By the end of the 20th century, fast and inexpensive transportation of goods and people helped make Los Angeles the largest manufacturing city in the U.S. The single biggest manufacturing industry is clothing production, with about 100,000 jobs. The success of the citys apparel industry stems from trendsetting design, quick turnaround in production, and relatively high quality.
A steady stream of new inhabitants makes LA a diverse and culturally rich environment, ideal for new fashions. The immigrant workforce also helps to keep the price of production down for domestically produced items. For garments with more leadtime, the citys proximity to Mexico and the Pacific Rim countries makes it an ideal import point.
With farm incomes in many parts of the world so low that families can barely survive, any kind of cash work is attractive. Although pay in a garment shop is unattractive by United States standards, the constant influx of immigrants means there are always people ready to take on the tiring and low-paid work. Even at minimum wage, sewing is attractive work because the need for English-language skills is limited.
The California Look
The rising popularity of casual clothes throughout the 20th century helped LA grow as a fashion center. Like many others in the city, Hot Kiss, a popular LA manufacturer, focuses its line on the stylish juniors market. Designing clothes, contracting production, monitoring quality, and coordinating delivery are typical manufacturers' activities; rarely do the firms sew their own designs.
Hot Kiss skirt
Hot Kiss invoice
Most LA clothing manufacturers contract out the bulk of their cutting and sewing to domestic or foreign shops. Local shops can handle quick turnaround and be monitored for quality, but rarely can they compete on price with large foreign contractors. Local finishing shops receive sewn goods, attach retailers' tags, and ship the clothes to warehouses and stores around the country.
Sewing and finishing shops are almost always staffed by low-paid immigrants. Whether Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese is spoken, English is usually a secondary language, if it is used at all.