Friday, October 23, 2009


Currently on HBO.
from the hbo site of the movie
A cautionary story of labor and greed, Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags follows the decline of the once-robust apparel manufacturing industry in the U.S., while chronicling the industry's relationship with unions and government. From the "Garmento" to the seamstress, from the designer to the marketing maven, from the small businessman to the financier, Schmatta offers a firsthand account of how the industry helped generations of Americans march out of poverty and right into the golden age of the American middle class. But while Schmatta reminds us of the early days of the garment industry and its heyday, it also probes its troubling decline, which has occurred largely within the last 30 years. In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S.A.; by 2009, only 5% is manufactured here.
Director Marc Levin focuses his lens on Manhattan's Garment District, an eight-block area on Manhattan's West Side which gave birth to the domestic industrial labor movement, and played a key role in major American political activities. From its immigrant origins in the 19th Century, the labor movement rose quickly against deplorable sweatshop conditions. In recent years, however, the realities of automation, deregulation, globalization and outsourcing - all part of the race to the bottom line - eventually eroded the industry's unprecedented momentum.
This film tells some of the stories of the workers, labor organizers, designers, fashion execs and manufacturers who built their careers in the Fashion District, including: Joe Raico, a fabric cutter who took great pride in his workmanship, and laments that America doesn't produce anything anymore; Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee, whose open letter to Kathy Lee Gifford caused a media circus in 1996; Irving Ruosso, owner of Russ Togs, one of the U.S.'s largest sportswear companies; Stan Herman, a designer who has worked in the District for five decades, and others.

Youtube has a few more clips of this excellent movie. Clip two is here. A third clip is here. The Boston Globe has a review, strangely nothing in the nypress. I'm sure my father knew many of the oldtimers in the movie. I believe he worked for a while as a cutter and a marker/grader at Russ Togs. Amongst my KV friends, the Schumer and the Hyman dads were employed in the Schmatta trade on 7th Avenue. I'm sure there were many more KV Schmatta families, past and present, but today it's a dying breed. That's part of the problem with the U.S. economy.

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