30 Years working in the RagTrade


This photo is me, operating a Gerber Cutter.

I will take you down a path of how the garments you buy in a fashion parlor start from the beginning with the rolls of untouched fabric, waiting to be made into garments.

When I started working in the rag trade in the early 1970’s, the material was laid up by hand, on long tables, following an order by material type, color, style.

Hopefully, the person laying it up, never stretch the material so you got the right tension, and the garment would end up the right size, not two sizes too small, or an over-sized garment, (not true to size).

Then it was cut by an Eastman knife going up and down, through the layers of fabric.

Everything would be okay, as long as the person that graded the pattern and draw it up on paper did not make a mistake.

Also that the person cutting the lays of fabric cut on the right lines correctly.

Hopefully, when the machinist sewed it up, all piece of the garment fitted together.

How I started working in the Rade Trade
I worked for 30 years, starting as a machinist and working my way through pattern grading, by hand, not a plotter, to a cutter.

Since all the factories were closing down one by one, and as it became uneconomical to operate like this, they just closed down or went offshore.

Early in the 1990 things really started to change, all the imports off cheap clothes, from china and the islands, factories looked for new way’s to make a profit and cope with all the rising wages.

Plotting Computer machines that draw the patterns on paper, and had a better accuracy and less mistakes, but still there was a need for more if the rag trade was going to survive.

Factories were closing down everywhere.

So Classic Fashions in New Plymouth New Zealand invested in this great Gerber cutter imported from the USA.

Classic Fashions was a ladies outer garment clothing firm which made dresses, skirts, ladies trousers and blouses.

What is a Gerber Cutter?

The Gerber stored cutting setup files for quick retrieval to accelerate future cut jobs on a computer.

It had graphical operator interface and easy-to-use on-machine control panel on a computer that simplifies operator training and use, which I learned to use, it was the start of me being a computer addict.

Cuts by a laser beam, all kinds of fabric from the most delicates to the hardest of vinyl.

We had long tables which were set up with vacuum under them so when the layers of fabric were finished laying up by hand, they were moved down the table to the Gerber cutter to be cut.

The Gerber cutter, travels across the floor on tracks like a train and moves from one table to the next, it was operated by vacuum, the plastic was laid on top and the vacuum sucked the material down under the plastic and held it very firm.

There would be a person at the head of the Gerber cutter as the lays of fabric was being cut to take of the pieces of the garments as they were cut, bundle them up and of to the markers to sort out and hang the piece on hangers, which would be ready for the machinist to sew up.

So the Gerber solutions for apparel and retail dramatically improve the turn around times and significantly reduce material waste and labor costs but the factories still when on closing down until 16 march 2002.

Classic Manufacturing, one of the last clothing factories to close down in Taranaki NZ closed down.

30 years of working in the Rag trade was over, at the age of 62, I semi-retired as clothing manufacturing had come to an end, as they left and took their factories off-shore or to Auckland.

Now in 2016 there are no clothing manufacturers in Taranaki, I am not sure if there are any in New Zealand at all.

That my story of 30 years working in the rag trade, (as we called it).

Did you ever work in the rag trade? Please comment, would love to know.