Today, newspapers often run headlines highlighting poor labor conditions in overseas clothing factories. A new exhibit opening at the American Labor Museum in Haledon, NJ shows that labor abuses were also rampant in 20th-century American fashion manufacturing and that the union movement played a central role in improving conditions in the industry.
The Exhibit, “Union Made: Fashioning America in the 20th Century“, uses examples of union-made garments and union memorabilia to tell the story of how the union movement advocated for improvements in the American fashion industry. It is a collaboration of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection and the Kheel Center for Labor- Management Documentation and Archives. Denise Green, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design and director of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, co-curated the exhibit along with Patrizia Sione, research archivist at the Kheel Center. The exhibit originally opened in August 2017 at Cornell.
The American Labor Museum is itself an important part of the history of the American textile industry. The historic building that houses the museum, the Botto House National Landmark, acted as the meeting place for over 20,000 silk mill workers during the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike. The museum features a permanent exhibit on the 1913 strike and Paterson’s silk industry.
“Union Made: Fashioning America in the 20th Century” will open at the American Labor Museum on January 15 and run through April 25, 2020.