The rise and fall of a famous underwear town through the eyes of a truck driver

Entering late September, the heat in Gurao Town, Shantou, Guangdong is still unbearable and makes people sweat profusely. Truck driver Chen Xinjie drove out early. He was going to …

Entering late September, the heat in Gurao Town, Shantou, Guangdong is still unbearable and makes people sweat profusely.

Truck driver Chen Xinjie drove out early. He was going to a fabric factory in Gurao Town to transport 40 strips of gray fabric to a cloth trader’s warehouse 4 kilometers away. This is the starting point of the Chaoshan underwear industry chain. If nothing unexpected happens, this batch of fabric embryos will then go through various links such as embroidery, washing and dyeing, shaping and processing, and will eventually become pieces of finished underwear and be sold to consumers.

“70% of the world’s underwear is produced in Chaoshan”, this is a proud saying of Gurao people when introducing their hometown to outsiders. However, in recent years, due to the dual impact of the international economic situation and the epidemic, Chaoshan underwear industry is seeking transformation and self-rescue. On the other hand, the rise of social e-commerce has made Chaoshan underwear orders more timely, and has also put forward higher requirements for factory production efficiency and logistics and transportation efficiency.

The changes in Chaoshan’s underwear industry have finally been transmitted to freight. A large number of small and medium-sized trucks have taken on the important task of improving logistics and transportation efficiency. According to data from the Lalamove platform, orders on the platform in Gurao Town increased by 88% year-on-year from January to August this year. For thousands of Lalamove drivers traveling between Chaoyang and Chaonan towns, this is their “battlefield.”

A famous underwear town in transformation

Chen Xinjie, 41, is a local in Gurao. Three years ago, he bought the medium-sized truck in front of him and started his career as a freight driver on Lalamove. In his view, he has been busy for half his life, and his career has always been related to Gurao’s underwear industry.

The three areas with the most developed underwear industry in Chaoshan are Chaoyang District and Chaonan District of Shantou, and Puning City of Jieyang. Gurao Town, located in Chaoyang, is known as the “Famous Knitted Underwear Town in China”. In 2021, the town achieved a total industrial output value of 45.21 billion yuan, of which the total industrial output value of the textile and garment industry reached 44.18 billion yuan.

In the early 1980s, the knitted underwear manufacturing industry in Gurao Town began to take off. Like most places in Shantou, it started from family workshops and “three to one supplement”. In the late 1990s, there were hundreds of small underwear production workshops or factories in Gurao, and it was at that time that Chen Xinjie joined one of them as a machine repairman.

While working in the factory, Chen Xinjie learned to repair machines and witnessed the rapid development of Gurao’s clothing and underwear industry. Since the 1990s, a large number of upstream and downstream enterprises in clothing and underwear have intensively rushed to the capital market. Not only has the domestic market begun to have huge demand, but the foreign trade market has also been rapidly expanding.

Entering the 21st century, underwear manufacturers including Embry Holdings (01388.HK), Urban Beauty (02298.HK), and Virginie (02199.HK) have also been listed on the market. Many of them have their production and supply chains in the Chaoshan area.

According to Chen Xinjie’s recollection, in 2013, an embroidery machine could earn three to four hundred yuan a day. Under the temptation of huge profits, many people started their own businesses and bought a few machines to start small workshops. That year, Chen Xinjie also jumped out of the underwear factory and joined the ranks of “little bosses”.

“An embroidery machine costs more than 80,000 yuan, and I bought 6 of them.” Chen Xinjie said that the embroidery cloth produced at that time was mainly sold to the professional wholesale market in Guangzhou and then exported to Africa. Later, due to the large number of participants, fierce competition in the industry, oversupply of products, and even a price war, “By 2017-2018, as the industry gradually became standardized, a machine could only earn dozens of yuan a day, so I stopped doing it. Now.” Later, Chen Xinjie sold the embroidery machine for eight to nine thousand units.

After more than 40 years of continuous development, Chaoshan underwear industry has formed a relatively complete industrial chain, including twisting, warp knitting, computer embroidery, finishing, finished products, accessories and auxiliary materials. The explosive development of the upstream supply chain of underwear has met the development needs of Chaoshan underwear, and also enabled Chaoshan underwear to enjoy unique cost and convenience advantages in the country and even the world.

As the international economic situation has been severe and exports have been blocked in recent years, Chaoshan underwear has begun to transform and turn to the domestic market. At the same time, labor and raw material costs have continued to rise, coupled with the impact of multiple factors such as the epidemic, consumption upgrading, and channel changes, Chaoshan underwear industry has entered the The development bottleneck has been identified and needs to be solved urgently.

Nowadays, large manufacturers with financial strength have introduced automation equipment and digital management to enhance their core competitiveness through standardized, professional, and digital management. Some small and medium-sized underwear factories can only rely on continuous cost reduction or moving to surrounding areas with lower labor costs. Taking Chaoyang District as an example, the district has formed an industrial development pattern with Gurao Town as the center and gradually radiating to Heping, Tongmen, Guiyu and other surrounding towns.

For decades, the underwear industry here has supported generations of local people, including the truck drivers who transport goods to this underwear industry cluster.

Freight “war” between towns and villages

In Gurao, the work and rest schedules of many truck drivers are highly consistent with the delivery rhythm of local underwear production factories. The busy time of the factory is usually from noon to late at night. Many truck drivers also start working from noon and do not collect their trucks until 11pm to go home.

Every noon, all kinds of trucks and electric trucks can be seen everywhere in Gurao Town.Young people like to buy things online and return them directly if they are not suitable. “The boss said that this has caused the factory orders to become scattered. In the past, the factory produced 10,000 pieces of goods before calling on trucks to deliver them to downstream customers. Now it has become small orders of 2,000, 1,000 or even 500 pieces, and the timeliness requirements have also become higher. , “Delivery within 17 hours”, “Delivery within 24 hours”, “In this way, the factory will ship out 500 pieces of goods immediately. “said the female boss.

Chen Qinjian said that many times he directly helped move the goods, “Because they are all finished products. If there are not many boxes, I just move them directly. It also saves time and rushes to grab an order.”

Promoting industrial agglomeration, high-end and standardized development is a major attempt of Gurao Town to explore industrial transformation and upgrading in recent years. Relying on the resource advantages of the underwear production base, the town government hopes to seize the opportunity of e-commerce development and form an underwear e-commerce industry cluster.

Maoxing E-commerce Underwear Industrial Park in Gurao Town is one of the representative projects. The park is equipped with an e-commerce logistics express sorting center, Maoxing logistics cloud warehouse, e-commerce training and operation platform, as well as related photography, live broadcast and offline exhibitions. site.

The person in charge of the customer service center of the industrial park said that the park was established to create a scale effect and make it easier for customers to come to contact us. “The companies that have settled in now are basically online batch companies, and our park also has a live broadcast room that allows them to do in-store broadcasts. ”

He admitted frankly that the current market is not very good, the cost of live broadcast is getting higher and higher, hiring a host usually costs tens of thousands of yuan, and the profits of underwear are getting thinner and thinner. Nowadays, merchants are more willing to hold the chips in their own hands, and many merchants have started live streaming of their stores.

The development of live streaming e-commerce has forced the Chaoshan underwear industry to improve logistics and transportation efficiency. Thousands of small and medium-sized trucks in Lalamove have taken on this important task. They have become “frequent visitors” to the industrial park, connecting logistics and transportation inside and outside the park.

In addition to underwear practitioners, truck drivers are the most familiar with the Chaoshan underwear industry. They know that the growth of freight orders on the freight platform does not mean that it can be solved once and for all. The income status of local truck drivers has been tied to the Chaoshan underwear industry. All lose.

Whenever he hears the news that an underwear factory has closed down due to poor management, Chen Qinjian will also worry about the future of Chaoshan underwear industry, but he still believes that the industry will get better again. “Truck drivers are also stalwarts of the underwear industry.” Chen Qinjian laughed.

As night fell, Chen Qinjian received another freight order, transporting a batch of goods from Gurao Town to Xiashan Street, Chaonan District. Along the way, he looked at the various neon lights on both sides of Xiashan Street without saying a word. When passing by the “Homewear Street” in Xiashan Street, he whispered: “The underwear business here will be good, and our future will be good.”

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Author: clsrich