Thursday, March 27, 2008

Globalised Production, Smart old Men and me.

I was having a bit of an ironic day. My wife was busy running the wheels of the Ministry of Finance and I was pondering why its so hard for many Canadians to make money with a Canadian dollar at par. I'm a bit of a mouse on a wheel these days. I often think how unfair it is that smart hard working people are incapable of making decent money in a sophisticated economy like Canada, and marvel at how even in the used clothing industry, most of my suppliers have up and moved to the third world and the U.S. in the last 6 months. In fact, I have watched the warehouse districts of Toronto empty out completely in every sector over the last 10 months. The sandwich truck drivers have no one to sell food to anymore, the poor bastards.
My new shipper tells me exports have never been higher. I ask him " what are you exporting", he replies"nickle, coal, oil, copper, silver, trees oh and equipment. We cant book enough containers to send the equipment over to China.". So there you have it...labour is mobile and Ontario is recession bound, and the new economy is ...what? Ontario factories are boxed and shipped and it begs the question, what happens to the people? Specifically to me the question is ...what happens to the people with knowledge. If for example the tanning industry moves to the third world, and the old 19th century equipment and skills are dismantled, can a new industry ever come back? Obviously and sadly once an industry is gone it is rarely revivable. So while everybody is basking in cheap, poorly made goods that are disposable, think about the cultural industrial genocide that you are participating in. All that knowledge and ecological damage that cannot be undone.
Why do I love vintage clothing so much. I can tell you simply that within each piece of clothing is a resonance of history. History of the people who came to Canada and the U.S.A. with knowledge and hard work and a vision of a better future. They embedded this idea into the garments that they built and you can still feel it. Leather..real leather holds the markers of its wearers and makers, its patina is much like a record, a vinyl record. Each mark is a story similar to an analogue groove that holds a sound. For my personal reasons, that record is a piece of the history of my Grandfather, and Great uncles who ran schmata (rag) stores collecting old junk and then reselling it. Later they made these garments and eventually they went out of business because of cheap industrial production in Japan.
Ironies of ironies, Japan is now the reservoir of all that knowledge. There is no culture more obsessed with American vintage clothing than the one that was destroyed by America, rebuilt by America and now the repository of American historical knowledge of clothing. Japan won the economic war with America in the 1970s and is paying its respect!!
My friend who is the head designer for a major label living in China often tells me that no matter how expensive a garment is, no matter how complex, he cannot spend more than 5 dollars in cost of production. I think of that every time someone asks me why I think we need a revival of craftsman and design indigenous to North America. Ill think about this more
tomorrow.