Along with most other US industries, textile production has largely moved to factories in foreign countries. To a lesser extent design is also moving overseas, which I think we will see more and more. One of my textile designer friends told me that when she started her job a few years ago she was responsible for putting files into repeat and making colorways. However, before the files came to her, they were cleaned in the company's office in China where pay was dramatically less, and normal working hours were 8am- 8pm. In the last year it was decided that their China office would also be responsible for putting the designs into repeat. This means that my friend's only design-related responsibility is now to make colorways. Supposedly the workers in the China office do not know enough about american tastes and color trends to make colorways. This seems naive to me. Who says americans have a monopoly on color sense? How difficult is it to subscribe to a few trend/ color forecasting services, spend some time browsing fashion websites on the internet, and develop a sense of contemporary american taste?
When all aspects of design, from concept through production, are moved out of the country, what is left behind?
This past weekend was Labor Day weekend and I spent it in Eastern Massachusetts which was once home to many busy mills. Today New Bedford, MA is home to one major clothing manufacturer, menswear designer Joseph Abboud. Abandoned mills throughout New England are being slowly and partially filled with small businesses and outlet shops and in some cases, artists' studios. On the train ride back to NYC it occurred to me that one thing that can not be outsourced is fine art. Even if our economy collapses because corporations have sold all our jobs to other countries leaving us as indebted consumers, and skills and knowledge are lost by the former working class, there will still remain the basic human need of expression.
I think the thing that can save the middle class is a new localized economy based on artisanry and quality. Among other reasons, people love art because it allows us to glimpse the inner motivation and feeling of the person who created it. In an artfully crafted object one can sense an imbued sense of life and considered thought. This is hard to find in a mass-produced, hastily made, inexpensive item. If we stop letting capitalists tell us what we want and when, we will realize we have much more time and money than we thought. Maybe it's a good thing that we can fill our abandoned mills with artists and small local businesses.