U.S. apparel-making jobs have plummeted by 65% over the last 15 years as the work has moved to lower-wage countries. And now greater automation — while promising to reshape the manufacture of some clothing-makers to the U.S. — seem likely to be another hit to industry employment.

Expand chart

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

There is no telling how many more jobs will be lost: Automation that has shaken up other industries has been slow getting to apparel, because of how fabrics move and stretch while being sewn. Instead, companies have largely economized by shifting to countries including China, Mexico and Vietnam.

But, in a sign that the jobs trend down will continue, Softwear Automation, an Atlanta startup, says sales of its automated sewing technology grew by 10 times in 2016, and are likely to do so again this year. The company's technology can "see" the fabric, and sew with reliable accuracy, it said in a statement.

The automation of sewing is not new _ it goes back to 1830, and the invention of the sewing machine in France. That resulted in numerous uprisings by Parisian tailors who felt a threat to their work.

Rick Helfenbein, head of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, told Axios that it's still not clear how the newest bout of automation will change industry employment. "Factory cut-and-sew jobs are unlikely to increase," he said, "but other well-paying jobs in design, logistics, and data science would increase."

Go deeper

Markets swell as the economy shrinks

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The economy is sputtering, but the markets are thriving — a highly unusual event that shows how the coronavirus has thrown all bets off.

Why it matters: The disconnect adds to the wealth gap. The richest 10% of households — who own 84% of stocks — are getting richer, while millions of out-of-work Americans cross their fingers that pandemic unemployment benefits will be extended.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 10,836,500 — Total deaths: 520,605 — Total recoveries — 5,723,808Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 2,735,554 — Total deaths: 128,684 — Total recoveries: 781,970 — Total tested: 33,462,181Map.
  3. Public health: The states where face coverings are mandatory Regeneron stops trial after drug fails to help patientsWhat we know about the coronavirus immune response — Fauci says it has been a "very disturbing week" for the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.
  4. Business: Top business leaders urge the White House to develop mandatory mask guidelines.
  5. Politics: Herman Cain hospitalized for COVID-19 after attending Trump Tulsa rally — Biden downplays jobs number, rebukes Trump for ignoring health crisis.
  6. Economy: The economy may recover just quickly enough to kill political interest in more stimulus.
  7. States: Texas mandates face masks in public spaces Florida reports more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases, and its most-infected county issues curfew.
10 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Coronavirus surges mark a "very disturbing week" in the U.S.

Fauci testifies to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on June 30. Photo: Al Drago/AFP via Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told medical journal JAMA on Thursday that it has been a "very disturbing week" for the spread of the novel coronavirus in the U.S.

What's happening: The number of coronavirus cases increased in the vast majority of states over the last week, and decreased in only two states plus the District of Columbia, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.