Through most of the 20th Century, the American clothing industry was based in New York City, and in many respects the business reflected the growth and evolution of the nation. As immigrants from Europe made their way into New York via Ellis Island, a large number of them found work in the city's many garment shops, while many religious and ethnic minorities who were not welcome in other trades were able to support themselves and their families making clothing. The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which seamstresses locked inside a garment plant met a horrible death, created a scandal that led to union representation for most garment workers. At one point, over 90 percent of all clothing purchased in America was made in New York, and the Garment Workers Union was powerful enough to negotiate living wages for employees as their endorsement could sway major elections. However, as unionism was demonized in the 1980s and many large firms found cheaper labor oversees (where safe working conditions and fair pay were considered unnecessary luxuries), the American garment industry began to shrink dramatically, and by the end of the century a mere five percent of clothing sold in the United States was produced domestically. Filmmaker Marc Levin examines the rise and fall of what once was one of the nation's most powerful industries in the documentary Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags. Produced for the HBO premium cable network, the film was an official selection at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.
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