Sewing Women

Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry

Margaret M. Chin

Columbia University Press

Sewing Women

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Pub Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9780231133098

208 Pages

Format: Paperback

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Pub Date: May 2005

ISBN: 9780231133081

208 Pages

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Pub Date: May 2005

ISBN: 9780231508032

208 Pages

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Sewing Women

Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry

Margaret M. Chin

Columbia University Press

Many Latino and Chinese women who immigrated to New York City over the past several decades found work in the garment industry-an industry well known for both hiring immigrants and its harsh working conditions. In the 1990s, the garment industry was one of the largest immigrant employers in New York City and workers in Chinese- and Korean-owned factories produced 70 percent of all manufactured clothing in New York City. Based on extensive interviews with workers and employers, Margaret M. Chin offers a detailed and complex portrait of the work lives of Chinese and Latino garment workers. Chin, whose mother and aunts worked in Chinatown's garment industry, also explores how immigration status, family circumstances, ethnic relations, and gender affect the garment industry workplace. In turn, she analyzes how these factors affect whom employers hire and what wages and benefits are given to the employees.

Chin's study contrasts the working conditions and hiring practices of Korean- and Chinese-owned factories. Her comparison of the two practices illuminates how ethnic ties both improve and hinder opportunities for immigrants. While both sectors take advantage of workers and are characterized by low wages and lax enforcement of safety regulations-there are crucial differences. In the Chinese sector, owners encourage employees, almost entirely female, to recruit new workers, especially friends and family. Though Chinese workers tend to be documented and unionized, this work arrangement allows owners to maintain a more paternalistic relationship with their employees. Gender also plays a major role in channeling women into the garment industry, as Chinese immigrants, particularly those with children, tend to maintain traditional gender roles in the workplace. Korean-owned shops, however, hire mostly undocumented Mexican and Ecuadorian workers, both male and female. These workers tend not to have children and are thus less tied to traditional gender roles. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, Korean employers hire workers on their own terms and would rather not allow current employees to influence their decisions.

Chin's work also provides an overview of the history of the garment industry, examines immigration strategies, and concludes with a discussion of changes in the industry in the aftermath of 9/11.
Chin has painted an imaginative and compelling portrait of contemporary immigrant workers. Robert E. Bionaz, H-Net
Sewing Women provides a new and illuminating perspective on New York's garment industry and the dynamics of work among today's immigrants through a carefully argued and insightful comparison of Chinese- and Korean-owned garment shops and their Chinese and Hispanic workers. This richly-textured account, based on in-depth qualitative research, makes fascinating reading and will be of great interest to scholars and students of contemporary immigration, ethnicity, work, and gender. Nancy Foner, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Hunter College of the City University of New York, author of From Ellis Island to JFK: New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration
Sewing Women is an insightful and sensitively written ethnographic study of New York's immigrant garment industry. Chin reports on the virtues and vices of coethnicity and the enclave economy. Her broad-based study delves into the urban low-wage economy, globalization, New York's fashion industry and sweatshop labor as it impinges on owners and workers—and into immigration, race and ethnicity, gender and family life, as well as the effects of 9/11. Chin's book is ethnographic sociology at its richest and best." Herbert J. Gans, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, Columbia University, author of Democracy and the News
Despite global competition, New York City's garment industry struggles on, largely on the backs of the poor immigrant women. In her incisive portrait of today's garment workers, Margaret Chin explores how the different ways in which labor is organized in the Latina and Chinese segments of the industry shapes their lives as workers, as members of ethnic communities and as women. Sewing Women is an important window on to the changing lives of the working poor in today's global economy. Philip Kasinitz, professor of sociology, City University of New York Graduate Center, coeditor of Becoming New Yorkers: Ethnographies of the New Second Generation
Chin's strong writing allows her reader to see and feel the garment worker's exhausting struggles on a daily basis. Linda Kozlowski, Altar Magazine
[Sewing Women] provides a fresh sociological account of ethnic entrepreneurs and workers in this resilient immigrant industry of the 1990s. Min Zhou, Sociological Forum
[Chin's] masterful threading of oral interviews into the analysis brings the history to life. Annie Polland, senior vice president of programs and education, Lower East Side Tenement Museum
In the midst of the information age, only steps from Wall Street, Margaret Chin delves into one of the largest manufacturing industries remaining in the big city: the garment business. Where Jews and Italians once crowded the shop floor, she finds today's immigrant workers—Chinese, Mexicans, and Ecuadorians—hunched over high speed sewing machines. How do these workers find their way into the 'rag trade?' Why do Chinese women labor for co-ethnic bosses, while Mexicans and Ecuadorians sew for Korean owners? How does the labor process reflect these differential patterns of recruitment, skill and pay? Chin offers a nuanced portrait of the manufacturing world that blends the study of gender and family roles with the structure of this globalized industry and its international workforce. It is a terrific read for anyone interested in immigration, the sociology of work, and the intersection between family life and the organization of the shop floor. Katherine Newman, professor of sociology and public affairs, Princeton University, author of No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Legacies: New York City Garment Industry
2. Doing Ethnic Business
3. Getting from There to Here
4. The Attractions of Cloth
5. What Employers Want
6. Landing Work
7. The Bottom Line
8. Immigrants and the Economy
Epilogue
Appendix: Research Design and Methodology
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author

Margaret M. Chin is associate professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.