Better Living Through Television?
By Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, 9/5/2005 12:00:00 AM
There's no better way to get a bead on your own culture than to step outside of it. Some simultaneous television programming in Shanghai two weeks ago brought that lesson home powerfully.
An American TV channel and a Chinese channel were airing reality shows during the same hour. On the American channel: “Fear Factor.” A group of buff, good-looking 20-somethings competed with one another in scarfing down plates of (I kid you not) live leeches, maggots, blood worms, stink beetles and hissing cockroaches.
On the Chinese channel: “6th annual Outlook English Competition.” It's an American Idol-style program in which young people seek to best their peers in their command of English. A young woman in HTT's Shanghai office told me one of her college friends won the competition last year.
The contrast certainly calls into question our priorities as a society — and the impact of the youth factor is equally striking in the realm of home textiles. Whether in headquarters offices or trade show booths, China's home textiles ranks abound with young people. In the United States, of course, one doesn't find many 20-somethings outside the design department.
I suppose it's a literal sign of the maturity of the U.S. industry versus the relative youth of China's community of rapidly growing factories. A few manufacturing chiefs in China acknowledged the strategic challenges faced by U.S. suppliers. Most hope their U.S. business partners (or potential partners) will find a way to remain relevant — if only because they prefer the buffer U.S. suppliers provide between the factory and the retailer.
A few months ago, I recounted a round table discussion at the Fashion Institute of Technology, during which a U.S. industry vet advised FIT faculty that the best job opportunities for their new graduates may lie overseas.
While it's true that one of the greatest weaknesses in China's manufacturing industry is a lack of Western design knowledge, there could be an added benefit to the U.S. industry in sending our small corps of home textiles majors abroad. They will be able to look at the American industry from a fresh perspective — and hopefully, they'll be able to communicate back to it some new ideas to shore up U.S. suppliers' role in the global trading equation.
Perhaps the industry should consider a more formalized exchange of its young people with partner factories abroad. That might give players on each node of the network a new perspective on this rapidly morphing business.
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