By  on March 22, 2005

DONGGUAN, China — With quotas lifted, China is rapidly flexing its muscles as a powerhouse of apparel production.

But China’s industry is by no means monolithic. The world’s most populous country is home to hundreds of apparel companies, ranging from small shops to sprawling megafactories, from state-owned reminders of China’s communist history to temples of the country’s growing embrace of capitalism. With their exports — at least for now — unrestrained, these enterprises are fighting tooth and nail to grow their sales.

Luen Thai Holdings Ltd. is betting its future on a model of a superfactory the company calls a “supply-chain city.” Its first such 32-acre complex is now operating here in Dongguan and will employ 14,000 workers in 15 buildings when it is completed in early 2007.

The Dongguan complex, which currently employs 7,300 workers, aims to be a one-stop shop for Luen Thai’s customers, where apparel brands can source entire season’s worth of merchandise, tops and bottoms, knits and wovens.

“We offer everything in one area,” said Lewis Leung, vice president and general manager of the Dongguan facility.

Beyond simple cutting and sewing, the facility houses a robust design department, sourcing operations — with office space for Luen Thai’s major suppliers and customers — and logistics planning.

So far, the company has invested $51 million in the facility and plans to spend an additional $16.6 million in its expansion.  It already represents a hefty part of Luen Thai, which has more than 20,000 employees at 12 manufacturing facilities and 14 offices in nine countries. The Dongguan factory last year produced 65 million garments. In the year ended June 30, 2004, the company’s turnover came to $544.9 million.

But the Dongguan facility, massive as it is, will be dwarfed by the 115-acre complex Luen Thai plans to open next, in Qing Yuan, 30 minutes from Guangzhou.

Outside the Dongguan compound, one can feel overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of China’s rapid industrialization.

Within the walls, the 24-hour facility has the feel of a college campus, where young, stylishly dressed workers can be seen taking their lunch breaks, and signs in English and Chinese offer directions to the various buildings.

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