Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"Bleep" you, Gwyneth Paltrow! and a confession... (originally posted 9/12/16)


Pardon my French people, but let me explain how this goes...

Sometime about a year or two ago, I declared myself a Paltrow-free zone, refusing to utter her name for at least a full week, as she seemed attached to EVERYTHING I was doing and believed in for a time, and I just couldn't believe how often I was uttering her name.  Sensing that my involuntary fandom was bordering dangerously on worship, I cut the Gwyneth cord, and tried to go cold turkey.

But...

This summer happened.  My daughter went vegetarian, I supported/am supporting her choice, I opened my Gwyneth cookbook (and now it's looking like I'm gonna have to buy the others) to reveal even more exciting recipes and ideas than the ones I've already fallen in love with, I watched some great social documentaries about the way we live and what we consume...  (see Vegucated, Living on One Dollar, Chelsea Handler's Netflix show - grownups only - but very much worth watching, if you have an open mind a reasonable tolerance/willingness to ignore/allow profanity and delicate topics), my favorite episode of Glee (see above), the movie Shallow Hal, which I've now seen at least 10 times! and now, here I am... just head over heels again.  I wanna just scream "*** you!" (I'm not a profanity girl, so that's the best I can do) at her for reeling me back in again, sitting on my shoulder like some sort of nagging reminder that I have a responsibility to the planet, my family, and myself.  Grumble.

A paraphrase of her comment on a recent talk show was, "How is it that we allow ourselves to buy products and have no idea what's in them?  And the makers have no obligation to tell us, either!"  That is insane. Yes, we should know where our food comes from, anything we slather on our skin or hair, what's in it, what our clothes are made of, what chemicals are in the dyes and fabrics.  We should not be denied that information.  But... it's outrageous for us not to seek it, either.

Truth be told, there is a health component to what we are wearing, consuming, slathering on.  We can dismiss passionate people as goofy idealists, but this is our lives we are talking about... and more voices are chiming in.  

Another example of this sentiment below:


I’ve been on a journey as I’ve gotten older, of really thinking much more about the environment, about health and wellness. I think particularly because of my work around trauma, which is very focused on the body. It makes you aware of the impact the environment can have on your body and brain. The Columbia School of Public Health did a study recently showing that certain pesticides used in public housing products caused developmental delays in those children. Our first instinct is to blame parents for those delays, but it was the environment that really played that role. I started to see the impact of environment on physical well being, and think more deeply about what I’m eating, what I put on my skin. Even about the sun: when I was growing up you put baby oil on and burnt to a crisp. It’s the ongoing realization of how powerful environment is, and how it can impact your brain and body and what’s inside of you. I’ve noticed differences in how I feel when I eat organic food versus processed food. It’s an ongoing journey.

-Lyn Slater of Zady Lady


So, the point here... if you are a creative person who cares about the environment, extensive sourcing and questions of the buyer in the establishment will inform you about the fabrics you may wish to purchase to make your goods, but it still won't get you there entirely.  Research is important, for sure, and will educate you somewhat, but eventually, you will have to rely on limited sources for your goods if you want to be true to the mission.

In the garment district, the brick and mortar stores I have recently noticed carrying either organic cottons, bamboo, hemp, or other eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics are NY Elegant, B&J Fabrics, Mood, and Grayline Linen. It is a tough road to environmentally responsible choices, and nothing but consumer education will bring us any closer to healthier options overall.

Friday, November 16, 2018

As yet untitled... (and "Death By Pastrami")

Originally publishes 6/22/15

*Make sure you read the comments on this post, too.  The comments really expand this post, and really give great additional food for thought! (Originally posted in 2013, I have realized that posts have their moments of popularity, and my stats tell me that this is a post that is igniting a spark right now.) Visit this blog post for more recent thoughts on the same topic!

"I find it interesting that you call your blog 'Shop the Garment District', considering..." he said, tapping the glass table deliberately, "that the Garment District no longer exists."

Leonard Bernstein, author of a collection of short stories featured in an earlier post, was ready to school me on the garment district.  And I was an eager student. I initially wanted to meet him because of his fiction writing, and his unique garment district stories. What I didn't know, was that I actually needed to meet him.  His knowledge of the Garment District is vast, valuable, and needs to be shared.

I met him in the office of his family business, Candlesticks Inc., where he has been at the helm since 1953.  Candlesticks is a well-established company, in business since 1928, selling to the biggest retail chain stores whose names we all know. In a glossy, formal, garment center building, his company produces childrens' pajamas and swimwear.  Leonard, a smartly dressed, happy man, ushered me over to the big glass table in the showroom, and promptly offered me a perfect cup of coffee. "This is a real Garment Center business." he announced.  He was right. There was no sign of the dingy, rough places I have seen and imagined.  This place was corporate and clean.  Efficient and quiet.

With a garment district family history that stretches back as far as his great-grandfather who owned a pushcart on Hester Street at the turn of the 20th century, and a grandfather who owned an apparel company with a factory in New York City, Leonard's unique perspective allows him to understand both where the district has been AND where it is going.  Better yet, his warm, open personality allows him to share this information with us.

And now?  His company produces lots and lots and LOTS of garments, overseas of course, and selling in the biggest retail chains we know.  Macy's, just across the street from his office, is among them.  Quickly, the conversation turned to the topic of apparel manufacturing. We're not talking about the hobbyist, or the little guy/gal who just wants to make a few items here.  We're talking about the businesses that help people buy houses , cars, build savings, and put their children through college.


Myth #1: Greedy capitalists won't produce in America, making it impossible for others to compete.

Here's the thing: Can you still buy supplies, manufacture, and sell goods you make in NYC's garment district?  "Yes, you can - if you do boutique-type stuff.  You can find a small shop to make 27 dresses, or some artistic handmade ties, and yes, you can sell them.  But... you wanna sell to Macy's Target, WalMart, Sears? Then, you've gotta go overseas." Leonard tells me.  "Why not produce it here?"  I ask. "Why not, you ask?  Where are the factories?" He elaborated on this point, explaining  that it's fine when you're just starting out, since at most, maybe some loft in Chinatown will produce the small lot you need, but, eventually you have to be competitive.  If you want to sell to the big stores, the factories in China, Bangladesh, and Cambodia can produce the quantities you need quickly, using workers who are paid $1/hr.  And guess what?  That's a living wage in those places!

Mythe #2: The foreign garment factory workers are being abused and exploited.


Bangladesh factory fire - locked exits - read here...

"We love to believe the story of the poor, abused foreign worker.  The children, the enslaved, the hungry and lame. Making pennies an hour."  The fact is, he goes on to explain, if you tell a factory manager near Shanghai that you hear many of these factories hire or enslave children, he will tell you that he has a MILE LONG line of able-bodied, capable ADULTS who would be happy to work for $1 and hour, compared to the $.50/hr the hard physical labor alternatives offer.  Working in state-of-the-art, efficient factories for a good wage. He has a WAITING LIST of eager adult workers. "Why would I hire a child?"

My brain is spinning now.  This is not what I expected to hear. What I'd been led to believe. "So, can't you use a 2nd class factory somewhere, and pay workers far less?" I asked.  "Well, you can..." Leonard explains, "But when you sell to a store like Macy's, they will only buy garments produced at approved factories, and you (the manufacturer) must have a certificate that states they are manufacturing your goods.  Without that certificate, the big stores won't talk to you."  The big stores send inspectors to those factories, both announced, and undercover, to see how things are being produced, and to check that procedures are being followed.  Without the kind of sales a store like Macy's, Target, or Sears can do, how would you sell the goods?

"But, I've been to stores like Conway," I protest, "and their prices are sometimes lower than I can even buy the fabric to make it myself.  Where is that stuff from?"  (I've always been SURE it was some sort of near-slavery work in a third-world country.) "The stuff you see in those stores are closeouts." Leonard tells me. "These things need to be sold for anything they can get.  Those are just goods they need to move."

We want to believe that the Asian factories have "grabbed" the apparel manufacturing, but we (USA) are a privileged, advanced, over-comsuming country. We open our drawers and closets to find dozens and dozen of garments - more than we need or even want.

So, it comes to this.  What should we have done differently/ What is our future?

"Well, " he confides, "You know those huge campaigns... Look for the Union Label, Buy America, etc...?  Well, they all failed.  Every one of them."

A decade ago, Leonard ran a factory in Pennsylvania, with 350 workers.  "You know what? Far more foreign cars in the parking lot than American ones.  The employees wore affordable clothes made in other countries - and these were American factory workers! The salesmen had to hide the fact that the clothes were made in America just to get appointments, and avoid getting laughed at!  Our wholesale prices weren't competitive."

He goes on to explain that he can make a sample garment, photograph and email it to the Shanghai factory at 10AM, and by 11AM, the factory can give him delivery and price. AND the fabric is already available there, where the factories are!

So... the future?

This was a much longer conversation, not easily summarized in a blog post... but a rising tide lifts all boats, you know.  In time, workers who make $1/hr now will be wanting to earn $1.25 at the new factory down the road.  Wages will rise, and labor will become more expensive for the manufacturers.  It will be at least 30 years before their wages are competitive with our own, though.  So, we move on to other countries.  Bangladesh, Cambodia... all they need are more factories to be competitive.  After that?  Africa can't be far behind.  There are workers in Africa who will gladly earn $.50/hr - and yes, still a living wage.


Rising labor costs in factories force manufacturers to look elsewhere... follow link


We can impose tariffs, for sure... but don't we want other countries to buy our goods? Due to advances in technology, we are more connected than ever.  This has made the other side of the planet as accessible as the office next door.  No one is to blame for this. We can grow exponentially, or we can change, OR can simply stop consuming.

The fact is, the world is constantly changing.

"Okay, so what should we have done differently?" I ask.

"Nothing." Leonard replies.  I believe him when he says that. This guy is no slouch, I tell ya.  Early in  our conversation, I asked him why he wrote fiction, before I had any idea what other pearls of wisdom he had to offer.  "I love to write, so I wrote." Simple as that.  And, by the way, this is his 6th book!







(note: added 1/3/15) And he has since written a new one!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The fundamental missing piece of women's equality

Reposting: (originally posted 6/20/16) Still an issue.

I have thought and REthought this post.  I have changed my mind a million times. I decided that there is no good reason I can think of to write another "Debbie Downer"- style post, unless there are some practical solutions I can personally subscribe to on my own, ask you to join in, fuel your fire, and leave you feeling hopeful and encouraged.

So that's what I aim to do here.

I read an article written by Melinda Gates very recently, and it blew my mind, because it expresses the truth so clearly.


There's an old business maxim: what gets measured gets done. Well, it's true. Data drives results. Unless you can measure a problem—and thereby prove it exists—you can't start solving it.
One of the reasons that progress has been so slow for the world's poorest women is that we have very little data about them. There are still women who live and die entirely unrecorded. They leave behind no birth certificate, no death certificate, and no data about the struggles and challenges they faced—whether they had the chance to go to school or earn an income, whether they suffered from violence or disease, whether they died preventable deaths.
What little data we have about the world's poorest women is incomplete and, to put it bluntly, sexist.
Nowadays, we are in the dark about where most of our clothing comes from.  Even when it is created by our very own hands, the origins of and conditions from which our fabrics and supplies needed to make our clothing and accessories come are a mystery to us.

I have worked on my own, and for large and small companies, sometimes, discovering, much to my dismay, that something the company is doing is wildly unethical.  So, the truth is, once I know, I'm part of it.  As I sit here typing, I'm wearing a super cheap, perfectly fitting pair of jeans  from Old Navy, made of a fabric I've jokingly termed "barely denim", due to its whispery softness, but incomprehensible durability.  No way these jeans should have cost as little as they did.  But what do I KNOW for sure about them?  Nothing, really. 

Okay... looking at the label.  Made in Cambodia.  Although the RN# (factory number) is listed, it yields no results in my internet search.

So we can sit and complain about so many things, get lost in hand-wringing and lamenting the plight of the less fortunate, but it doesn't make anything happen.  We can all comfort ourselves by boycotting brands we know are operating unethically, we can hoist picket banners into the air, write to politicians, donate money to charities dedicated to fighting the exploitation of workers and children everywhere, or... we can reach out and be examples, leaders, and support to people we know, and people we don't... like this little girl:



There's some data we can measure.

What am I doing? I am helping kids. My help will be through a program that is teaching leadership skills to teenagers this summer. More on that later.