AUTHOR/PHOTOGRAPHER Eliza Starbuck
As a designer in the fashion industry, there were always certain disconnects between the process of design and the process of production. I would submit my sketches and then, as if by magic, sample garments would arrive 2-3 weeks later from China. This never sat well with me. A process so fast had to be cutting corners and taking major short cuts, and from the other side of the world I could never see or know what was really going on.
With the launch of Bright Young Things, I decided that I wanted to be a part of my production process. The best way to do that, I figured, was to produce locally in New York City. By doing so, I not only help to support the local economy – I can also visit the factory anytime. I am allowed a more hands-on approach, creating as close to a perfect marriage of design and production as I have experienced in the fashion industry.
The first thing I saw upon entering the factory was the signage that reinforced the workers rights and the factory regulations. If you have thoughts of child labor in mind, that ‘No Homework’ sign might seem a bit scary; but in this case it means that, in accordance with New York State Law, the employees are not allowed to take production work home.
In visiting the factory to oversee the production process, many secrets of production were revealed. For instance, how does one cut the pattern pieces for 365 dresses at once? With a special fabric-cutting gig-saw, of course! The factory lays out the fabric on long tables in the cutting room and places the pattern markers over them as guides for the cutter.
Here, fabric cutter Wai shows how pattern pieces are cut out. He wears a chain-mail glove to protect his hand while he cuts into some 60 layers of fabric.
In the sewing room, I found the women chatting amongst themselves as they worked. Even though the factory is in America, nearly all of the workers are immigrants who need the work to maintain their life in America and to support their families back home. One of the amenities the factory provides its workers is white rice at lunchtime to go with their sack lunches.
Doing production locally also means that I can easily include details in the garment that might be difficult or costly overseas. Here my favorite local punk-rock silk-screener, Delilah, prints the care labels directly onto the pockets. I can pick them up and drop them off to the factory in less than 2 days.