A cautionary story of labor and greed, Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags follows the decline of the once-robust apparel manufacturing industry in the U.S., while chronicling the industry's relationship with unions and government. From the "Garmento" to the seamstress, from the designer to the marketing maven, from the small businessman to the financier, Schmatta offers a firsthand account of how the industry helped generations of Americans march out of poverty and right into the golden age of the American middle class. But while Schmatta reminds us of the early days of the garment industry and its heyday, it also probes its troubling decline, which has occurred largely within the last 30 years. In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S.A.; by 2009, only 5% is manufactured here.
Director Marc Levin focuses his lens on Manhattan's Garment District, an eight-block area on Manhattan's West Side which gave birth to the domestic industrial labor movement, and played a key role in major American political activities. From its immigrant origins in the 19th Century, the labor movement rose quickly against deplorable sweatshop conditions. In recent years, however, the realities of automation, deregulation, globalization and outsourcing - all part of the race to the bottom line - eventually eroded the industry's unprecedented momentum.
This film tells some of the stories of the workers, labor organizers, designers, fashion execs and manufacturers who built their careers in the Fashion District, including: Joe Raico, a fabric cutter who took great pride in his workmanship, and laments that America doesn't produce anything anymore; Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee, whose open letter to Kathy Lee Gifford caused a media circus in 1996; Irving Ruosso, owner of Russ Togs, one of the U.S.'s largest sportswear companies; Stan Herman, a designer who has worked in the District for five decades, and others.
About the Filmmakers: Levin and his film partner Daphne Pinkerson have produced 10 acclaimed films for HBO over the years, including Mob Stories, Prisoners of the War on Drugs, Execution Machine: Texas Death Row, Soldiers in the Army of God, and Gladiator Days. Thug Life in D.C. won the 1999 Emmy® for Outstanding Non- Fiction Special. Gang War: Bangin' in Little Rock won the CableACE Award for Best Documentary Special of 1994. Levin made his on-camera debut in Protocols of Zion, which premiered on HBO in April 2006. Levin's 1998 film Slam won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Credits: Directed by Marc Levin; Produced by Daphne Pinkerson and Marc Levin; Editor/Co-Producer: Richard Lowe; Line Producer: Kara Rozansky; Associate Producer: Karl Hollandt; Director of Photography: Daniel Levin; Original Music Composed by John Zorn. For HBO: Senior Producer: Nancy Abraham; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins.