fun to work at the company. Her heart is constant like a galloping horse. “It is too much work for one person,” her chest raised with a despairing sigh, “but the most positive thing about my work is my colleagues. They are the reason I get up every morning and go to work.” She finishes as another woman enter her office. She needs some help with a broken lamp. Sig-Britt smiles apologetically and leaves.
Looking around, I try to imagine the place full off noisy whirr of sewing machines. The only sound I can hear is a creaking from the chair as I get up.
This article was written and submitted by Emma Larsson for Round 1 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Emma was invited to take part in Round 2. Read all the published submissions.