As a nation, we are in a time of volatility and confusion. Our media bombards us with polarizing information about the leaders of our country, their actions, the feedback from foreign nations, and of course, actions of our fellow Americans. More than ever, people are catalyzed to stand up for the rights of people and the environment. How, with all this information, do we sift through the rubbish to asses what is valid and spring into action? We must become better consumers of information and seek out community.
Tuesday, February 16th, at the Brooklyn Accelerator, a crowd of people came together to do just that. As we all know, President Trump, had ordered a controversial executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries to enter the US. This order and his stance on immigration reform will have a widespread ripple effect across most industries. We had gathered at the Brooklyn Accelerator to listen to three panelists debate our industry: apparel, in a discussion entitled, The Trump Effect: Immigration, Apparel Manufacturing and the Environment. Each of the three panelists, Deirdre Shannon, Sandra Seru, and Kinda Younes can be considered higher authorities in their respective fields and helped to provide the eager audience with reliable information on the topic. Deirdre is the Deputy National Organizing Director for FWD.us working directly on immigration reform. Sandra works at Forum for the Future, creating systemic change for companies in order to ensure a more sustainable future. Kinda consults with ITAC, helping companies to grow their top and bottom lines. The evening was narrated by Adam Friedman, the executive director of Pratt Center for Community Development.
The panelists covered a wide range of topics beginning with understanding immigration in this country at a rudimentary level. What does it mean for an immigrant to be undocumented? How do they currently obtain citizenship? What would it look like to enforce a mass deportation? And lastly, how does this affect the fashion industry? There are roughly 42 million immigrants living in the US, 11 million of which are undocumented, meaning they live in the US without paperwork. This can happen one of two ways: crossing the border illegally or obtaining short-term paperwork that falls out of status. Currently, there is no path to citizenship for those living here without paperwork meaning immigrants have to walk away from lives, families, work, and leave the country in order to apply for citizenship, a process that uproots that person’s life indefinitely. Notably, evidence suggests that a majority of US citizens support immigration reform and creating a path to citizenship (statistics here, here, and here). This does not mean we advocate for everyone to be able to become a citizen without due process, simply that there should be a tough but fair pathway to citizenship in which immigrants undergo a rigorous vetting process to become a US citizen. We are a nation founded by immigrants, how can we justify banning them when there is no valid data to substantiate the ban?
The executive order and Trump’s ideas for immigration reform affects the garment industry heavily. Though fashion is often disregarded as frivolous, it is a powerful industry employing 1 in every 6 people on this planet. The industry relies on immigrants, in particular woman who bring a skill set that the industry would be lost without. A culturally diverse industry, some of the top sewers, pattern makers, technicians, and designers are immigrants. I am sure you have hear of Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenburg, and Anna Wintour to name a few? If we allowed our fear of other cultures to thwart their ability to come to the US then, we would never have known these pioneers of industry. If Trump decides to enforce a mass deportation, companies will be put in a challenging spot, deciding to turn immigrants over to the law and lose significant workforce. This will have a devastating impact on how the industry runs and furthermore what we are able to make locally. If these members of our community are sent away, our ability to create “Made in the USA” poses even more of a challenge, which ironically one of Trump’s most defining platforms.
As the times look bleaker and more disheartening, there is a ray of hope that stays steady, opposition. Formerly, citizens who might not have taken a political stand are stepping up to the plate. We see companies willing to divide their customers by saying, “hey, this is what we stand for”. Take the Super Bowl commercials for example, it was hard to miss the political undercurrent in the Budweiser commercial about a German man immigrating to the US to persevere and follow his dream, or the beautiful Airbnb commercial about diversity with the hashtag #weaccept. It is no longer acceptable for companies to sit idly by when we accept the power our capitalist culture allows them. People are using this power and social media to their advantage, we are seeing change created by media campaigns such as #deleteuber, an example where the people’s voice was heard. The commonality that strikes me most as the movements gain traction is unity. When we stand together, we cannot be ignored. We have the power to shift mentalities and policies by influencing our communities. We must be informed and never underestimate the ripple effect one idea and the ability to speak up can have.
Once the panel wrapped up, the crowd proceeded to walk around and talk with representatives from different organizations and companies that are fighting to make a difference. Aside from the previously mentioned organizations, Save the Garment Center, Democracy at Work Institute, NYC Fair Trade Coalition, Social Accountability International (SAI), Immigration Legal Services & New Americans Hotline, A. Bernadette, and Craft Talk were at the event.
Save the Garment Center began in 2007 with the aim to preserve a culture of local fashion that has been dying due to development and production outsourcing. “In 1960, 95% of clothing sold in the U.S. was manufactured in the Garment Center, now that number has decreased to approximately 3%.” Take a moment to absorb that statistic… 3%! Fighting to sustain and bring back fashion to the Garment Industry is imperative for setting standards of local fashion for generations to come. Democracy at Work Institute was also represented. This non-profit exists to advocate for democratic workplaces and cooperatives. Social Accountability International works towards creating a more sustainable future for companies by helping them recognize the benefit to both business and employees by securing basic human rights. SAI helps companies to develop social standards within the workplace. For Immigration Legal Services & New Americans Hotline, the name pretty much speaks for itself. This hotline offers live assistance for those who are looking for information and help regarding immigration. A. Bernadette is a company that is a go to for creative sustainably made accessories. The two sisters who co-founded the company work artisans in Uganda to produce an assortment of things from up-cylced t-shirt quilts, to bags woven from hanger straps, and much more. Lastly, Craft Talk shares the beauty of craft with the world. The organization sells intricate handmade weavings made by artisans and the coolest part of each piece is that the names of the artisans behind the weavings are stated with the information. We often forget that a person is behind our products. Craft Talk works to bring us back to that reality and help us appreciate the products we buy.
This event at the Brooklyn Accelerator was an excellent example of a positive way to approach the current state of the country, the event had reliable information and brought together community. The overall takeaway that struck me as vital though was the importance of this open dialogue. We all have different opinions, stories, specializations, but when we come together to share, we have the ability to have productive debate and strive for positive, informed change.