Saturday, October 01, 2005

A tale of two ironboxes

After the tea shop, the press shop (person who irons clothes) is perhaps the smallest entrepreneurial activity in India. All it needs are a pushcart and a iron box. The iron box used by the presswallah (as I will call him from now on), is a century old design, the other relatively new. Yet, in many respects, the century old model comprehensively beats the newer technology.

The old iron box is a simple "iron" cage with place to put in simmering pieces of coal and some outlets/inlets for the coal to keep simmering (see picture - its obvious which is the new one). It is fairly heavy, and its weight and heat helps it, literally, weigh down creases in a single pass. For obvious reasons, very few houses use it. But the laundries down the street (all over India, I guess) use this iron box.

The newer ones are a study in contrast. They are light, plastic ironboxes and generate heat by way of electrical elements, but the lightness means a few hisses of steam steam, liberal sprinkling of water and some patience are needed before a crease can be subjugated. The older electrical models (between these two) had a heavy element but that meant they took a longish time to get heated.

The old ironbox is cheaper to buy and run because it can for cheap and does not consume electricity. For the presswallah, its efficient, because he needs at the most 2 passes to iron a trouser. And that earns him 2 rupees (1USD = approx 44 INR) per item of clothing. These guys can be pretty busy (atleast in Bangalore) on weekends, readying clothes for the techies of India's Silicon valley for the Monday. For them, this ironbox is ideal. No dangling cords, does the job quickly and effectively and inputs are cheap. To iron a similar trouser at home means the consumption of almost 2 rupees worth of of electricity, plus a decent amount of time.

I am not sure that in this day and age, in how many countries we can see this ironbox in action. In markets like the Indian market, with abundant labour supply (yet), the old model beats the new model hands down. Perhaps there are more examples out there on how the abundance of labour (or other resources) creates differences in the way markets adapt to technologies.


Koos said...

If I had the choice..
Sorry, it's in Dutch, but the pics say enough :)

aditya said...

Good to see this post. I posted a video on blip and metacafe regarding the presswallah. url is or you may just type the presswallah in google search. you may link the video to your post. Enjoy!