Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment
By Maxine Bedat
Growth Mentality: Cotton Farming in Texas
Textiles Made in China: How the Drive for Cheap Is Killing the Planet
My Factory Is a Cage: Cut and Sew and the Crisis of Labor
Middlemen, Management, Marketing, and a New Kind of Transparency
Reclaiming Essentials for All: Packing and Distribution
More Is More: Consumerism Goes Viral
Tidying Up: What Happens to Clothes When We Get Rid of Them
Paved with Good Intentions: The End of the Road for Clothing in Ghana
Let the Makeover Begin: Time for a New, New Deal
Billed as “the Marketplace of the World,” New York’s Jacob Javits Center stood before me like a glass fortress. As a novice in the fashion world, I was intimidated by the prospect of entering the building for the 2013 MRKET menswear trade show, where buyers from across the country were descending to find the goods that would land on their shelves. I grew up in Minnesota, home of the Mall of America, the largest mall in the United States, so I thought I could handle retail on a scale as grand as this. But that morning I felt humbled by what seemed to be the aggregate of all the malls in the world, complete with the familiar convention center aroma of antifreeze and undertones of coffee and pizza grease.
My business partner and I were getting ready to launch our new ecommerce site for clothing and select homewares, Zady. We wanted to present about fifty pieces—shirts, pants, and accessories for women and men—curated from brands that aligned with our philosophy and aesthetic. The goal was to unearth beautiful, artisanal products, so that day in September I was on a mission to find possible goods and brands for the site. Approaching the enormous main atrium, I felt a chill set in, literal and metaphorical. The other buyers I could see were out for the kill, silently judging and scanning the racks of clothing and signage that stretched as far as the eye could see. Not quite knowing where to start, I walked the length of the space, stopping anytime a collection caught my eye. I approached the first sales representative with what I thought was a simple question: “Can you tell me where your collection is made?” He responded with a blank stare followed by a shrug of the shoulders, then averted his eyes. I couldn’t believe it. Why wasn’t he answering me? Didn’t he know where his own goods were manufactured?
I continued down the aisle until another collection caught my eye. I asked the same question of the woman at the booth. “Asia,” she responded shortly, seemingly upset. What was with these people? Asia has forty-eight countries and 4.7 billion inhabitants, so while ever so slightly more specific than the first man’s grunt, this information was not terribly helpful. I walked on. It didn’t get better: Clothes, it turned out, were being made “abroad,” in “the Orient,” or to be super precise, “China.” What the hell?
How did the people responsible for selling clothing to the entire US market not know something as basic as where that clothing was made? (Also, the 1960s called and wants its offensive language back.) Even saying something was “designed in New York,” I soon realized, was often code for “made in China.” After a long day trudging through Javits with zero business cards and not optimistic for Zady’s future, I left frustrated, confused, and skeptical.