New York City – The Garment Worker
Photo by: Paul Lowry
I recently saw a new documentary on the American garment industry called, Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags. It goes into how the fashion/garment industry got started in America with New York City being at the center of it all, and where it is today.
Dozens of people who were at one time or is still in the industry were interviewed. Individuals who’s parents worked in the New York City Garment District in the early part of the last century, union workers, entrepreneurs who started garment manufacturing companies and people who was recently pushed out of business or laid off for various reasons were featured. Reasons includes smaller companies going public, the recently crashed economy and factories going overseas. Its a historical piece that’s both fascinating and will force you to think about our individual and collective choices.
How does this relate to green living?
“In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S.A.; by 2009, only 5% is manufactured here.”
Most of our clothing is not local and is being shipped in from overseas. The carbon footprint couldn’t get much larger than that.
Where is our clothing coming from?
Most of us are familiar with sweatshop labor, but I guess I didn’t realize that so many of our clothing comes from places that still practice modern day slavery. Though I personally try to be mindful where my clothing comes from, its sometimes hard to pass up on a good deal. The problem is, that $10 dress from any large discount retailer cost more than just $10 as pointed out in the Story of Stuff video. Chatting with local designers in the Portland area, I learned just how difficult and costly it is to create just one garment. Factors such as the cost of materials (especial organic), paying employees a fair living wage, rent, insurance, overhead and so many others makes it difficult to break even sometimes let alone turn over a profit. Just because some locally made items are being sold at high double or triple digit prices, doesn’t mean the brick and mortar stores, online shop owners, designers, seamstress, etc are living large. Its a tough and many times thankless industry to be in.
What can we do?
That is a very good question and I am always open to ideas. I do know we have to change our shopping and consumption habits: buy less and buy local. Is there anything else we as individuals can do to reverse this trend?