Selfishness, secrecy and jealousy

Here’s another article from The American Designer’s Association newsletter courtesy of my friend Michael Mills. This article was written by Louis Rubin and published circa 1921. As you will see, mine and perhaps yours, are not new complaints. I tell you, nothing ever changes.

With the success of the Convention the old method of getting all you can and canning all you get received a pulverizing blow. This spirit of self-aggrandizement has brought down many a powerful organization down to a shameful death. The causes of it are—


You all know the story of China’s retardation. China as a nation centuries ago excelled in all of the arts and sciences. She became so arrogant and uppish in her superiority that as a nation she lost her head. She felt that the other nations might deprive her of her “secrets” and so she immediately ordered the erection of an immense wall with instructions that it was to be insuperable in its defense and impregnable in its strength. China however, as a nation, did not for the time realize that instead of building a tower of strength and power she was really building a monument over a grave which she was digging for herself. She was so blinded by her self-induced loftiness that she developed, quite unconsciously, a delusion in the form of self-centeredness. Not realizing that all progress is relative she ceased to communicate with all other nations and therefore was unable to glean a broad gauged view of what the other nations were doing.

As a result the promises of a star-beautiful nation replete with the grandest opportunities became dimmed by mental, moral and physical degeneracy. China has not yet recuperated from her historical decline.

The lessons which designers must learn from this is, that they must lose sight of their individual gain for the collective gain of the profession. They must cease to be selfish. They must be ready, as Mr. Ryan once said, to “acclaim the Golden Ride and to crown it with the Autocracy of Service”.

I notice that many designers do not realize that occasionally a slight cause is at the basis of a large disturbance. I was talking to a very able gentleman a few days ago, who is the designer of a very large establishment who spoke rather briefly about what he thought was the basic cause for professional unprogressivism and unethicality among designers. “I firmly believe that the trouble with men of my profession”, he said, “is that they are eternally jealous about one another’s achievements. Remove this difficulty which is the poison in the snake and you will no longer have any troublesome conditions to contend with.” This appears to be a trivial cause but it is phenomenally destructive in its effects.

Sulla the Roman Dictator once entered into a great warfare because someone said that his face reminded him of a “Mulberry sprinkled oe’r with meal”. Turkey and Venice once waged a war costing 160,000 lives merely because the Venetian Ambassador boasted of the fact that his countrymen wore beards, to which the Turkish Grand Vizier quickly and hot-headedly responded— ”so do monkeys”.

The above instances merely show how some of the most trivial things are responsible for outbursts that have actually made history. Simple causes are responsible therefore for some of the world’s greatest conflicts.

Hence, make sure that your small causes—selfishness, secrecy, and jealousy are removed before you do big things. This will also be the remedy for the foibles and petty differences which foment conflict.

This makes of garment designing a fascinating profession. for two generations its trend has been upward for the attainment of dignity and high reward by the designer, the wholesale trade demanded talent, creative talent, originality and genius to produce artistic and fashionable clothing and it has come to pass, for the United States has been for decades, and is now producing the finest clothing the World has ever known.

From a Weekly Wage the Designer Has Gone to $25,000 Per Year! These, of course, are the super-men, many are a close second, and there is yet room on the top shelf for others to climb to. The wholesale trade is a growing one and the designer’s chances are brilliant for a career in it. Designing garments is a fascinating profession and worthy of men of talent and genius to enter it if he has ambition to aspire and excel!

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  1. Kathleen says:

    It’s amazing how timely this piece still is. As far as the example of China, she has yet to recover from when this was written 90 years ago.

    Generally speaking, it applies to any insular community. Currently, I’m gravely distressed with a group to which I belong. As they believe themselves to be the elite of social progressiveness, they’ve gated themselves just as tightly. They’ve either decided they are LEAN (so poorly informed they think it means “shoe-string budget”) or they discount its necessity entirely.

    For our purposes, it gives me pause. We still have gate keepers, of which I am admittedly one (the forum and trade information in the book I don’t publish here). Still, this blog is an open door. I console myself with the idea that gate keeping can mean leaving it open but monitoring who goes and comes. Similarly, leaving the door open doesn’t mean you have to show everyone everything; they must be qualified. Under usual circumstances, you wouldn’t invite a door to door salesmen into your bedroom to show them your ditties.

  2. Irene says:

    It’s amazing how the same troubles repeat throughout history, and great wisdom always comes to those who can learn from their own and others mistakes. (Not that I can claim that for myself, but I try to always keep learning!)

    Thanks for posting this, Kathleen!

  3. nadine says:

    I don’t feel it is a practice of being selfish or secretive to not give everything away for free. And I do believe that people can be generous but prudent in business. One thing I learned early on was not to agree to any of the silly requests from friends and family to “make something for them…(for free”. That was because I needed to have self-respect for my education and also treat myself as a professional. Now no-one would ask me to do that because they see me as a professional.

    Recently, I got a worried call from someone who wanted me to give them advice on technical machinery for setting up a small design room. The architects were demanding technical data. I did give some information and was generous with my time to a point because I knew this person was well over there head. 2 days later they paid me to come in and organize this project for them and thanked me for my initial advice which led them to believe how inexperienced they were. So had I refused to give them any information I probably would not have gotten an unexpected consulting job.

    In our garment industry in NYC the old guard was so suspicious and competitive that it created shortsited goals which has hurt the whole industry. These days I always tell my suppliers that I will freely refer anyone to them to keep them in business. They are so appreciative – Do I lose? No way, because I can keep them in business and they like me so much they often give me first choice or save the stuff I like for me as a thank you. Everyone wins all around and that’s the attitude I prefer to have.

    One more funny thing – I remember seeing an old new yorker cartoon when I was very young.

    The cartoon was showing a man with scissors jumping out of the window of a factory building with is his partner looking out the window in anguish. As he is passing the floor below on his way to his death he yells up “Murray! Cut Velvet!”. I wish I had a sample of this cartoon. It really struck me as a kid and I’ve remembered the irony and tradgedy of it my whole life.

    I didn’t really understand it at the time and my Aunt had to explain it to me. After she explained it to me I asked her why couldn’t the man walk down the stairs to the guy below and ask him what he was doing? The innocence of the young!

    Generosity always comes back to you tenfold!

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