Our Chinese atelier: Expertise in silk
OUR CHINESE ATELIER AND EXPERTISE IN SILK
In March 2019 we travelled to the Shanghai region to visit an atelier that specialises in working with silk, with whom Sézane has worked with since we began in 2015. We travelled with Aude, who coordinates the production process at Sézane, and has regular discussions with the Chinese staff from our design studio in Paris.
We met up with Vivian and Jane, the workshop managers. They told us about each of their career trajectories, highlighting Jane's more unusual one - she started out as a dressmaker at the age of 18 and then gradually climbed the career ladder, becoming the pattern manager and then the production line manager, eventually rising to manage this workshop. Vivian shows us around, and we verify that everything is in line with the report given to us by Elléore (our social welfare and environment expert) before we leave, including cleanliness and safety regulations. No unpleasant surprises at all!
The Sollie dress (part of our 2019 spring collection) is being made. We watch each stage of the production process and see how meticulous you have to be to manage the delicate nature of the silk. The first stop: metres of colourful, printed fabric are brought out on a roll before two workers, whose job is to identify even the slightest defects (invisible to our unaccustomed eyes...) so that the primary material sent off for production is perfect. Together we explore the laboratory equipped with high-tech facilities, where tests are carried out on the silk: pilling, washing machine, tearing...everything is checked. The pattern machines are modern, and automated in order to make the most of the positioning of the patterns on the fabric and to avoid waste. Despite this, the dressmakers and workers who iron out each item still work by hand. When the garment is finished, it is checked carefully by well-trained eyes before being packaged and sent off.
We asked Vivian about the workers' pay and working schedule. They work from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening with a break from 11 to 1 for lunch, followed by a siesta (which is of major cultural significance) and then they take another break from 5 to 6 in the afternoon, as it is traditional to eat early in China. In terms of pay, this increases every year in line with the country's growth and the cost of living. At this atelier, pay is 15 to 20% higher than the regional average.
Vivian emphasises the qualification levels of the workers here, some of whom have over twenty years' experience in silk craft. When she talks about their relationship with silk, she explains that it “flows in their veins ” as this primary material has been made locally for centuries. This ancestral skill coupled with the use of the latest technology is what makes it possible for us to make the very best quality silk items. We are now working on our next challenge together: obtain the OEKO-TEX certification for all garments.