The L.A Garment District

The L.A Garment District

The Garment District in L.A. is an amazing place. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of small stores in this roughly 40 block area. African fabric stores. A cluster of Italian men’s shoe stores. Across the street they sell leather jackets. Down the alley, Korean shopowners sell purple iridescent pimp suits, next to them are Ramones and Che t-shirts, further down are purses, baseball caps, hip hop clothes, men’s suits, you name it.
On weekends there are thousands of people shopping. For reasons I’ve never understood, the shoppers are every ethnicity found on the planet except Anglos. Latinos couples with babies in strollers. Black hip hop kids. Many Asians. But practically no Anglos. I have no clue why.

The heart of it is Santee Alley, an alley running for several blocks with about a zillion tiny stores lining the sides, and, on a Saturday, about a zillion people swarming through it.

I was looking for a black leather jacket, and after about hour poking around, found a quite nice one, with removable inner liner, for $39.95. Yes, that’s $39.95, not $339.95! Prices like this are the rule, and that’s one reason the sidewalks are jammed with people on the weekends. I plan to go back for cowboy boots, and with some exploring, will no doubt find them for the same price.

Hint: Park several blocks away in a lot for a flat rate of about $4 and walk. Parking spaces are nearly impossible to find and the traffic is chaotic.

The ugly underbelly of this, of course, is the sweatshop labor that fuels it. The average L.A. sweatshop worker makes about $3 an hour. The Sweat Shop Watch faq explains more

The leather jacket was made in China under conditions that may be, uh, less than ideal. But at least a small store got my money, not a big chain. And how does one tell if their clothes are not made by sweat shop labor? Sweat Shop Watch says this can be quite difficult to determine.

Our predatory economic system means clothing manufacturers circle the globe finding the cheapest price for labor, usually through intermediaries so as to lessen their guilt and culpability. If labor in one country starts asking for reasonable pay and working conditions, well, too bad pal, we’ll just move our operations to the next hell hole and screw you.

Patagonia is a clothing manufacturer who absolutely does not use sweat shops. They are a shining model of how to make clothes in a socially and environmentally responsible way. While they do make casual clothes, their primary market is mountain clothes, parkas, fleece, etc., for backpackers and rock climbers. They make them like someone’s life may depend on it because … it might. if you are half-way up a rock face and it’s snowing and 10 below zero, the zipper on your parka can not, must not, fail or jam. And with Patagonia, it won’t. They make superb quality clothes, treat their employees well – and make a profit. Yes, it can be done.