how trump's presidency could affect the fashion industry
Designer Mary Ping shares a call to arms for integrity and inclusivity within the creative industries.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up sleep-deprived and confused, confronted with a different world that felt like the leftovers of a bad dream. My coping mechanism was to make a list, to ponder and rationalize. For those of us who have spent the past year — and much of our lives — fighting for women's rights and minorities' rights, how did we spin off our axis and miss our landing? And what does this mean for the creative industries that are critically affected by our government's position on manufacturing and small business?
This year I was invited to present at The Museum of Modern Art's salon examining a range of topics on design organized from A to Z for their upcoming, first-ever exhibition on fashion. I had the honor to present alongside sustainability advocate Carmen Artigas. Our assigned topic was R for Rana Plaza, the 2013 Bangladesh garment factory collapse that killed 1,137 people, and left at least 800 orphans. Very sobering and, unfortunately, very much today's global reality.
We opened our presentation with film clips from Idiocracy, Mike Judge's brilliant 2006 film set in a postapocalyptic future. While the movie is intended to be a comedy, Judge presciently imagined a time hundreds of years from now that might as well be today. The brand-emblazoned, thinly synthetic costumes, portrayed as conveniently dispensable (from a tissue box) and mindlessly disposable, are emblematic of the fast fashion which surrounds us now. Oh, and the president of this fictitious world is a wig-wearing, television wrestling personality with the vocabulary of a grade school bully. The film satirizes the devolution of mass culture.
This cheapened, garish future could be our reality, if our newly elected leader makes good on his promises to restrict immigration in this country. Our rich and solid garment industry is built on the shoulders of hardworking, talented immigrants (mainly women of color).
My studio has been producing in New York and Los Angeles for 14 years, and will continue to do so even if it becomes more challenging. The garment districts of these cities are composed of generations of minority immigrants, who hold the skills and committed work ethic necessary to make the clothing we all wear. We at Slow and Steady Wins the Race cut, make, and trim our garments in the United States. It is our collective responsibility as designers and manufacturers to uphold the standard of quality in what we make every day.
The ecological anthropology of everyone working together on the factory floor is an invigorating comfort. I am beyond grateful to these people and grateful for being able to work side by side with them using a common language, a shared knowledge, and a collective purpose. Tags that say "Made in the USA" or "Made in New York" are in fact made by people who have arrived from all over the world, who have come here to exercise their skill in the most equitable conditions possible. We work with machinists and factory owners from Bangladesh, India, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, many of whom are more and more quintessentially New York. The camaraderie we enjoy with our pleating factory feels like joking around with the guy behind the counter at your neighborhood pizzeria.
Trump and his cohorts' hostile and bitter complaints about jobs leaving this country, and about the extinction of manufacturing, follow the same flawed argument as gorging on bad fast food and then blaming McDonald's for your high cholesterol.
To adhere to a fair wage in America, time and skilled labor are a true cost that should not bear any shortcuts. I would like to see the closets of people who shop at Walmart and yet are eager to erect a wall across our southern border. How much of their clothing was purchased for the same price as laundry detergent? And what countries are listed on those tags? If you showed them the true cost of American garments, compared to those made in China or Mexico, many would be unwilling to give up the cheap price they are so used to.
I started Slow and Steady Wins the Race 14 years ago at the age of 23. My grandmother taught me everything I know about constructing garments. She landed in downtown New York in the late 60s, a widow fleeing a dictatorial regime in China that overturned all the laws her husband had written for a republic. She had to start from zero, but proudly taught me every skill she knew and with them the values of beauty and purpose she believed in — tools and qualities she learned, in turn, from her mother and grandmother. I am carrying with me 130 years worth of knowledge and an enduring belief in human equality and solidarity against fear and ignorance. This rich and inherited knowledge is what Trump's isolationist America would lose if he builds a wall against the outside world.
As creatives, as innovators, we must fight for the qualities that make our work strong and special. For each industry this will be different. For us in the fashion industry, we must advocate for the labor and practices that work, a long path towards a better, more informed future. This is a call to arms for harmony, integrity, and tolerance, both in how we make things together and how we live together.
Text Mary Ping
Photography via Flickr