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Highlights from the Fashion is Political Panel Discussion

Highlights from the Fashion is Political Panel Discussion

Tuesday, March 16 2021 12:00 pm

On Tuesday, March 9th, Made in NYC hosted a panel discussion with the creatives behind Inauguration Day’s most memorable looks — made here in New York City. The legacy of American fashion has often erased the voices of the makers, specifically the women and immigrants who contribute their labor to the fashion industry. We gathered the makers behind iconic ensembles featured on Inauguration Day for a discussion about what it means for them to create garments for the political sphere and why dressing is a political act.

Watch the Recording Now >

 

Panelists

 

 

Panel Discussion Highlights

When you first got the news, what was your reaction in the moment?

  • Alexandra O’NeillMarkarian 

    “It was surprising and a huge honor — I still really can’t believe it! It’s very humbling to be a small part of such an important day in American history. I thought it was a beautiful day, there was so much hope and excitement surrounding it and positivity, so I thought it was really incredible and something very special to be a part of.”

  • Ruchi KotahwalaRuchi New York

    “I just think that it was such a historic moment and I really appreciated the fact that [Dr. Jill Biden] was wearing all American designers and strongly supporting American fashion.”

  • Katie Sue NicklosWing & Weft Gloves

    This was so special and Dr. Biden’s stylist was so amazing and it was made clear to me from the very first meeting that it was Garment District, that it was Made in America, it was “We support you. We are going to wear your handcrafted items. We are going to showcase all these beautiful makers and designers. Come joyfully be a part of it!” And that alone was… everything.”

  • Arturo CastañedaStorytellers & Creators

    “It was pretty exciting for everyone. You know, it’s just the majority of the team are immigrants and it was just an opportunity that, you know, if it wasn’t for this new presidency, we wouldn’t have probably had. So it was pretty amazing.”

I’d like to hear more about each of your stories. Many of you are founders of your businesses… and I’d like to know about what this meant to you personally.

  • Laura Weber ReinLW Pearl Embroidery

    “It was so important to showcase something that I’ve been doing… since I was four years old. So, I’ve actually been doing embroidery for a very long time and so to showcase that and to be able to build a team over time that really values the craftsmanship and the artisanal way of making. I have such a talented team. They’re actually all women and they’re all immigrants — so to be able to support that is huge. I’m actually an immigrant myself, too.”

  • Alexandra O’NeillMarkarian

    “I think it was really incredible how we were able to shine a spotlight on the Garment District and on American-made clothing and that Dr. Biden really did realize the impact that her fashion choices can make — and that she chose to do that I think is really important and I think is really telling of what this administration is going to be like and I think that that’s really special… I think that a lot of people forget that there is an entire business and industry behind just a single dress and that it supports an amazing number of jobs and people. And I think that to be able to support that during such a difficult time for so many people when they are short on work or are losing their jobs is very important. So it was really nice to be able… to shine a spotlight on all of these incredible craftsmen and artisans in our own country.”

Clearly the exposure was astronomical — I’m curious to hear from each of you what has changed?

  • Evita ChuPDR Knitting

    What happened was the news reached to my birth country — I’m an immigrant from Indonesia. So it reached to the news media over there and they were very surprised that an immigrant and a woman could do such a big magnitude of work in a foreign country. So… I think that was a big moment for me, that I could inspire other people who I feel like, as immigrants, have this hesitation to thrive — are we able to? are we not able to? — and to take a risk in a new foreign land. But if we have the tenacity and if we have the perseverance and if we work hard, we can always achieve success because it is available to everyone and it is up to us whether or not we can take that opportunity and make it work.”

  • Laura Weber ReinLW Pearl Embroidery

    Just on Evita’s point there — it’s so true because I had a similar experience in Ireland. It was a very, very hopeful story for people who have left and are very hopeful in terms of you can become successful, you can reach a level that you never thought you could reach. It’s difficult to leave, it’s difficult to leave your family, and it’s difficult to start over — and I think that that really amplified in Ireland for me, what it means to move and what it means to try and grow something from the ground up.”

  • Ruchi KotahwalaRuchi New York

     “Being an immigrant from India, this is almost like living an American dream. I’ve been designing since I was sixteen, and I’ve been passionate about jewelry designing, but never did I imagine that I would be dressing the First Lady of the United States at the inaugural celebration. I feel like this is the only country where you can live that dream. So, it was a big moment for us.”

I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on the power of storytelling in what you do.

  • Arturo CastañedaStorytellers & Creators

    “Without this team that I have here, you know, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I myself came to learn from my mom as a kid making ends meet. I went from being a migrant worker and helping support our family — my mom raising six kids on her own — to this now. From the fields to the halls of the White House. It’s just been that kind of story for us and a privilege to be a part of it… I learned how to sew from my mom — she worked at a sweatshop in Mexico. So, I knew that I was created to do this, I was created to create and that eventually I would have my own. I didn’t know how that would happen, or where it would happen. And having it here in New York City is kind of a fulfillment of my mom’s dream as well, and just the hardships that we went through to get to this point. And the sacrifices that my team has made to have us arrive at this point is really pretty special.”

Would you be willing to share a bit about how did you actually enter into the work that you’re doing and also any advice that you would have for our audience this evening that may be inspiring to go into similar pathways, such as yourselves?

  • Evita ChuPDR Knitting

    “I studied business as my major in college. But, my mom is the one who loves fashion. And we opened a boutique for about three years and we sold the boutique because the competition was getting too crazy at the time. And so, I thought at the time, maybe if I become a manufacturer, I could be at… the other side of the fence, and I can supply all these retailers without having to worry about more competitors or foot-traffic and stuff like that. And so I went back to school for manufacturing and design… For new aspiring designers who want to enter the industry… it takes a lot of patience to get where we are. I mean, it took me 15 years to be where I am right now. And sometimes we do have to start from the very bottom, and by learning how to do so many different tasks, you learn how to tackle every single problem. And I think that is the most valuable lesson — more than anything that you learn from school — it’s the practical experience from the job.”

  • Alexandra O’NeillMarkarian

    “I think it’s really important to take advantage of the resources that you have around you. I mean, New York is incredible — everything that you could ever need or want to start a clothing line or a fashion line is right here in New York.”

  • Ruchi KotahwalaRuchi New York

     “So basically I started designing when I was sixteen and I was still in India and I was so passionate about designing. It was not just about designing — it was also about being an entrepreneur. Growing up in India, I always saw that women, in the society where I grew up, women were not supposed to be financially independent and were sort of treated as underdogs. And I always thought that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and, at the same time, work toward financial empowerment of the underprivileged women — that was always a part in my head.”

  • Arturo CastañedaStorytellers & Creators

    “I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school, so I learned the unconventional way, just hands-on experience. My advice is: there’s no job in this industry that’s beneath you. If there’s an opportunity, you don’t know where it can lead if you work hard and diligently. Just honor the process and honor the mistakes and have reverence for the mistakes because strength and growth is found in those mistakes… I moved to New York with a dream to work at Ralph Lauren. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, I didn’t know anyone here. I moved here and I lived in my car for six months to make it and you know, I was just looking for any open door. My first job in fashion was opening boxes, shipping and receiving at the back of a J.Crew. That was my starting point in fashion… I felt like this was my journey and I was going to write my own story and my own narrative.”

If we were to have a fashion czar appointed… what would be one wish, or one hope, that you would have that the new administration could help you with to recover from the pandemic?

  • Arturo CastañedaStorytellers & Creators

    “I would ask the administration to really push for US manufacturing and not just be a political statement, but really follow through… I was honored to participate in this, but I hope it was not just a one-time thing for a political shoutout or a political vote. You know, I really hope that they really put emphasis on it and highlight the facilities that were used and the designers that were called upon… Maybe there’s tax write-offs, you know, there needs to be some sort of aid and promotion of what we do. Or maybe hold accountable the big brands to manufacture a certain percentage, if they say they’re American designers, manufacture in the US 15%, 10% of your brand has to be made in the US, you know, to help manufacturing. That might sound extreme, but hey, if New Balance can make a shoe here, why can’t Nike?”