In part three of Dumbing Down American Design, we talk with Han Lee, owner of Fine Line Production, a company that does everything from pattern making to grading and hang tags. We also speak with Nancie Chan of Tyler Production, a cutting and sewing floor. Both companies are located in New York City’s historic Garment District.
We revisit the driving question: Has our quest for convenience and rock bottom prices forever altered fashion and is American design becoming a thing of the past?
Our first stop is with Han Lee, owner of Fine Line Production. Han sits down to talk and the conversation quickly veers from what he does for clients to who his clients are. Lee currently works with about 30 designers who help sustain his company. If they are succeeding, so is he.
“[I work with] the smaller designers,” he says. “The designers who want to be part of their design process, who can’t afford to manufacture overseas.”
I ask if perhaps smaller designers are more authentically connected to what they’re selling. He smiles and nods.
I throw out a comment for reaction: that (rumor has it) the bigger designers don’t even design much of their own collections. They simply pick a design and ship it to their manufacturing facility overseas where the facility offers a few more designs based on the original. The final design is picked and quickly put into production.
“True,” he says.
Second stop: Nancie Chan of Tyler Production, a cutting and sewing floor, also in the Garment District.
She’s a little perplexed as to why I would want to be there. There’s something to be said about working various jobs in the fashion industry, and never getting to see behind the scenes. This is what my trip is all about. As a buyer, rep, writer and marketer for sustainable designers over the past five years, I’ve always wanted to step inside a room like this.
It holds no glamour; it’s a space filled with hardworking women who are simply passionate about what they are doing. I ask Nancie if she works with larger or indie designers more frequently.
“The smaller ones,” she says, adding that some she works with come from unlikely fields. “Like finance,” she says.
I ask her if she means the designer cmarchuska; her face lights up. Yes, that’s the one.
I own a few cmarchuska pieces and love that I now know exactly where the pieces were made. Chan has no problem saying on the record that her most problematic clients are the bigger designers who never pay or are detached from their labels and the decisions made about them. She cites at least two designers who owe her $100,000.
“What about the smaller designers?”
“They always pay on time,” she says.
There are two scenarios I want you to imagine. In one, I see these connected, independent designers who pay on time ruling American design. They have convinced you that paying a little more is worth it because their clothes are real and inspired and sustainably manufactured, all in the U.S.A. They’ve rubbed off on the mainstream designers and the majority is now producing with a conscience – and with personal inspiration. Our clothing has a story.
American manufacturing facilities in major cities are working together to source and invest in clean facilities, educating the steadfast seasoned employees in new ways where fit, fashion and functionality work together. Our fashion technology is innovative and we have become dynamic in our approach. Because you believe in these smaller designers, they are thriving financially instead of waitressing by day and designing by night.
They enrich design by offering you choices of their own creation, not the pick-one-of-three-designs-you-like scenario that comes out looking like, well, everything else.
You feel unique in your clothes and dressing is a fun part of your day.
But in scenario two, larger designers rule American design. Their made-from-afar designs are being shipped to their holding warehouses where they are shipped to boutiques. Designers are nothing more than a good marketing campaign. They are no longer designs. We all dress virtually the same.
And in some dystopian Logan’s Run-like nightmare where we’re brainwashed that the consumption of our resources are best managed by killing everyone who reaches the age of 30 instead of just being conscious of what we consume, we no longer care what we wear, all designers get phased out and large corporations like Wal-Mart clothe us (and feed, and supply us with everything we need to survive).
Image: it’s life