Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Traffic Cone Bag: Made in the Garment District, New York


After numerous false starts my Traffic Cone Bag has finally gotten a green light.


Traffic Cone Bag Central

Making it in NYC article on FastCompany.com

It's being made in the famous yet increasingly impoverished Garment District of New York City - at a non-sweatshop price.

"This use to be the fashion capital of America," said Caroline, who's made clothes for some big names in couture including Calvin Klein, Baby Phat and Tracey Reese.

Like many immigrants she worked her way up from scratch to supervising a large cutting room staff and knowing every computerized cutting machine in the business. Then she was laid off.

"The fashion companies shipped everything offshore, fired everyone - now look what's happened."

The "now look" she's referring to isn't the latest way to team a sarong with a business suit and get away with it.

Caroline (left) meets my mother (right) , a veteran of the clothing business herself,  having worked in women's retail fashion since she was 17. Small wonder I find myself working a casual gig at EMS
It's the slump in the clothing sector – the very people who are meant to buy those clothes – the American public – haven't got the money. According to Caroline, it's because companies are sending labor offshore, and rents are become luxury-condofied.

In a small, unluxe room in a rabbit warren of a building on 37th St, she sits among the bolts and bobbins of her trade, showing me photos of a dress she constructed for a first appearance by Hilary Clinton.

"I came here with no English and $300 in my pocket," she said. She waves away my probing for more "story".

"Every immigrant has a story," she says.

Caroline's quote is higher than it would be if made in quantity offshore. In fact, a friend of mine showed me a highly constructed bag he got through his bike club, complete with club logo "for $6.50".

"I'm pretty sure they were made in New Jersey," he said. We all conceded that if they were, someone poor seamstress was being paid in coffee and bagels.

If sweatshops still abound in the city, Caroline isn't spending time dwelling there.

"I just do my own business, do it the best I can, be honest, be reliable."



She also waves away my questions about how much my bag would cost if made in China, her home country.

"The best thing you can do for this country is to do what Obama says – buy local, get things made local," says Caroline. "Then people will have jobs, they will have money to buy food, clothes, make this economy more stable."

That sounds pretty logical. Did she read that somewhere? Caroline stabs her temple with a finger.

"No, I've just thought about this!"

She tells me she's making no money on my project – she wants to keep her talented understudy occupied and she likes to support personal creative endeavours.

"Work on your own ideas, you own business. You get a high paid job, you can lose it overnight. When you have your own business, your own good ideas, you can make your way."