Textile manufacturing in India and the Ottoman Empire transformed fundamentally in the nineteenth century, when mass-produced goods imported from Europe permeated local markets. Faced with increasing competition from abroad, local producers changed their techniques, materials, designs, and target customers. At the same time, processing industries emerged in places with intense mercantile activity, introducing new meanings, relations, and patterns of work. This article investigates the role played by gender in the shaping of labour markets and class politics in two export-oriented industries that developed simultaneously: the silk-reeling industry in Bursa and the cotton-spinning industry in Bombay. It shows that the secondary economic value attributed to women's work, combined with rural connections of workers, brought down wages and subsidized capitalist profits in both sectors. Within the emerging industrial workforce, ideas about appropriate roles for women and men provided the vocabulary and constituted boundaries of class politics. Bringing gender into the debate of industrial development and class, the article reveals parallels and contrasts in two non-European settings that are rarely compared in the existing historiographies.