Chinese Make Leap from Garment Factories to Fashion Runways

(Photo via Feet in 2 Worlds)

A Pakistani student works on a project as part of the Fashion MFA program at Parsons The New School for Design. (Photo by Carmel Pryor via Feet in 2 Worlds)

They may have come from different countries and arrived at different times, but generations of New York City immigrants have one thread tying them together – working in the garment industry.

As Feet in 2 World‘s Tatiana Galzy and Carmel Pryor put it, “the stories of immigration and fashion are closely intertwined.” In an audio podcast for the publication, the two reporters look at the contributions of immigrants to the  industry.

They speak to Hazel Clark, a Fashion Studies professor at Parsons The New School for Design, who discusses how history and politics have shaped the immigrant influence on the fashion industry.

Chinese-Americans in particular have had a close-knit relationship with the garment industry (as also detailed in a recent Sing Tao Daily article chronicling the waves of Fujianese immigrants). Now with major designers, such as “Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Vivienne Tam, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, and Phillip and Carol Lim,”  Chinese-Americans have crossed a threshold in the industry, from factories to runways.

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) celebrates these achievements in “Front Row: Chinese American Designers,” an exhibit that runs until September 29 and displays the work of 16 Chinese-Americans who have etched their name into the New York fashion scene.

But what triggered the shift in Chinese workers going from the clothing factories to becoming today’s fashion creators? Education, says Clark, especially for children of immigrants. Education “moves aspirations out of the sweatshop mentality.”

Visit Feet in 2 Worlds to listen to the podcast, which also features Herb Tam, the curator of MOCA.

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