Chen comes off as a serious guy when he is working but off the job he is friendly and somewhat shy. After being in the industry for over 20 years he feels confident in his skills. Although Chen lives away from his family, he is still very much committed to providing a good life for them. He and his wife recently bought a house and are now faced with mortgage payments he worries will be hard to keep up with.
Q: How long have you worked in clothing factories?
OK, let’s see. It was 1991. I came here in 1991.
Q: How old were you when you started working?
23 years old
Q: Have you always done the same task?
Q: What task have you always done?
I do all the cutting.
Q: What kind of clothes have you cut?
We received all kinds of orders here, such as shirts and trousers. All fashionable clothes.
Q: When you buy clothing, how do you feel about the clothes you buy? Do you think about them differently because you make clothes?
People like me making clothes for others know how to check clothes and we know more about the quality of clothes than other people.
Q: What signs of quality do you look for?
Whether or not the clothes are well-made. For example, whether or not the stitches are neat. If it is plaid cloth, whether the print is aligned. There are certain standards for clothes.
Q: How did you start in clothing factories? How did you find the first job?
I graduated from school and there weren’t many choices so I picked this and stick with it.
Q: What do you like about the industry?
When you choose a job, you start to do it and became more skilled in it. If you change your job, it will take time to get used to a new thing. It is not possible for me to do that in a short time.
Q: How has the industry changed since you joined in…. since you started working?
It has changed. Clothes were much more simple before. Now, because of great changes in fabric, I see clothes with many different designs. Fabric used to be nothing special, but now we have fabric like [mass produced] lace that was invented later. There are many changes.
Q: Has your job gotten harder since you first started it?
Not much. I am getting used to the changes. Changes are mainly in fabric and design. There aren’t many changes in the way to do my work.
Q: How many different factories have you worked in?
I’ve made coats, shirts and trousers in different factories. The names of the clothing factories changed a little bit. We call it fashion clothes factory, garment factory or clothing manufacturing factory. Most clothing manufacturing factories are making trousers. I have been working in almost ten different factories.
Q: Do you think differently about men’s fashion because of what you do?
A: There aren’t many choices in men’s wear. Suits or jackets.
Q: So if it has changed in this industry, what do you think is the next step in the garment industry?
There will be more designs and various fabric in the future.
Q: Do your friends work in a similar industry as you?
Some of them do.
Q: What do you do for fun?
I eat out, hang out with my friends and buy things.
Q: When you hang out with your friends, what kind of things do you do?
Eat out or go around the city.
Q: Do you live near the factory?
Yes, it is 500 meters from here.
Q: Have you lived in this area for a very long time?
I started to live here at the beginning of this year.
Q: Do you live here with your spouse or any children?
My kid is in my hometown and my wife lives in Sha Toujiao [near the factory she works in].
Q: What is it like for you to be apart from your spouse?
It doesn’t affect my life much. We will meet on weekends and holidays. I go there to see her when I have time.
Q: What about your children. How often do you see them?
My hometown is an An Hui Province (northern China). I will go back once a year during Spring Festival.
Q: I have seen some crazy video footage of people trying to buy train tickets to go home during spring festival. What is your experience?
It is difficult to buy train ticket during Spring Festival. Buying train tickets back home is easier compared to buying train tickets from my home to Shenzhen, because my hometown is a small place and not many tickets are allotted to the train station in my hometown. I can’t buy the ticket with a seat and I have to stand in the train all the way back to Shenzhen.
Q: How many hours do you have to stand?
About 23 hours.
Q: What kind of things do you do when you go home?
Spend time with parents, kid and relatives. I only go back once a year so I want to be with them.
Q: Do you ever regret having left your hometown?
I had to leave. It is [the only way for me to make a] living.
What kind of things… do you miss anything from your hometown or from your family?
I miss my parents and my kid. I worry about my parents health and that we can’t educate my child when we are away from them. My kid needs to go to school and [my wife and I] are concern that our kid doesn’t do well in school and will become a bad guy.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in your life so far?
For me the biggest challenge is taht we bought a house in my hometown and we are paying the mortgage for the next 10 years. We are 46 this year, I am afraid that when we are older it would be difficult to get jobs.
Q: What is the significance of owning a home to you?
A: If we don’t buy a house now, it will be difficult to buy one in the future because when you are 50, no one will hire you in a garment factory in China. One of my kids is 20. I want to have a house for my kid.
Q: Where do you think the clothes go after you make them?
We know where the clothes will go when we make them. They will show the place on the labels. Some of them go to America and some go to Europe. We know that.
Q: Do you know how much the garments sell for?
We know the prices of some clothes from checking the label, but there is no price on the label for some clothes. We usually don’t care about it. We don’t even bother checking the label to know the price.
Q: What kind of people do you think will wear the clothes that you make？
I think maybe foreigners–working class like us–are buying them. These clothes don’t seem to be made for rich people. I think working class people are buying them.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
I like doing things right in my job. For example, when I finish my part in the manufacturing line, I hope that I did it well so people don’t come to me to tell me I did something wrong. I have been doing this job for so long and people my age won’t change jobs easily because if you do something else, you will need to start from scratch.
Q: What did you dream of doing when you were a small child?
When I graduated from school, I didn’t get to choose what I wanted to do. At that time, my dream was to study in a good school and find a good job after graduation, but my dream broke when I left school.
Q: If you had a chance to go on to studying, what subject would you have chosen， what would you choose?
I want to study medicine.
Q: What do you like about that profession？
Doctors can save lives and help injured people. This is a decent profession, but you need to be smart to be a doctor.
Q: Would you choose a particular specialty as a doctor?
Q: Does your child have some similar interests to you?
He is still studying in school. I don’t know his goal. He is in junior high school. I don’t know what he will do with his life.
Q: Do you ever watch medical shows on TV?
Q: Which ones do you like to watch?
A TV show called Kind Heart.
Q: Do you get a rush when you watch? What kind of feeling you have when you watch the show?
Q: What do you think will happen in your future?
I will work hard. I will keep working until the day I can’t.
Q: How old do you think that is?
I don’t have a plan yet. I still have a long road ahead of me. One needs to work to make money. How can one live without money?
Q: What is the most important value that you have?
Safety for my family.
Q: What does safety mean?
Safety means that my parents are in good health, my kid is doing great at school and my relationship with my wife is harmonious.
how does CHEN think about his clothes?
Q: You could tell me how you got the items you are wearing?
I got them from a market.
Q: In which market?
Sha Toujiao Market (a place near the border line between HK and Shenzhen)
Q: What do you like about the clothes you have on?
I can’t tell. I just like it. It is my personal taste.
Q: What part of…. What kind of taste, can you tell me a little more about that?
I like the design. It also has something to do with my work. Black clothes are more dirt-proof. White clothes can easily get dirty.
Q: What kind of clothes do you wear when you are off work?
Just the same clothes I wear to work. I don’t pick clothes.
Q: So you own a lot of dark clothing?
Yes, it is convenient to wear dark clothing to work. There is dirt around the factory. Clothes will get dirty and it is hard to clean them.
translation by zhu lei