Sunday, August 30, 2009

E-Bay Sample Sale: September

I have several garments that were produced for color-test and design purposes, but never went into factory production for one reason or another. There is one print that I especially adored (as did my sales rep, who thought it would be a best seller), and when I found out it was discontinued I literally curled up into the fetal position. The one poncho that was made from it is the only one in the world!

Although I would love to archive every single one of them (for the Car Seat Poncho Museum someday, or perhaps the coffee table book), I don't need them ALL, so they will go up on E-Bay some time next month.

Blog subscribers will get an exclusive look at the colors and one-of-a-kind patterns.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sewing in America (Part 5) - RIP NYC Fashion Capital?

There is an incredibly relevant article in today's New York Times, regarding the decline of the garment industry in NYC.

New York’s garment center, once the heart of an industry that employed hundreds of thousands of workers and produced most of the clothing in the United States, is in danger of extinction.

For decades, cheaper foreign competitors and rising rents forced many of the sewing and cutting rooms and the button and zipper shops that once thrived on the side streets south of Times Square to close, shrink or move as mass production shifted to China, India and Latin America.

Owners say they are caught in a vise between declining retail sales and landlords eager to find better-paying tenants.

Some city officials and industry leaders worry that if manufacturing is wiped out, many of the designers who bring so much luster to New York will leave, along with the city’s claim to be a fashion capital rivaling Paris and Milan. The damage would be undeniable, given that the industry’s two big annual events — Fashion Week in September and February — attract enormous numbers of visitors and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.

“If you don’t have production in the garment center, there would be no reason for designers and suppliers to cluster in the district,” said Barbara Blair Randall, executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District. “We’re down to 9,000 jobs.”

But city officials say the industry has shrunk to a point where it could be reasonably consolidated in a few buildings, rather than several blocks. “It’s not mass production,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey said of the garment center. “Clearly, what’s occurring is much smaller and more high-end compared with the actual production that used to exist..."

It's a Catch-22: the factories are smaller, so the output capacity is smaller, so the orders are smaller. The work in these Garment District shops tends to be more high-end, intricate upscale designer clothing requiring finer craftsmanship. It's hard to say whether that's a cause or a symptom of the district's decline.

"Orders are more likely to be 3,000 or 4,000 pieces, not the production runs of 100,000 pairs of jeans that are now typically sent to..."

(Want to guess?)


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sewing in America (Part 4) - Lindsey T, Patriot

Blogger Lindsey T thinks people who sew are really smart, and might even be better Americans:

"Sewing is excellent brain exercise because you’re constantly solving problems, researching techniques, testing theories and brainstorming design ideas. People who sew can make something out of nothing."

If you couldn't already tell, Lindsey T is an avid sewer. I discovered her blog on a Google search of "percentage of Americans who sew." I also found this article on Salon, which cites increases in sewing machine imports and the growing popularity of sewing studios, salons and schools: "...(T)hose drawn to sewing today aren't just attracted to its utilitarian side. Now it's considered an art form."

Bia Bernum has one such sewing school in upstate NY, Sew You Can. She and I have been emailing back and forth with ideas for blog articles and surveys, and hopefully one day I can interview her.

So while survival sewing skills might be on the wane, creative sewing skills are increasing in various pockets across the country. And while I find this exciting and personally interesting, I realize it has nothing to do with the Car Seat Poncho.

I don't think the increase in creative sewing acumen will get more apparel factories up and running in the US. Hints as to why lie in the "not necessarily" answers to these questions: Can a brilliant cook run a restaurant? Can a worker on an assembly line build a truck from scratch?

Hate to be a tease, but elaboration will come in the next post. Thanks for reading, sorry it's taking so long to make a point (I'd make a terrible journalist).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sewing in America -- 2 Major Ideas (Part 3)

It's taken me a while to post again because I realize there are two separate ideas here:

A.) Sewing as a lost art (even mending stymies most people)
B.) Limited apparel manufacturing resources in the US

On the Subject of A (let's call it "Lost Arts"):
This Sunday's New York Times Magazine presented an interesting article about our nation's dwindling cooking abilities, and how women's lib, cooking/food lifestyle shows and the packaged food industry have turned eating into theater, cooking into sport, and diminished the daily activity of food preparation. "Weekday meals are hum drum, a drag to shop and prepare for after a long day, so let's nuke/order something and make a REAL meal on the weekend."

I think the same thing has happened to sewing:

The Women's Lib Effect:
I think for girls growing up in the 70's, sewing was old-fashioned, house-wifey, uncool, unliberated. It was a big deal when our district decided that boys AND girls would take Home Economics AND Wood Shop. Having the boys in Home Ec made the subjects at hand into comedy. The boys would goof around (egg tosses, anyone?) and when we were doing sewing projects, the boys would instigate "races" where they would floor the pedals and rev up the machines. The boys aren't completely to blame, though, because the girls happily joined in -- at least the girls who cared about being cool to the boys (which was most of us). Looking back, I feel so sorry for the Home Ec teachers. What they taught was being stigmatized right before their eyes.

I remember in the 90s, when I worked in an office, and a button popped off my jacket. I asked the other women (mostly in their 20s) if any of them had a needle and thread. They furrowed their brows and said they'd never even used a needle or thread. They'd never even sewed on a button. So what do you do when a button falls off? They told me they put it back in their closet and figure they'll get around to it (then throw it out in a few months), or wear it anyway. I described the idea of a Home Ec class and they giggled. I get the sense that when people profess their ignorance to threading a needle, it's a badge of honor that they are not Suzy Homemaker.

Cheap Clothes, Sold Cheap
Why make when you can buy? Why mend when you can buy? Clothing is cheap and disposable. In fairness, it would be a real drag to have to make every single thing you needed to wear, and to mend the heels of your socks when they wore thin, but if replacements were not so inexpensive easily available, wouldn't we do a LITTLE more? Of course the relative inexpensive price of the goods has a lot to do with Subject B (Limited US apparel manufacturing).

Creative Outlet versus Life Skill
Whereas the elevation of cooking to an art form bows to Julia Child and the Mario Batali, sewing has Project Runway and Etsy. Have you checked out the sewn goods on Etsy? They're amazing. Amazing and intimidating. Etsy and Project Runway celebrate the art of design and the craft of sewing, and elevate them to a point where all we want (or can, for that matter) do is admire.

So where should I go with this? Do I have a point of view on how or why to bring sewing back into the American mainstream? Not really. The Times article quotes Harry Balzer, a food-marketing research expert, who comes off as an amusing, crusty curmudgeon, on why peole need to get off their high horses about the Lost Arts. Just substitute "cooking a chicken" with "making a dress" (and the attendant preparations):

“Do you miss sewing or darning socks? I don’t think so... Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

So yes, we do have more choices now. To sew and create. To mend or replace. And that's great; I like having choices. But I guess I would be less indignant if more people would just sew a button back on once in a while.

What do you think? Do you guys sew? Can you thread a needle and sew on a button? How important a skill is it?