In Egypt, your tour guides take you on a lot of what are called “factory tours” but are really just occasions for selling you tourist memorabilia. The “factory” part is often one lackey pretending to carve something, or pretending to paint. Nothing is actually made on site.
However, I enjoy a good factory tour, especially the opportunity to purchase “seconds” or even first-quality products, if they are really made there. Here in Bangladesh, I’ve gone on several factory tours. One was a tour of a pottery making village which produced pots for local sale. They are simple terra cotta pots, hundreds of thousands of them all the same size and shape. Various members of the village perform different aspects of the process. One person makes the base, another the rim, another stokes the open kiln, another deals with mixing clay, etc. Since each task is dependent on the schedule of the kiln, no one works 100% of the time, or at the same time as others. The morning is full of base-making, the midday of rim-making, the afternoon of setting the dried pots in the kiln, etc.
I also toured three factories that produced products for export to the US and Europe. One of these, a jute rug factory, made colonial-style braided rugs that you might have on your doorstep, or in front of the fire, or under your dog’s dish. They were cute, but the factory was a cloud of fibers, yarns and noises. It seemed a pretty messy business. They, unfortunately, didn’t have anything for sale to us tourists. We could have used a rug or two for our marble floors.
Last week, I visited the Beximco industrial park. We were there primarily for the ceramics (i.e. the bone china and porcelain dishware they produce under the label Shinepukur and also for major Western labels like Royal Doulton), but our touring focused on their textile and fashion factories. We saw the design process for international-quality Western and Eastern fashions, the looms which wove shirting-weight and denim fabrics, the dyeing and sizing processes, as well as a collection of samples offered to potential retail clients. It was a wonderful site.
Our tour of Beximco included a meeting with the CEO, who was planning a trip to NYC to take part in an awards ceremony. The company is part of a group of companies that support fashion scholarships and internships. In fact, we met several people at the factory who were from Italy and the US and were in Dhaka to learn the process of retail fashion from the fiber to the fashion. I think most of the internships were 3-6 months.
At the end of the tour, we were invited to dine with the same CEO and were treated to a spectacular banquet, including lobster, steak, goat, chicken, fish, veggies, rice, fruit, tempura, custard….. all in a lovely room overlooking a swan lake. This was possibly the loveliest place I’ve been to in Dhaka, even though I realized that that was in large part a part of their marketing process. If it wasn’t obsessively manicured, the factory and grounds would not have as much appeal to fashion-conscious buyers and designers who were thinking of hiring Beximco to do their manufacturing.