Sunday, July 31, 2016

Made in New York, or Go Home, Greenpeace, You're Drunk

For the first time ever, I got to visit an honest-to-goodness New York City garment factory! With all the talking and teaching about garment industry that I do, it was long overdue.

The factory, Johnny's Studio, manufactures clothing for SCHAI, among others, and it is thanks to SCHAI's founder and designer, Suk Chai, that I got to visit. And to meet Suk, who is smart and funny and gracious, and took time to show me around.

It was amazing to see this vibrant life, mere remnant of the volume of 1950s and 1960s, but so much is the same: the skill and the energy, and the industry that still seems to function (although on a smaller scale) as an engine for getting immigrant workers to middle class and business ownership. The garmentos of yore, the Italian and Jewish workforce of the early days, seem to have been supplanted by Asian and Latinx/Hispanic owners and workers, but the vibe is still there! (Has anyone read The Beatiful Generation by Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, by the way? It's great, and talks at length about the link between Asian-American fashion designers and Asian workers in the garment industry. Anyway, I babble).

Here are some pics!

(I was told Ken here was cutting my dress!)

Here's a snapshot of a few of SCHAI's Fall looks, by the way. As you probably guessed, it's yet another obsession.

I mean, look at these pants!

As you can guess, I love this label not just because of the tailoring and luxe drape of the textiles, but also because it is domestically made, uses well-sourced, high quality fabrics, and doesn't cut any manufacturing corners. The price point of course reflects this ethos. Which is just another way of saying this: there is no way on earth to make cheap garments sustainable. Of course higher price alone does not guarantee sustainability (in fact, many well-known brands' pricetags reflect little but name recognition), but the opposite is certainly true: a ten dollar dress is inherently problematic. Not only because of the impossibility of paying living wages and buying decent materials with that kind of retail, but also because cheap clothes are disposable, and they will be choking our landfills with their poly blends for centuries to come.

And this is why this Greenpeace -authored rundown is especially puzzling. The criteria are so ridiculously narrow as to completely ignore the irreducible reality of how clothes, physical garments, affect the environment in many complex and intertwining ways, and of which toxic compounds are only one part. H&M and other fast-fashion retailers are a problem, and will continue to be so as long as they continue the current volume of production at current prices, no matter how many toxic chemicals they ban.

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