Schmatta: Rags To Riches To Rags

HBO premieres a new documentary series called Schmatta: Rags To Riches To Rags tonight at 9pm. From the synopsis:

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.

I wish I could see it but I don’t have HBO. Maybe someone will tell us more about it tomorrow.

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  1. Brenda says:

    Thanks for the post Kathleen, luckily I had enough time to order HBO to watch it tonight. You must watch it somehow (make it a viewing “party” with a friend). After watching it I feel so disheartened about the industry. There is plenty of blame to go around but in the end I know there is hope and it might have to be us, the DE’s (or aspiring ones like me). It is so sad….words cannot describe it.

  2. Solongo says:

    It was sad but realistic. Like any documentary it worked the audience by exposing the hypocrisy of fantasy fashion labels and american culture with that of sweatshop deaths in bangalesh of 12 and 13 year old girl seamstresses. The fact that all jobs are outsourced, including white collar jobs for technical designers to pattern makers was disturbing; especially if one is thinking of starting their career climb in the Garment Industry – there is no ladder to climb even if you are eager to work for free.

    In the beginning of the documentary it talked a lot about the history of the Garment district, with it’s immigrant Jewish and Italian workers that jump started their livelihoods through the district. As well as the Triangle Factory deaths in 1910 that created many labor unions. All in all it had a rich and profitable history and now it is a barren landscape on the streets of 7th Ave. The host notes that it is not just a specific New York problem, it is a reflection of the struggling manufacturers throughout the US – struggle to stay in business and struggle to create/provide/cut jobs in order to compete with $5 a week wages in overseas countries.

    A must see film for all manufacturers. Seems that the only people making money are the big fashion houses, but even they have to face the fact that people have no money to buy the expensive gowns. And the overblown fashion and PR marketing has brainwashed all the wannabe designers starting with shows such as Project Runway. I would love to see this film in all fashion and business schools as it calls for innovation and change. No one knows what innovation or new technology or change might save the Garment District or general US manufacturing but it is obvious that something needs to change; hopefully for the best.

  3. CDBehrle says:

    What I loved was the TD explaining why a pair of jeans cost $750.00 and how it circumnavigates the globe during the various processes to completion. What she does not go into is how, when done, the stores take that jean and mark it up 3x, this to cover overhead & their markdowns. Then, to cover themselves further the stores negotiate charge backs and buy backs. So, should the jeans get marked down or not sell the stores get money back from the manufacturer. At what point are the buyers, or the stores themselves held accountable for whether the goods sell or not? Since, really if the numbers don’t crunch- it’s still no skin off their back? This is a huge part, if not the main part of what has driven so much off-shore. There is at this point too much product, too much garbage product and nobody really wants to get down to the nitty gritty as to why it’s like this. The push downwards is a slippery slope and we have to start going back in the other direction.

  4. Joy says:

    This was so interesting and I love that it was in Black and White. I haven’t caught the 2nd part yet, but Im excited to see the conclusion. It’s great to see what is considered entertainment can be educational and knowledge based versus the big blow ’em feature films..nice to know there’s a place for everything :)


  5. Arnikka says:

    Wow–I really wish that I could have seen this, I love the history of apparel. I don’t have HBO however, possibly I’ll be able to netflix it straight to my TV. CDBerhle made an interesting comment regarding responsibility for sales. I used to work in high end retail and I can say this: as of right now there is only one high end retailer(outside of the smaller boutiques) that actually makes an attempt to move merchandise–and that desire to sell is reflected in the salespeople who are commission based(like the old days). In addition the retailer funnels products that don’t sell into their own discount venue. All of the other ones hire employees at cut rate hourly pay with no real incentives and then expect them to become excited about selling gowns worth thousands of dollars. Huh? Then on merchandising –eek. There was a time that designer garments were displayed in a certain way–many boutiques still pay attention to floor schematics. Not so much with your big high end retailer—throw it on a rack mish mashed together so that the final effect is that of an overpriced bargain basement. There is no personal attention and the list goes on. I personally believe that this is because the clothing is not “precious” in the same way that it once was. It’s too easily gotten and too cheaply made. I also believe that retail will not get any better until retailers begin valuing their employees which will in turn give them more knowledgeable committed employees which will in turn give customers better service which then will be the reason that customers come back. Thanks for the heads up on the documentary, I will be on the look out for it on DVD or streaming video.

  6. Wendy Baker says:

    I was flipping through the channels when I caught Schmatta starting. The facts there are so true!!! Our country is going down!! We as people in the fashion industry need to do something about it. We all should buy American made. I know that it is hard to buy the fabric, trim, buttons, snaps, and etc., But we at least need to have our garments made here. We all as designers need to do something. I own a company and I first started in China then San Franscisco now I have a sewing shop and retail shop in my hometown. The fabric is cut and sown in California. I do buy my fabric from a Company that gets it from China but that is because I buy Hemp and that is the producer. If there was a place that made Hemp Fabric in America then I would buy it. We all need to do something about this problem or it is going to die!!! Please buy stuff that is made in America!!! Please pay the extra $10 or whatever!!! Please help your neighbor, you brother and sisters!! Please lets bring factories back to the USA!!! Please!!! Thank you for reading and I really hope this will make you think!!

  7. Wendy Baker says:

    In 1967 95% of garmets were made in the USA, now only 5%!!! Please lets do something about that!!! We as consumers can and will change the world!!! Think before you buy!!!

  8. Miz Proper says:

    Does anyone where can you rent this film in toronto or Montreal? We only get HBO Canada and I am a young designer that is very interested. Online anywhere? Let me know if you know thanks margarita

  9. Jill Homiak says:

    Hulu & Netflix doesn’t have it. I might try Blockbuster. Also, is anyone familiar with the video/show from PBS about labor unions & a fire in the garment district in the 20’s or 30’s. A family friend told me about it, but she didn’t remember the name of it…

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