As the fashion industry gets ready to find out what is in store at the China International Sewing Machinery & Accessories Show (CISMA) in Shanghai next month, here's a look at how the sewing machinery sector is faring and-more important-looking at the future.

Clothing, as we know, came into being when human beings learnt to sew. The art of sewing remains at the core of garments thousands of years later. It remains labour-intensive as things stand, and it is on this front that the sewing machinery industry is likely to see the most cutting-edge developments in the immediate future. Manufacturers of sewing machines-of the industrial scale, obviously-are possibly among the most under pressure from apparel manufacturers to help the latter cut costs. In many ways, that is how it all started. The sewing machines that were made during the first Industrial Revolution had a clear-cut objective: to decrease the amount of manual sewing work at garment companies. The first of these was made by an English cabinetmaker called Thomas Saint in 1790. All subsequent modifications and innovations were built on Saint's work-till, of course, the modern sewing machine built in 1851 by Isaac Merritt Singer, an American inventor, actor, and businessman. Even today, Singer is more than a brand name- it is as good as a common noun.

Singer's contraption has since been escalated to an industrial scale, and it is the sewing machine that lies at the core of improving the efficiency and productivity of the apparel industry. Much of the way that clothes will be manufactured in the days to come will depend considerably on the sewing machine sector. This sector has seen only so much automation and is being keenly watched by manufacturers ever on the lookout to cut down on costs and narrow down lead times. The mandate for the sewing machinery sector is clear: get smarter. It should, naturally, be no surprise that the China International Sewing Machinery & Accessories Show (CISMA) in September this year should be focusing on 'Smart Sewing Factory-Technologies and Solutions' (see box: Smart Show).

Getting Innovative

The pressure on garment manufacturers to cut down on costs and on suppliers to narrow lead times is tremendous, in the face of end-consumers looking out for garments that cost less and are better in finish. Manufacturers, in turn, lean on machinery producers, including the sewing sector. Therefore, this sector needs to foresee apparel consumption trends and keep track of all other developments driving the global fashion industry-in some ways, it needs to stay ahead of the times.

One company doing all this for over 100 years is the Japan-based Brother Industries Ltd. Yasufumi Yamada, group manager of CS Planning Group (Industrial Sewing Machines Sales Department, Machinery Business Division) offers a global perspective to sewing: "Expectations are increasing towards productivity enhancement through automation, labour cost savings, and visualisation of production lines against the backdrop of manpower shortage and rising labour costs."