Union-Made: Fashioning America in the Twentieth Century

Designing and Manufacturing with the ILGWU

In the latter half of the 20th century, the ILGWU promoted the U.S. fashion industry through advertising campaigns, contests for young designers, scholarships, and educational endeavors. Some of the biggest names in the U.S. fashion industry manufactured their garments in ILGWU shops. Stephen Burrows, Halston, and Pauline Trigère are among the many designers who did so, creating beautiful pieces featured in this exhibit.

Starting in the 1940s, the ILGWU also produced fashion films to educate consumers about changing fashion trends and to promote the U.S. apparel industry. In 1967 the ILGWU partnered with the Cloak Joint Board to sponsor “Young America Creates,” a design contest intended to “open the doors for aspiring young fashion designers and to search out new young talent.”

In 1975 “Young America Creates” became “America’s Next Great Designer Award,” and continued to offer awards through 1982. Thousands of submissions were received each year and evaluated by an impressive list of judges, including Bill Blass, Pauline Trigere, Stephen Burrows, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Rebecca Moses, Kasper, and Halston, to name a few. The ILGWU solicited submissions from fashion design schools, including Cornell. Alumna Julie Shilander (’76) received an achievement award in the 1976 competition with Professor Sue Watkins as advisor. Scrapbooks like the one from which images were reproduced for this exhibit were made to commemorate the competition each year.

In 1981, Belinda Hughes out-shined 1,000 aspiring fashion designers to win the ILGWU’s America’s Next Great Designer Award. The grand prize included a 10-week paid internship at Kasper. Hughes later worked for Donna Karan at Anne Klein (another designer that manufactured with the ILGWU) and Aria Bridal. Everything changed when her nephew, David Jabba, was born in 1985 and she began designing his clothes. A year later Hughes developed a collection of children’s coats called Boo-Boo-Baby (the sobriquet used for her nephew).

Boo-Boo-Baby sold at Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Hendri Bendel, Nordstrom, and Saks. The greatest challenge for Hughes was finding serious and honest investors. By 1991, sales increased to the tune of $280,000 and she was ready to expand Boo-Boo-Baby to create a less expensive line of children’s outerwear. “I was introduced to an investor who later took advantage of me and didn't have my best interests at heart,” Hughes explained. “It was a nightmare and I had to spend so much in legal fees to have closure.” Hughes closed her business in 1998 but has continued to work in the apparel industry.

Video

"Fall and Winter Fashions, 1960-1961," Film highlighting the garments produced for the fashion industry by expert unionized workforce. Produced by the label department of the ILGWU. International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, 1961. Collection ID: 5780avb005ef077.

“Fashion Means Business,” Film highlighting the value of the fashion industry and its expert workforce for New York's population and economy. International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Collection ID: 5780fb311f1

Garments

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Photographs

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Print

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