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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s People on the Move Manufacturing Success Fusion Food LA People Introduction L.A., Global City
18: Going Global: Los Angeles, 2000

Manufacturing Success

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 city’s 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 city’s proximity to Mexico and the Pacific Rim countries makes it an ideal import point.

Opportunity

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.

Sewing instructions
Sewing instructions
Hot Kiss skirt
Hot Kiss skirt
Clothing designs
Clothing designs
Hot Kiss invoice
Hot Kiss invoice

Contract Production

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.

Immigrant workers
Immigrant workers
Shears
Shears
Shop interior
Shop interior
Thread
Thread
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