Both of my grandmothers worked in textile and sewing mills in Fall River when the city was in its heyday. My paternal grandmother, a Kerouac, came from Montreal to work, leaving behind all that she knew for a different life.
Sometimes I think about the power these jobs held for young women when I see beautiful pictures of her clad in stylish garb on French fire escapes, young and content. I think these mills called to women to come out of kitchens and washrooms to do something with more purpose. Many of them knew how to sew already, so this was just money made for what they already did.
Having a sense of community also gave them power and strength and a voice to protest against unfair wages and long work hours. What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.
Today, when you go into Fall River, you’ll see those goliath mills crumbling or filled with an outdated outlet mall. Others are being turned into loft apartments and some just line the highway going south into Rhode Island like crumbling icons of when the city was worth something more. You can say the same of Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts.
When I came across an Ecotextile News story about how U.S.-based Sustainable Textile Group LLC, a producer of fabric made from pre-consumer waste, was to move into the former Hanesbrands production facility in Rowan County, North Carolina, I felt hope.
Surely there are other large companies that can make us proud and restore these dilapidated buildings for textile manufacturing. It will take government legislation and hard agreements within the U.S. textile industry to woo cautious businesses to start again, but wouldn’t it be worth it?
Can you imagine if all the mills came back to life and had the same standards to which we hold China? Eco-designers could get even greener, skilled women from knitting and sewing groups could come out of hiding and real estate values would only appreciate in these towns hung out to dry.
Image: Keeley Library