Text, photos and video by MEI-YU LIU
The garment industry in New York City has been populated by immigrant labor since the early 20th century, from Italians and Eastern European Jews, to Korean and Chinese.
In the 1980’s at its height, there were more than 600 garment factories in Chinatown alone, with workers earning about $100 a week. All workers, documented and undocumented worked eight to ten hours a day. In most cases, the salaries were paid by piece, not by hour.
While the glory days of the industry and of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union are long gone, there are a few Manhattan factories left, mainly serving new designers or small fast, and high quality orders.
Most garment factories have moved to Asian countries. This generation of garment workers could be the last ones in New York.
This is the story of 55 Elizabeth, a garment factory with about 40 workers and owned by a former garment worker Ricky Sun. It originally stood on 55 Elizabeth Street in Chinatown, but is now located in the garment district of the Midtown West.