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Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

Garden State Cutting Company

A second example that illuminates the contemporary condition of work and work opportunities in Paterson is found at Garden State Cutting Company, located at 66 Gray Street. It is owned and managed by Vincent Landi Jr., who opened the business in Paterson in the late 1970s. As Landi explained, the company operates on the basis of low overhead and quick return on "investment" (labor costs are usually reimbursed in seven to ten days; equipment costs are very low). In places such as Paterson, the ability to operate under these conditions has led to a proliferation of small shops that rent production space cheaply, hire cutters or sewing machine operators, pay low wages (the work force is from the so-called third world and often newly arrived and eager to find work), and get paid quickly for their efforts. Should the business fail (the failure rate is very high, Landi told me), the owner closes shop, finds another suitable location, hires a new work force, and begins cutting and/or sewing again.

The building which houses Garden State Cutting Company.

I asked Vince Landi about the rise of this sort of business enterprise in Paterson. He explained that the garment industry has been transformed recently by new ideas about fashion and fashion inventories. Fashions change very quickly now, he said, and manufacturers and retailers (the two are often the same) are increasingly reluctant to stock great quantities of styles that are at risk of being supplanted by newer styles. Manufacturers have responded by instituting a system of flexible, "just-in-time" production.

Bundlers at work. The stacks of cut fabric are brought to the bundlers, who fold and tie them and place identification labels on the tied bundles.

Under the old system, it was feasible to cut and sew garments in distant locations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, or Mexico — but under current conditions, it is better to cut and sew garments within a reasonable distance of the manufacturer (the person or company that designs the garment and places the order with shops such as Landi's). Many manufacturers are in New York City, and because they can drive to Paterson in less than half an hour to respond to a problem, thereby keeping production on schedule, Paterson has reemerged as a desirable location for the new (or renewed) garment industry in the era of just-in-time production.

Looking west and slightly south from the top of the new parking garage on Grand Street. Route 80 can also be seen more or less in the center of the frame; the curve of the exit ramp onto Grand Street is especially noticeable to the right.

Paterson is relevant to the garment industry's emerging occupational culture as well, since it has a sizeable population of "third-world" residents who know how to cut and sew and are willing to work. The "new" 21st Avenue is Hispanic, populated by immigrants who will probably take their places at the cutting tables and sewing machines should the garment industry truly thrive again in Paterson. If they do, given the very narrow profit margins and the overall structure of economic and social relations, they'll most likely work at or nearly at minimum wage.

Ironically, Route 80, which was a destabilizing influence on the 21st Avenue commercial district (and the contiguous residential neighborhood), may help revive the Paterson garment industry because it is a major artery between New York and northern New Jersey. The paradox of the new system is that while it makes a difference where a business, an individual, or a highway is located, a Peruvian (for example) may forever be Peruvian, as though simultaneously in two places at once, both in Peru and in Paterson.

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Vincent Landi gives an overview of the garment manufacturing process.

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