NUL'S CLOTHING EXPERT IS LOCALISING LESOTHO’S BIG CLOTHING INDUSTRY

Ms Papali Maqalika-Mokobori, a lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Department of Consumer Sciences is doing what others dare only whisper in corridors. She is taking steps to localising Lesotho’s massive textile industry. She and her students are already practising concepts of mass production of clothes and her factory will be part of the much anticipated NUL-LNDC Industrial Park. 

“When it comes to clothing, our best bet is quality,” she said. It is that emphasis on quality, and mass production, which will separate her upcoming factory from the rest of local efforts in this area.

Along with her students, Ms Maqalika-Mokobori is already making breath-taking clothing. But you will appreciate to listen to her as she shares how such clothes are made using the principles of mass production. A PhD candidate in the field of textiles, she is willing to take us for a ride into what it takes to mass produce clothes. 

As you read, keep in mind that professionalising our production of clothes and producing them in masses is the only step that separates us, the locals, from Lesotho’s big foreign owned textile industry.

First, let’s enter the design room.

“Mass production starts with the design,” she said. There is a philosophy behind this design thing. It starts with people and people are different. For instance, she narrated, “black African women in general have a unique figure type compared to women from other continents.”

“They are often notably breasted and bottom heavy,” she observed.

So when you design for these women, you should bear that reality in mind. “Some scholars have gone so far as suggesting that Africa should have its own standards of size,” she said, “European and Asian sizes some-times don’t fit well with us.”

Once the designs are drawn, pattern pieces developed, then, they are classified into sizes for different age groups or body sizes. We all know the stuff like, “I am size 32 or something.”

Then we move into the cutting room. 

Suppose we are mass producing a simple shirt of a particular size. Once a design is drawn and the size is figured out, objects called design piece templates are used for cutting.

She said, “These templates are usually hard plastic or board models around which we cut design pieces such as collars, sleeves, back-bodice, front, pockets and the likes.” All those components of a cloth.

Note: division of labour is often religiously observed in mass production—each person is focusing on his or her part of the work. “We want to make sure that the work is fast and people have exclusive focus on the piece of work before them,” she explained.

Since you are mass producing, you are not cutting one front or collar at a time, you are cutting many of them at once, sometimes in different colours. Very important, she said, “is the fact that you have to have a plan to minimize waste. That means your cutting plan should be such that waste off-cuts do not go beyond 20% of the entire cloth, at most.”

Once the collars, sleeves, back-bodices, fronts, pockets and the likes have been cut, each component making its own pile, it’s time to bundle them up.

Here we meet a person, or a group of people, called “bundlers,” either in a cutting room (for small productions) or bundling room (for big productions).

These folks take from each heap, components that would make a single shirt and bundle them up.

It is time to move into a sewing hall.

The bundlers will move the bundles to this hall or they can be brought by conveyor belts. Once they are here. The workers begin to assemble each cloth. It is not haphazard. Each step leads nicely to the other such that no step becomes an impediment to the upcoming ones but enables them.

Again, you don’t want one person doing everything. At the first station, the first person is doing a shoulder seam, joining the back and the front at the shoulder. He takes the job to the next person who inserts a sleeve and passes to another who joins the side seams.

The process continues until the whole shirt takes shape.

In between, we have folks we call feeders who help bring materials to the guys doing the sewing. “You want to make sure that the folks sitting down, doing the sewing, don’t have distractions. There are deadlines to meet,” she said.

Throughout the sewing process, every step of joining the pieces is followed by ironing. In her view, this is one of the things that separates professionally made clothes from the rest, “you want steam, you want pressure, you want temperature,” to straighten and flatten the clothes even as you combine the pieces.

Finishing touches include buttoning, cleaning – basically the removal of loose threads and fluff, putting labels—brand, size, care instructions (e.g. do not bleach), fibre content (type and mix, e.g. 70% cotton, 30% polyester), etc.

Then you package and sell or warehouse in a dry room with a controlled lighting to ensure that clothes are as intact as possible.

Well, if the foreigners (and we welcome them so much), can do these things here in Lesotho, so can we. If it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.