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April 8, 2005

More old media
Posted by Teresa at 05:27 PM * 56 comments

I will shortly be visited here at home by a camera crew from an Indian cable TV station. Apparently my story about how you can use eBay to purchase bespoke salwar kameez from Indian and Pakistani tailors got into circulation in e-mail, and so wound up in the hands of a reporter for this station.

Yours for global disintermediation—


Okay, that was fun.

They’ve left now: Vitek Rai, the Correspondent/Producer, and Sulekh, his Supervising Producer. (That’s what their business cards say. To me, they looked a lot like a reporter and a cameraman. But what do I know? It’s their industry.)

I was mistaken about their provenance. Easiest just to quote the original e-mail:
I’m writing with reference to a mail circulated by SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) sometime late last year, about your experiences buying salwar kameezes over ebay from producer in South Asia.
I’m working for a new television channel, South Asia World, which is available on satellite TV here in the US and also in the UK. In India, we partner with CNBC to provide business programming but on South Asia World, we also produce feature stories related to South Asia. I’m interested in producing a story on the ebay salwar kameez sale, and would love to interview you, since it was through your weblog that I found it.
As Vitek Rai explained it to me, South Asia World does television for the South Indian diaspora.

It was a beautiful evening, so we did some talking sitting out on the front stoop, then moved inside when it got too dark and cold to continue out there. I had the laptop set up on our dinner table, with a bunch of eBay “salwar kameez, any size” tabs already in place. I poured coffee and showed them.

I don’t know whether this part got taped, but to my mind the most pertinent stuff I said was when we were first talking, out on the stoop.

Here’s one thing I know: For decades, now, I’ve been seeing third-world imported handicrafts—obviously piecework—priced so low that I flinched at the thought of what their creators received per hour. In Toronto in 1983, I saw fine hand-tatted placemats from China selling for $4.00 Canadian. Smaller round doilies, just as fine, were $2.00. In the fancy tchotchke shops along Park Avenue South, the ones that cater to tourists, one of their staple bits of inventory is the full-size tablecloth worked in multicolored applique plus lace-crochet inserts, with six matching napkins. I don’t know what the price for that is now, but for the longest time it was $19.99 the set. Entire tablecloths made of Battenberg lace sell for more, but not enough more.

I’ve also flinched at the waste I sometimes see in the export-handicrafts market. Off-the-rack clothing manufacture inherently has some waste built in, but this is different. The example that has stuck in my mind was a bin of handknit sweaters that were going for a couple of bucks each in an Odd Lots. I believe they were made in Turkey. The knitting was beautiful—classic lacework patterns—but the yarn was multi-stranded cheap cotton string, garment-dyed using cheap harsh colorants, and the sizing was waaaaay too small for the American market. (That was back when I took a size 4, and the sweaters were still too small.) It hurts to see a handknit sweater knocked down to less than the price of the string it was made of.

(I could go on about this for a long time. Textiles are a traditional way to concentrate and display other people’s labor. Imperialism can be defined as a system for obtaining other people’s Cool Stuff for less than you ought to pay for it.)

And then there’s the normal waste of off-the-rack clothing. Where the maker and the customer can’t deal directly, the maker is working by guess and by golly: what do retail customers actually want? in what color? in what size? They’re also at the (hah) mercy of middlemen, who get a bigger cut of the eventual purchase price than the workers ever will.

When you’re working for the mass market, you have to have mass quantities. They have to be made to certain standards, in a certain range of sizes. It’s the industrial-size package deal. Small shops can’t get into that market, unless they want to produce to order, for a bid-down price.

Something else I know is that India and Pakistan have huge textile industries. They’d love to sell more goods into our markets—Pakistan especially. Unfortunately, they’re blocked from doing so by a system of quotas and tariffs.

Something I didn’t get to say, not that it would have come as a surprise to anyone: those tariffs are designed to prop up the dying but politically powerful American textile industry. The guys who run it are the successors of the mill owners who impoverished industrial New England by picking up and moving to the South, where labor was cheap, workers were cowed, and health and safety regulations were more decorative than functional. When you see spokesmen for the Southern textile mills spluttering about how the worst damage to their industry hasn’t been done by competitors in India or China, but rather by Sally Fields playing Norma Rae in a movie that portrayed J. P. Stevens as a bunch of union-busting bad guys (which they are), you know what kind of mindset you’re dealing with.

Sure, Georgie-boy would in theory like a better relationship with Pakistan; but Southern mill owners are his friends.

Well, screw that. Screw the lot of it. There’s nothing about ground-level clothing production that requires large-scale industrial organization. That’s an artifact of the distribution system. Spinning and weaving are best produced by mechanized systems, and processes like making running shoes takes specialized equipment, but garments are made by one person sitting at a sewing machine.

(We’re now re-entering the zone of Things I Got To Say.)

The internet, in this case eBay, lets me do business directly with shops in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. The barriers to doing business are so low that very small operations can post their offers on eBay and see who bites. There are various service firms that will intermediate the cash transaction. The most notable of these is PayPal, but they’ve hardly cornered that market: it’s a competitive field. International delivery companies are likewise competitive.

Here’s what a clothing shop in South Asia needs in order to sell bespoke clothing on eBay:
1. Items to sell. If they’re making salwar kameez, that’s two or three pieces of coordinated fabric draped around a mannequin.

3. A digital camera, or the use of a digital camera, to take digital pictures of the offerings.

3. A sewing machine, and the ability to make a salwar kameez to order.

4. An account with Paypal, Bidpay, or some other financial intermediary.

5. An account with a shipping service.

6. An account on eBay.

7. A purchaser somewhere in the world who wants the salwar kameez they’re offering to sell.

It’s not as easy as getting into the car-window squeegee business, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than setting up to mass-produce clothing for the export wholesale trade.

If textile workers in India and Pakistan can get direct input from their potential customers instead of wasting output on a guessed-at market, and sell their work for retail rather than wholesale prices, and keep a much bigger percentage of the take, several good things will happen.

One is that they’ll make more money, lead happier lives, and run their own businesses, which is reason enough right there. Another is that they’ll expand and diversify their offerings, which will be good for their customers (me!), and spread the prosperity around in their own countries. Another is that we’ll sidestep the stupid U.S. textile mills with their stupid bought-and-paid-for tariffs, and the stupid large-scale clothing industry (which keeps discovering and then forgetting again that there’s money to be made selling clothing in more diverse sizes), and instead feed money into those countries’ working economies.

(1. Take it from a New Yorker: it’s amazing how fast scary brown persons turn into cheerful householders when they have real paying jobs with reasonable job security. It’s almost as though they have the same desires and ambitions that white people do. 2. When people make money, and therefore have money, they buy your products, too.)

Another thing I think will happen is that we’ll become real human beings to each other. Some people think “terrorist” when they hear “swarthy Middle Eastern immigrant,” but to me that description also covers “the guy with the bismillah-stickered cart on the corner of Broadway and 23rd who does the great halal-chicken-and-rice lunch special.” I figure we could stand to have more people in Pakistan for whom the word “American” conjures up not only “soldier shooting an unarmed wounded man in a mosque,” but also “that short blonde woman in California who’s so fond of purple.”

Some of us have been saying for a while that if we can export our jobs, we can export our labor practices. My addition to this is that if the plutocrats can export our manufacturing, I can damned well export my retail purchasing. Let George’s campaign contributors fend for themselves.

Comments on More old media:
#1 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 05:35 PM:

Sing along now:
"It's a small world after all"...

#2 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 05:41 PM:

If it goes on forever, will it be disintermediable?

#3 ::: Darice ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 06:18 PM:

Well, based on your story, I ordered one (and it's marvelous). And based on my ordering one, my friends are ordering them. (One of my friends has gone completely salwar-crazy; I think she has three and is stalking eBay for several more...)

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 06:56 PM:

Have I mentioned how good they look?

#5 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 07:17 PM:

Chalk up another victim, here. I've ordered three salwar kamiz, been profoundly happy with two of them. (Enough so to more than compensate for the disaster that was the third.) The two nice ones were on display at Corflu to much general cooing. Eventually I'm sure I'll get another couple for summer, as the two I've kept are wool blends, and meant to be winter weight. Winter in India, one presumes.

If only the salwar had pockets. Am working on this.

#6 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 08:10 PM:

Utter nonsequitor, but I saw Holly Black's List of Authorial Worries and thought you would find it greatly amusing.

#7 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 08:15 PM:

My problem is that now I find myself obsessed with bespoke Western clothing.

#8 ::: Merry ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 10:17 PM:

If you are interested, there are a group of Bosnian refugee ladies who make socks, slippers and rugs here in America. They survive on the income they make in knitting these things. I've ordered the slippers - lovely work.


#9 ::: Merry ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 10:21 PM:

Sorry, forgot to post the link - its the first one on this page.

#10 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 10:28 PM:

When I was younger, I instinctively flinched from "Capitalism" as being responsible for all kinds evils. It took until well into my adult(ish) years to realize that that was simply because I'd grown up in SE Asia -- and because my dad was a specialist in the Philippines -- and that I had understood "Capitalism" to mean "Corporatism in the Imperialist/Mercantilist Vein". In particular, I now feel that genuine small businesses -- businesses of the type you're describing -- really do lead to free markets and free peoples.* So everyone: buy one of them salwar thingies and spread freedom-and-liberty throughout the world!

* As opposed to, say, Union Carbide in India, or the various lumber companies that are de facto running northern Burma, or (perhaps) Hong Kong companies and their factories on the mainland. Or any of a myriad other corporation-as-local-government stories, really.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 11:50 PM:

ARGGGHHHH! Teresa, I wish you'd write some op-eds, or guest essays for some weekly news mag. Your stuff deserves wider exposure.

I do think your list needs:

8. Someone to let them know about 1 - 7, and provide advice on presentation.

#12 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 11:55 PM:

Actually, there may be some good news on the textile quota front. The Multi-Fiber Arrangement deal expired at the beginning of this year, which would seem to open things up a bit.

Colby Cosh has a column on this here. An excerpt:

"The MFA was a GATT side agreement -- actually a complicated web of bilateral treaties -- that was enacted in 1974 with the goal of slowing trade liberalization with respect to clothing and textiles. This is a polite way of saying that the rag trades in rich countries felt particularly vulnerable to all this free-trade chatter that was going around, and wanted protection for as long as possible. So Western governments adopted a system of import quotas, agreeing, essentially, to divvy up the world's textile production and enforce the division by fiat. The original agreement was meant to last only five years, but was renewed five times. This year, after a process of phase-out that began in 1995, it was finally permitted to lapse."

#13 ::: Kate Yule ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 01:55 AM:

Glad you brought this up. Inspired by your Worldcon outfits, and Ulrika's at Corflu, I've been bidding on some myself. But the prices are SO low -- I keep wondering -- might we just be buying stunning custom outfits from mom-&-pop sweatshops instead of large foreign-owned ones? How would one know? Seriously.

Ulrika, you say you're "working on it" re pockets. Aftermarket, or negotiating with the vendor to have them included?

#14 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 04:38 AM:

The offence of a hand-knitted garment in the bargain bin is twofold, isn't it? As an economic entity attempting to be responsible, one cringes at the low price, knowing that the producer was paid even less. As a craftsman, one winces at the wasted skill (a waste which started even before the garment-dyeing, when someone had nothing but cheap string to work with). I get the same feeling when I see acidic handmade paper sold as wrapping paper for a few pounds in IKEA. What if those papermakers had access to archival materials? What if I could buy from them direct in India rather than from the Scottish outlet of a Scandinavian company?

I know which one bugs me more. But I also know which one can me measured, aggregated into spreadsheets, and quoted in statistics.

I'd also add another couple of points to your list:
9. A computer with internet access (and all the "piping" that goes with it - power, telecoms)
10. A language in common

#15 ::: Anne KG Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 08:13 AM:

abi: you don't need to have a whole language in common. Sure, it helps if you can write a lovely description of your product in the language of your target consumer, but the pictures speak for themselves, so mostly you need just the terminology of commerce, e.g. price, size, and other descriptors that affect the product specifications and the transaction.

Or, alternatively, someone who can mediate for you in that language.

I agree with regard to 9. but I would also note that a shop needn't have their own computer to do this. I don't know how things are in India but the American practice of individual ownership is not in place everywhere. Some people have learned how to share. And whole nations have connected through Sattelite uplinks without ever getting strung with wires.

#16 ::: Martin G.L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 12:10 PM:

those tariffs are designed to prop up the dying but politically powerful American textile industry.

You sure they're not dyeing?

#17 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 03:54 PM:

I'm going to try again with your favorite supplier. The 2 I bought from Ulrika's are both too small -- or the kameez parts are. Kate measured me so I've no doubt I was properly measured but neither one of them seems to have believed my numbers. And the purple/orange and purple/green/yellow fabrics are SO pretty. Sigh.

Short blonde lady who loves purple and lives in Washington.

#18 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 04:00 PM:

I'm with Teresa & abi, yet on another arm -- beaded purses. You can buy beaded coin purses for about $6, but they're made with bad beads and thread. It's annoying to see things like this in the Smithsonian shops instead of pieces made in the US with good beads, thread, and technique, although they would cost a lot more.

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 04:53 PM:

Without disagreeing that Smithsonian stores ought to carry quality items (and they do), the low end of museum-shop sales is a very different critter from the middle-and-upper range. For one thing, most museum shopping is impulse shopping. If you want a specific, high-end Thing, you're probably going to buy it under different circumstances -- either from a catalog or web store, after some reflection, or on a future visit (for those of us who are museum members and get discounts anyway).

Items like that coin purse are purchased on one kind of impulse or other -- either an adult who has suddenly decided she needs one (possibly through Sudden Catastrophic Coinpurse Failure) or for/by a child who just wants something from the store, doesn't much matter what, and has already been told, No Candy. It's a niche of two-dollar items. If they carried a craft-quality beaded item, it would be in a different price category entirely, and would be stored in a case requiring staff assistance for purchase. It's possible that the net profit of a few such sales would equal that of the cheap goods, but that's by no means certain. For most customers, a handful of two-buck znatchky isn't a substitute for a single more expensive item; they either buy the cheap stuff or nothing, or they add the handful to the major purchase as giveaways for the people at home, adult or child, who are pleased to have been brought something.

The shop at the Metropolitan sells craft jewelry by some outstanding artists, at appropriate prices, (must remember to remind Elise of this), and they sell injection-molded plastic keychains that don't pretend to be art of any kind, though they may have a hot-stamped legend on the order of "I asked for a Warhol. I guess I should be happy."

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 07:38 PM:

By the way: if you're the right size and want some serious flash, ask eBay to keep a watch on these guys for you, because sometimes you'll need to get in there and snap things up fast. Some weeks they have a lot, other weeks a little, but they're always worth a look.

The seller, MysticLotus, is an ongoing fundraising project for the K-12 Kalachandji School in Dallas. The clothes they sell are donated by wealthy Indian families, and they're fabulous beyond anything else you're going to find on eBay: beautifully designed bespoke garments--many, I suspect, are one of a kind--in luxury fabrics, with top-quality handwork and all kinds of lovely details. I just want someone my size to start donating to their cause.

#22 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 09:18 PM:

Teresa: Very nice and I'm watching it, but I couldn't resist bidding on this one.

I'm sure I've encountered things too colorful for me, but I can't call one to mind off hand. You should see the lovely purple, fuschia, green, gold, and black jacket I had made recently..


#23 ::: Holli ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 11:57 PM:

Teresa, this probably isn't news to you, but knitters are beginning to get similar opportunities to cut out the middleman. It's not quite at the same level of one-to-one commerce, but KnitPicks is buying their yarn stright from the mills in Peru, and women's collectives in Uruguay and Nepal are selling to a number of retailers. I'm not sure we'll ever get to the point that we can buy yarn spun to our specifications from handspinners on the other side of the world, but it'd be awfully neat if we did.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 12:24 AM:

Gotcha. Shall I confess that I thought of you when I saw that one?

Of course, you could always pull a "buy it now" with this, then ask Alka how much IndiaShop would charge to make it up for you.

#25 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 02:30 AM:

ask eBay to keep a watch on these guys for you

*falls over* Their aqua/butterscotch sari set is ... *wow*. Gorgeous. I want it. Except it would not in a million years fit in the bust, and even if it did I don't know where the heck I'd wear it. But wow, *gorgeous*. Thanks for the link!

#26 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 04:11 AM:

Teresa: But they say only available to India. Very nice though! Or are you suggesting buying it and have it shipped to the the other shop and have them make and ship it?

Well I bid on that one because I really liked the colors. So I guess it's very me -- only natural you'd think of me.

Catie Murphy: You need to go to cons. To quote my friend Kathleen, "Being a science fiction fan means never having to say, 'But where would I wear that?'"

#27 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 07:00 AM:

Catie - saris can also be made into wonderful bed canopies, curtains, etc... If you have a good seamstress or tailor in your area, you can put your heads together and have a jacket, skirt, or some other thing made.

Just start thinking about it as a long length of extremely gorgeous fabric, and go from there.

If you really want to wear it and the sari blouse that goes with it is made up in a smaller size, find out if there is an Indian clothing store in your area. They will carry off-the-rack sari blouses and petticoats in a variety of sizes and colors. The blouse won't be quite as wonderful as the one that is made off of the sari's (original) hem, but it will enable you to wear your gorgeous length of fabric (and its plainness will be hidden by the end of the sari draping across the bodice)!

I have 2 saris - I have only tried on one at one time (my Indian friend who gave it to me went with me to an Indian clothing shop and helped me buy a blouse and petticoat, then we went home and had a fashion show - talk about squeee!). My dad bought me the other when he was in India a few months ago. It is beautiful, but heavy, slippery silk: I may have it made up into something else, as I have been warned (by people who know from long years' experience) that such saris can be truly difficult to wear!

#28 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 08:10 AM:

I don't have much patience with most capitalists, but I don't think I've heard any of the southern mill owners complaining about Norma Rae (rather than foreign competition) for a long time now. OTOH, I'd be more worried about the mill owners' employees if you were buying something that might also be made in this country, which saris and salwar kameez(*) are not. (I'm not holding the high moral ground in this; I find that most of the clothing I buy is made in another country. I wonder what the southern mills still make? But since I'm a software engineer who just saw ~90% of another group laid off and their jobs sent to India, I'm of several uneasy minds about exported work.) And being able to find what you want, without paying shares to several people for making links the net can make, is a Good Thing -- even capitalist (as you suggest), since the market becomes responsive to the end purchaser; every now and then I visit curses on the person who told Land's End that short-sleeve Oxford shirts weren't desired in yellow.

(*) Janice Gelb reported on her blog recently that she was told "salwar kameez" is both singular and plural.

#29 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 09:08 AM:

I remember an article in The New York Times (below the fold on the front page) several years ago about a village in South America that got internet access somehow and the women in the village teamed up and began selling hand-made hammocks (I think they were those wonderful mesh Mayan Wedding hammocks) over the internet. The goods were of high quality and sold well, which lead to the women involved bringing in (relatively) big bucks, which bent the men in the village so out of shape that they took over the internet connection and tried to run the business themselves. The last I heard was that the women wouldn't make hammocks for them to sell, which pissed the men off even more. Did anyone ever hear how the whole thing ended up?

#30 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 09:18 AM:

To quote my friend Kathleen, "Being a science fiction fan means never having to say, 'But where would I wear that?'"

Mary Kay, this has been one of my most pleasant surprises about fandom: that it is filled with people who appreciate both ends of the spectrum of my taste in clothing. I can get compliments on a really geeky T-shirt or a cute little skirt and a killer pair of stockings or whatever else beyond. I started telling people, "Conventions are the girliest thing I do all year." Strange in a good way.

#31 ::: Snowstorm ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 10:19 AM:

I'm in Singapore, and I've noticed that most of what we dismiss as "hideous ethnic crap", only trotted out during Chinese New Year or beach parties, such as batik items and chinese embroidered bags and suchlike, seems to be hideously expensive in America.

Indian stuff is pretty ok, but seriously, I see the same skirt I bought for $5USD selling at $40USD online.

What's with that?

#32 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 11:28 AM:

My experience with buying on eBay has mostly been with old cameras, which is a bit of a gamble. A fifty-year-old Russian copy of a Leica doesn't always work.

The clothing industry has always had bespoke tailoring, and maybe the entrenched mass-product side of the industry isn't going into RIAA-mode because they don't see this sort of trading as new, or as a threat. And they might be doing the right thing by mistake.

As a man, I'm just wondering how much scope I have for "getting away with" unconventional fashion. This isn't the same as the tailor in Hong Kong, whose prices are low enough to make a trip half-around the world worthwhile.

Whatever did happen to Adam and the Ants. Doctor Who is back, but this time around he just doesn't have the same style.

#33 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 12:07 PM:

And it's not just women who sometimes like to wear their better stuff to conventions. My default outfit for home is shorts & t-shirt, but for conventions I'll frequently wear good pants and real shirts. Just recently bought a silk sportcoat and silk/cotton trousers to match.

(Living with someone who can't tolerate synthetics, I've become a Fabric Snob of my own: cotton, silk, linen, and very occassionally -- hey, I live in the desert! -- wool.)

#34 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 01:28 PM:

Bruce Arthurs:

I concur: "And it's not just women who sometimes like to wear their better stuff to conventions."

For many years I wore my very conservative Brooks Brothers black pinstriped suit to cons. It was, of course, a costume -- made me look as if writing earned me serious money.

The late Allen Ginsberg once told me: "the most subversive costume for a poet is a three-piece suit." After he earned a $100,000 advance on his Collected Poems, he did indeed wear such a suit to, for instance, the ABA in L.A.

OTOH, this can be combined with radically weird vests (Robert Forward) or neckties (David Hartwell).

I can't quite fit into that Brooks Brother suit, but my 16-year-old looks fabulous in it!

#35 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 05:13 PM:

I signed off and then remembered this and thought I should post while I still remember. The WashPost had an article on ethnic fabrics in DC:

They had more pictures in the paper version, I don't know why they don't put those online.

#36 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 06:07 PM:

Mary Kay: unfortunately, they don't hold cons in Alaska, and getting out to them is prohibitively expensive. But I keep going back and looking at that outfit anyway and thinking, "*Sometimes* I get to go places where I could wear it!"

Jill--my mom's a fantastic seamstress. I'm thinking I should email the seller and see if they could tell me if there's enough seam to be able to let the bodice out some, but even if that's not possible, I bet you're right and I could find something local that'd go well enough to allow me to wear the rest of the ensemble.

*beam* Thanks for suggestions. :)

#37 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 06:09 PM:

Snowstorm: Welcome to the wonderful world of trans-Pacific wackiness. I had the same experiences in Hong Kong. Made for great XMas presents.

Dave Bell: This isn't the same as the tailor in Hong Kong, whose prices are low enough to make a trip half-around the world worthwhile.

My folks referred a NYC friend of ours to our then-local tailor when he came to visit. We estimate that he must have bought something like a dozen quality, (literally) tailor-made items like suits, shirts and the like; must've spent thousands of USD. When I asked about it, I was told the same thing as you just said: the amount our friend saved on that clothing was something like three times the cost of his plane ticket. Nice work if you can get it.

#38 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 06:25 PM:


::beams:: Glad I could be of help! I'm always willing to act as an Indian-textiles enabler....

#39 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 10:53 AM:

I think you're absolutely right about that, the small businesses developing, the real people, the connections. Better for everyone all round.

Going on from that thought, it seems to me that, historically speaking, liberty is one of those things like happiness that comes along better as a side effect rather than a goal. Liberty often seems to develop as a side effect of people having choices, and specifically economic choices. You see liberty bursting out like primroses whenever there are more jobs than people and people are allowed to move about. To use a couple of US examples, look at Franklin, and, more recently, the way that during the tech boom, techies weren't required to wear corporate drag, or do other things most people accept as indivisible from getting a well-paid job.

#40 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 12:58 PM:

I think I stopped at buying six, just because I'm waiting for warmer weather to wear them without coats. Completely satisfied with indiashop1, reasonably satisfied with other merchants (tunic lining makes a difference). When on a cruise, the first salwar kameez completely ruled; able to deal with ocean breezes and air conditioning, but roomy enough to do a forward roll in. (Don't ask...)

#41 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 02:03 PM:

Catie: Ah, I didn't realize you lived in Alaska. There do not indeed seem to be any sf cons in Alaska (I just checked the sf lovers con list) although Bouchercon -- the mystery world's equivalent of worldcon will be held there in 2007. And I know a Left Coast Crime has been held there too. I fear though, that with air fares going every higher you're kind of stuck. Sympathies.


#42 ::: Alexander ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 05:19 PM:

Teresa mentioned: people in Pakistan for whom the word "American" conjures up not only "soldier shooting an unarmed wounded man in a mosque," but also "that short blonde woman in California who's so fond of purple."

Interestingly, that's more or less what Colin Powell was talking about on NPR this morning in his "I believe..." segment.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 05:23 PM:

Yeah, but I did something about it.

#44 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Last time you posted, Teresa, I was so temped by the salwar kameez (kameezes?). This time I caved into bidding. Here's hoping I win.

#45 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 06:16 PM:

Yeah, but I did something about it.

Huzzay! Teresa for President!

Oh wait. If you're off being president, who's going to find new books for me to read? Never mind....(and BTW, from here it looks like the new meds are working.)

#46 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 09:16 PM:

This isn't capitalism at work, it's the free market at work - which capital often hates because the market is now in play.

There's an excellent book by a educated-hands archaeologist on the history of labor in cloth: Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years by E. Barber.

I would like to know that I wasn't patronizing local sweatshops... although I hope that local makers will be more able to disintermediate close aggregation than far. Maybe not true at family-scale.

#47 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 11:12 PM:

I am now bidding on a salwar kameez. My second choice, actually, because when I bid on a first, eBay informed me that I had been outbid, and I wasn't prepared to keep going higher.

#48 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:31 AM:

Hm, I bet I could get away with wearing these outfits at the office.

The problem with the Southern mill owners is that, whether they win or lose, the fallout will hit their employees--the people sitting at the sewing machines. I'm not saying we should therefore preserve tariffs and stop buying from Pakistan, but seems to me "should we have tariffs?" is not the question; "how can we help people displaced when a propped-up industry collapses?" is.

Of course, that usually involves gov'ment money, which is not something the administation likes to spend on the little guy. You Must Be At Least This Wealthy To Ride the Ride.

#49 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 05:02 PM:

I loved Women's Work. Any time I read a book that can make me look at something ordinary (like the common female outfit of a white blouse with a skirt and belt) and think "wow, that's so cool!" -- well, it feels like somebody gave me a gift.

#50 ::: betsy ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 06:04 PM:

ebay has cholis in larger sizes-- i wear a 24/26, and i have two very pleasing velvety ones, one in brown and one in burgundy. i am now resisting the urge to buy a sari and petticoat to go with. (must save money for new house.)

#51 ::: fjm ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 06:01 PM:

Have you read Geoff Ryman's novel, Air? It has some interesting thing to say about what global communication might do to the intervention of different cultures into the clothing market.

#52 ::: Cynthia Gonsalves ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 05:05 PM:

I went up to University Avenue in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago to look at salwar kameezes (spelling for the plural?) in all the Indian import shops, because I'm going to a Indian wedding a week from Saturday. I had fun trying on the stuff, and got happily lucky by finding that the one that looked best on me was the cheapest even *before* the 50% off sale (so I got the costume jewelry and shoes to go with it). I'm not certain if this has the same impact for the individual seamstress that buying bespoke clothing from folks on eBay would, but I was happy with the haulage. The outfit will get some repeat use at Wiscon and at Worldcon.

#53 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 04:22 PM:

It seems to me that people who think “terrorist” when they hear “swarthy Middle Eastern immigrant, probably aren't in the market for a salwar kameez.

#54 ::: Kenny ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 09:30 AM:

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#55 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Carrie: Shouldn't give him ideas.

#56 ::: Marina ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 04:58 PM:

This thread got me started. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Especially for sendimg me to Alka the Resourceful and Indiashop1 (although Ladies Den is also good). I'm now wearing a salwar suit for work and dress-up occasions at least once a week. One of the tailors in India even made me a choli and petticoat to match my sari (which I wore to my daughter's wedding this past June).

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