On the way to the airport today for a business trip with a colleague, we stopped in an alley, not far from Market Street. Through a locked gate and up three flights of stairs (no elevator) we entered a world that I would never have guessed existed that close to the financial district — or, in fact, anywhere in San Francisco.
A large room was filled with Chinese women on sewing machines. There was plenty of natural light and an apparently friendly atmosphere. My friend is in start-up mode for her own fashion label (business trips like ours help pay the bills) and she needed to check some of her production. She looked at having her work done in China, but decided the ease of involvement with something just over the Bay Bridge more than made up for the slightly higher costs.
I met the owner, an amiable Chinese man who apparently works seven days a week. The women sewing don’t speak English, apparently. The fourth-floor walk-up in the heart of San Francisco didn’t evoke for me the classic images of a manufacturing sweatshop, but it’s hard to think of another word for what I saw at the top of the stairs.
How extraordinary that apparel manufacturing like that can survive in one of the most expensive cities in the US.
I’ve been to garment factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China, and I would hesitate to call many of them sweatshops. Unless conditions are downright Dickensian, I don’t think it’s possible to judge a “sweatshop” by its factory floor. To me the true tale is the lives and living conditions of the workers.
There was plenty of natural light and an apparently friendly atmosphere…I met the owner, an amiable Chinese man who apparently works seven days a week. The women sewing don’t speak English, apparently. The fourth-floor walk-up in the heart of San Francisco didn’t evoke for me the classic images of a manufacturing sweatshop, but it’s hard to think of another word for what I saw at the top of the stairs.
Okay, so we have an owner who works seven days a week (how many owners don’t?), a nice factory ambiance, friendly people -who don’t speak english- gainfully employed …and this is a sweatshop? Do you mean to suggest that all non-english speaking people are doomed to work in sweatshops? That if I hire someone who speaks another language that I run a sweatshop?
This is offensive. What would it take for this not to be a sweatshop in your eyes? For each stitcher to have their own corner office with their own assistant? It’s the nature of the work for jobs to batched in accordance to other workers nearby!
If your friend is concerned it’s a “sweatshop”, then I’d recommend you look up the contractor’s license number on the CA wage and labor website and allow them to look into the matter according to PROFESSIONAL criteria. For that matter, does your friend have a license?
Personally, I’ve seen more “sweatshops” in the kitchens of McDonalds or the clerks lined up at registers at wal-mart. Btw, I guarantee those stitchers are earning more than both of the latter with most likely, better benefits.
“Shark” Season 1, Episode 6 “Fashion Police”: The office is told to go after a LA sweat shop owner after an electrical fire kills four people. But since Martin feels so strongly about the case, they instead go after the clothing manufacturer that hired him.
In retrospect, what’s disheartening about your unfair characterization, is that this was most likely was a nice shop. The owner was probably quite proud of his happy productive workforce and pleasant working conditions and eager to show his client and her friend evidence of his integrity.
I can tell you one thing, if this had been a sweatshop, you wouldn’t have been allowed in the door for an inspection however cursory.