Vintage Miscellany, April 28, 2013

There’s nothing like two days of non-stop chilly rain to make one wish for a day out-of-doors, wearing a nice pair of plaid pants, a sharp double-breasted jacket, topped with a turban.  Instead, curl up with this week’s fashion and history links.

*   The FIDM blog has a nice entry on the  Théâtre de la Mode dolls that are on display at the Maryhill Museum of Art, located in rural Washington state.  It’s a bit off the beaten path, but from all accounts, well worth the trip.

*   Someone ought to attempt a Venn Diagram showing the connections between the up-coming PUNK: Chaos to Couture exhibition at the Met, Vogue magazine (including Anna Wintour and Lauren Santo Domingo), and on-line merchant Moda Operandi (again, Lauren Santo Domingo).  But then it probably would just be a circle within a circle within a circle.

*   Someone has finally taken responsibility for inventing one of the all time greatest irritating words: fashionista.

*   SCAD, the Savannah School of Art and Design recently held their yearly SCAD Style event, and they have put video of many of the forums and talks on their blog.  There’s some really great stuff, including conversations with Betsey Johnson, Stephen Burrows and Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Videos go back to April 15, 2013.

*   My favorite laugh of the week was at the expense of a woman who swallowed a diamond at a fashion show fundraiser in Florida.  But I have a feeling she isn’t too upset.

*   John Galliano is now a teacher.   Parsons The New School For Design has announced that he’ll be teaching a class called “Show Me Emotion”.   Seriously, I did not make that up.

*   Brenna Barks has a great post on the subject of  Kashmir shawls on her blog.

*  A jeans making factory in Wales that had been closed since 2002 has been reopened, rehiring some of the old employees and sourcing the equipment in Poland.

*   Front Row: Chinese American Designers  and Shanghai Glamour: New Woman 1910s – 40s are on display now through September 29, 2013 at the Museum of Chinese in America, NYC.

*  I’m sure by now that you have read the story of the latest garment industry incident in Bangladesh.   The officials have begun to “round up the usual suspects,” and the blame game has begun.   It is so heartbreaking to see these people, knowing the conditions in which they were working, and then another huge loss of life, all due to the seriously flawed system by which our clothing is made and procured by companies and stores in the West.

I really wish that the answer to this problem was a simplistic as a refusal to buy garments made in Bangladesh.  There are many who argue that as bad as they are, the factory jobs in countries like Bangladesh provide the necessities of life to millions of people.  History has taught us that putting pressure on factory owners to improve conditions and raise wages often leads to the closure of the factory, or to its relocation in an even cheaper area.

Here in the South, we lament the jobs that were lost first to Mexico, then to Taiwan  then to Korea, then to China, and now to Bangladesh and Vietnam.  But we tend to forget that many of the Southern factories were relocated to the South in the early days of the 20th century, in an effort to escape the labor union movement that was strong in the North, but practically non-existent in the South.

It’s time we all realized that this is everyone’s problem.  Western consumers need to stop thinking that the most important thing about a garment is how little we can pay for it.  We need to take a long hard look at our buying habits, and realize that insisting on a $15 blouse or a pair of $12 pants is taking advantage of a situation that keeps people living in poverty and subjects them to unsafe working conditions.

Western clothing companies and stores need to take a good look at their practices so they will know with whom they are dealing.  And they need to start paying their suppliers a decent profit so the supplier can, in turn, pay the factory enough so that it pays to have a well maintained building and workers who are paid a wage that keeps them out of poverty.

As much as I get ill with the news media and their way of sensationalizing everything, I’m glad that this story has their attention.  In the past, factory tragedies in other countries have been under-reported, but this one is getting so much attention that perhaps it will alert more people to the way their cheap clothes are actually made.   And I’m led to believe that the change is going to have to start with Western consumers.  Refusing to buy cheap, under-priced clothing will not completely solve the problem, but that along with contacting your favorite brands, telling them you support the practice of paying more for a safely made product will help get the point across.

Also, pay attention to the stores and companies who are found to be doing business with dangerous factories.  Pay attention to what they say after tragedy strikes.  If they express surprise that they are doing business with substandard producers, that tells me that they are not paying attention to how they are conducting business.   Contrast that with Patagonia, who puts on their website all the factories with whom they contract.

This is a complicated problem, but one that can be solved if everyone steps up and does the right thing.


Filed under Vintage Miscellany

15 responses to “Vintage Miscellany, April 28, 2013

  1. LB

    Regarding clothing fabricated in China and worse – preach it sister.


  2. Teresa

    What happened in Bangladesh is such a tradegy and one of many reasons why I will don’t buy cheap/fast fashion. Hopefully this will help bring the situation to the attention of more people.

    (Thanks for the giggles with the diamond and fashionista articles!)


    • I really do think that the beginning of the solution of this problem is to eliminate the practice of selling clothing for less that it can be produced with a decent living wage for the workers.


      • I agree, it is the only way. Appealing to consumer conscience is a waste of time, sadly. Just after the tragedy, a London newspaper interviewed shoppers at Primark (one of the clothing manufacturers supplied by the collapsed factory). Those interviewed were all perfectly happy to continue shopping there. Poor working conditions and, in this instance, massive loss of life didn’t even enter the equation as long as the clothes remained dirt cheap and shoppers could continue to buy indiscriminately.
        It made for very depressing reading.


  3. Christina

    Thank you for reminding us again about the working conditions in factories producing garments for western clothing companies. This was a terrible news story. Sub-contracting is also part of the problem and is often cited as a reason “We were not aware that our contractor was out-sourcing to another factory that does not comply with our guidelines.” Exposure of bad unethical practices will continue to highlight the extent companies will go to increase profits. Hopefully publicity will raise awareness and give buyers informed choices.


  4. Given your vast knowledge of fabric labor conditions, I wonder if you know anything about textile factories today. I sew most of my own clothes, so I don’t exploit garment workers…but are textile factory workers in better shape?


    • The big difference between textile production and garment making is that today the making of textiles is highly mechanized. A factory can run with only a few skilled employees, and so the human factor is just not as urgent. The big problem with textile production is the environmental issue. There is a tremendous amount of waste and pollution that accompanies it.

      I tend to buy fabrics at thrift stores, but when I do visit fabric stores I’m surprised by so many bolts not having country of origin info. There still are fabrics being made in the US and the UK, and if one is diligent, one can find them. Yes, they do tend to be more expensive, but then, the quality is usually very high.


  5. Thanks for all the great links, LIzzie, and for your excellent, astute remarks about the latest exploited garment worker tragedy. I hope the sea change in our society’s demand for cheap clothing (without a thought to what explains the low price) takes place before yet another disaster strikes…


  6. Thank you for this piece. Unfortunately, I don’t think most “consumers” want to pay higher costs for clothing now that they, too, can have a Jay Gatsby-like closet full of clothes of their own. Until something can replace “shopping” as a solution for all of life’s problems, these practices will continue. There are still a few “humans” (contrasted with “consumers”) in the world, though, so there is hope.


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  8. Great post, I totally agree with your points on clothes manufacturing, yes it’s our responsibility as consumers, well said!


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