Saturday, May 14, 2016

Led a Speakeasy yesterday! (Spoiler alert... the teacher became the student)

I often lead private Speakeasies for groups when requested, and I must say, this particular private Speakeasy was an unusual one.  

A few weeks ago, a university professor contacted me to schedule a tour of the garment district for her group of business students, as part of a larger New York City exploration during a week's stay in our bustling metropolis. That day was yesterday. Very excited for this experience, I planned an excursion for the students to give them a taste of the layers of the district, rather than the shopping trips I usually lead.  And I'm so glad I did it. On this particular jaunt, I probably learned much, much, much more, and (quite accidentally) got more education out of this effort than the kids did...

560 7th Ave - Parsons School of Design - now gone...
This trip made me clean my garment district glasses, so to speak.

560 7th Ave now - future site of a luxury hotel

I began my talk with them, thinking I needed to squash the idea I suspected the students are likely carrying - that the garment industry is a glamorous one, where dreams and diamonds await all who can dream up a perfect little garment...

At the intro of our tour, I referenced the documentary, The True Cost, explaining that the places I was about to show them would give a lovely idea of all of the business endeavors they could participate in, while letting them know that there is also a hidden layer that they would not see on our excursion, full of underpaid immigrants, unpaid interns, and very hardworking people laboring to keep this fashion illusion going in New York City.  I told them that the image of fashion industry success is often portrayed as local, when it in fact, global. I also explained that, truth be told, they they would probably not be willing to pay what truly ethically made clothing would cost.

This information didn't seem to really surprise them.  And THAT... surprised me. I had clearly underestimated them.

West 40th Street now has only ONE fabric store...

I pointed at offices with "for rent" signs, I indicated places which have vanished or downsized, and I was surprised to see that some of my more recent haunts had vanished, too, and showed them how some local merchants were responding to consumers' global awareness by offering eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.

I was surprised to see troublingly light business in the places I expected to see more activity, businesses not open during posted business hours, signs of stress and decline a bit more intense than I'm used to.

I explained some of the economic challenges of running a fashion business, explaining the predatory loansharking that the practice of "factoring" brings, the intense retail schedule and delivery challenges, the exploitation of workers and businesses in the process, and the drama of it all...

At the end of our short trip, I felt prepared to eulogize my beloved district, feeling that I might be overly nostalgic for the district of my youth, which is very different than the district of today.

I encouraged the students, wished them well, told them some other fun NY activities they should seek out and explore, and bid them goodbye.

And then... I thought about it...

I wandered around a bit to shake off my malaise, went into some of my favorite spots, found some fabulous things, got my creative "buzz" going, and shook it off!

The "secret" district I am always telling you about? The district of mazes, hallways, hidden stores and undiscovered gems is still there!!!  You may simply have to take an elevator, climb a staircase, know the lingo, get a map, make a plan, but you can participate!  

So, really, do we need the "OLD" district?  Would that even make sense now? The new one has plenty to offer.  Yes, we can all embrace it. Put away your tissues. Come and enjoy!

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