Cutting, assembling, sewing, finishing garments requires skill and concentration.
As locals gather for a reunion of garment workers, it will be a bittersweet time. The Garan factory which employed hundreds of workers closed for the last time in 2001. Workers who had spent their whole careers making shirts and children's clothing found themselves out of a job.
One person posted on Facebook that new clothing is now made in Mexico. That's not exactly accurate for Garan.
Garan Corporation still exists. It has offices on Fifth Avenue in New York City as it did in its halcyon days when the office was in the Empire State Building. Garan is a private company. Information about its earnings are not available. One website reports that the company has 5100 employees and a factory in Starkville Mississippi. So while Garan went on, the little town that put its hopes and dreams in its basket was left behind.
Garment manufacturing and marketing are a risky businesses. Guess wrong and you're gone. Look at the Penney's store in Union City Tennessee, closed this spring. Major stores have cut back on retail outlets. Buying online is the thing to do. Even online is no guarantee of viability.
Those who sit in the halls of power and call garment making "low skilled labor" have obviously never made a shirt from a bolt of cloth. While it is piecework, workers assembling individual parts of the garment to reach a finished whole, the work requires care and concentration. My memory of making a dress in an old home economics class still makes me cringe. Sewing takes skill.
Sending garment work to third world countries or states with lower wages, like Mississippi, India and Pakistan, doesn't mean those workers are dumber than ours. Their standards of living are lower and their wages reflect it. It doesn't necessarily mean that we pay less for clothing.
The predominantly female workers who produced children's clothing took great pride in their work. They produced millions of garments over the forty years they worked at the plant. Many went back to school or could afford to send their sons and daughters to school. At least one summer worker is a practicing attorney now.
Manufacturing's return is the carrot that seems to dangle just beyond the reach of America. Pointing fingers at workers in Mississippi or India or Pakistan or Mexico does nothing to create economic viability. All it does is foster resentment for those doing jobs that once were ours. Politicians do little to bring back the old jobs or to create new ones with the impact of one small factory in one small Western Kentucky town.
It seems a cruel joke that while 350 workers in Clinton Kentucky lost their jobs, Garan still has an office on 5th Avenue in the Big Apple.
It's also a cruel joke to use jobs, jobs, jobs for politicians to climb up the political ladder. But the promise will keep working as long as workers want to believe.