Double-digit unemployment? These firms can't find workers

LOS ANGELES--When local fashion firm Pinup Girl Clothing tried to ramp up production of its vintage-inspired apparel recently it hit a snag: It couldn’t find anyone to do the work.

The company spent a year trying to add 12 people to its 32-person manufacturing team in downtown Los Angeles. As the search dragged on, Pinup Girl fell two months back in its production schedule.

"There just aren't a lot of people out there who have the skills that we've been able to find easily elsewhere in the world," says Laura Byrnes, Pinup Girl’s founder. "It’s still a problem for us," she says, adding, "Most of the sewers that you do find working are still in countries like Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala where there are still sewing factories."

Pinup Girl’s problem illustrates one of the puzzle's of today's slumping labor market. Unemployment in Los Angeles County, for example, has been stuck at or above 12 percent for more than three years. California has the second highest unemployment in the nation at 11.7 percent, after Nevada's 13.4 percent. But as some industries try to expand, they're bumping up against a workforce that lacks the right training. Even in a city with legions of unemployed, some firms still can't fill spots for good-paying jobs.

Tens of thousands of sewing jobs fled to Asia more than a decade ago, attracted by low labor costs and booming supply. The rampant outsourcing sparked a sharp decline in job prospects for highly skilled textile workers. In 1996, apparel manufacturing in Los Angeles Country employed 105,00 people. In 2009, that number had fallen to 48,000.

But lately, many clothing manufacturers have begun to shift more production back to the United States. Producers say that rising labor costs in China have made American factories more competitive. And in the fast-moving fashion industry, making something locally allows a label to stay on top of new clothing trends and keep a closer watch on quality.

"I’d say in this past year there has been this migration back towards making products here again," says David Perry of the DSP Group, which does consulting for the textile industry. "Quick turnover is a big reason to bring it back home."

Clothing makers say they are under increasing pressure to get new designs onto store shelves as quickly as possible. That makes producing overseas more difficult. "The beautiful thing about manufacturing here is that if you order locally you can get a 30-day turnaround," says Richard Abdelkader, vice president of sales for Los Angeles-based Nine Planet Jeans.

But what should be a bright spot for the recession-wracked region has instead become a headache for an industry that’s trying to grow.

"It is challenging to get people for these manufacturing positions and many of these positions do require skills," said Kent Smith, executive director of the LA Fashion District, a local industry group. "On the creative side, we still have an incredible amount of talent, but in terms of mass-producing we definitely do not have the labor infrastructure for that."

Part of the problem stems from the fact that few Americans are trained in sewing skills. That has left factories dependent on immigrants who learned the trade in their home countries. When sewing jobs began to dry up a decade ago, many talented workers left as well. Now that the jobs are returning, factories are finding that the workforce they once relied on bolted a decade ago.

"When the manufacturers left for Asia, the workers left for South America," says Carlo Gholami, chief executive of the downtown-based Couture, The Clothing Company, which has produced mens' fashion and costumes for the film industry for two decades." Sure, you can find decent technical workers, but it's just not as easy to come by the high-skilled workers as it was, say, in the late 90s or early 2000s," he says.

In 2009, Gholami was asked to design costumes for the comedy film "Year One." To complete the project he knew he would need to recruit extra help. That's when he realized just how limited the pool of skilled workers was. "We were looking for just six or seven people at the time and we had an impossible time finding them. I have another project coming up soon and I'm just dreading the search for new help," says Gholami.

Perhaps no company has been more severely affected by the changes in the labor market than Los Angeles clothier American Apparel. In 2009, a 17-month probe by U.S. immigration authorities ended up forcing the company to layoff 1,500 employees – about 25 percent of its workforce – whose legal presence in the country couldn't be verified. The company has been struggling to recover ever since.

"Laying off a quarter of the factory workers, a majority of whom were highly skilled employees, was a major blow to the company's ability to meet production goals," said Peter Schey, lawyer for American Apparel. "The company was recruiting aggressively at the time, distributing leaflets at churches, placing ads on the radio and what we found is that there are just very few skilled workers available for hire."

Many designers now believe that the industry won't be able to grow significantly unless immigration restrictions begin to loosen. "Who is going to do the work?" asks Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association. "The immigrant labor force has always been an integral part of manufacturing here in the U.S., and without them it will be tremendously difficult to get U.S. manufacturing going again,” she says.

About the author

Arezou Rezvani is a Dean's Scholar and graduate student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
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The problem is our government has been taken over by "big business" and they are working for their own profit, not for the American people anymore. It would be very easy to create tons of jobs by putting regulations on making all man made products earth friendly. First set the standard for all products currently being made, well have to hire a whole lot of engineers for that. We can set dates for all of this and as we accomplish one goal set a date for the next. We need to convert all the products we have into eco friendly products, were going to have to hire a lot of technicians and specialists for that. and so on... its easy, they just dont Want their reign of power over people to end.

1 billion dollars to become president. pacs.

how bout this.

speech wise.

We fought Japan - Germany - Italy.

This country has fought in soo many places.

Iraq - Iran. Cuba. (Barrack and also I need notes on this one).


I shall make this a short speech.

Others want to be President.

Power - money - influence.

But I am President.


A Professor - once said - and had a difficult decision.

A Man in a wheelchair; knowing life is fleeting - fought the good fight.


Yet there is no more reason to fight.



Sewing mills. Sewing. What's that ever gotten us. Betsy Ross and the Star Spangled Banner.

F. U. University. (iT USED to be a college).

I had a professor; who asked a question - "no repercussions.".

This good looking girl answered.

He lit into her.

I raised my hand.

And I shall say no more of it.

I lied.

I stuck up for her - because he lied.

And I am now older than him.

And i hope he is in his grave - because i can't dance.


And would like to.

1 more time.

Wow. The little people count. I guess I'm one of the little people. (Stop using my Ben Franklin).

No. I'm not little. I'm short. 5'4".

But i'm a big man in other countries.


I could kick Dolph Lundgreen's ass; perhaps even his knees.

But my knees or bad -

And white men can't jump.

Thank God for Colenel Colt.

God did he screw up.

Sorry. I'm almost 6'; titanium included.

This isn't a story about a shortage of skilled workers. Sewing is something a person can learn with an elementary school education and a few weeks of training, this is why it's cheap and available in the third world as the story points out. What this is a story about is manufacturers trying to find people that will work hard for less than the market rate in this country, it's no wonder they can't find people. I can't find someone in the US that will cut my grass for $1 a visit, but thats the going rate in the 3rd world- there must be a shortage of skilled grass cutters right? Part of the problem is that we, as citizens, can get what we need to live without working from the social saftey nets. Why should I work so hard to obtain a similar lifestyle as I can get for doing nothing?

Lastely, the comment at the end of story by Ilse Metchek: Wouldn't it make more sense to do your manufacturing in the place that has lots of low skill labor like where your immigrants come from and just import the products rather than break the law, and import the workers themselves?

Austria. I loved my Alsation. Who knew. When told my older brother jumped. And she bit. Me.

She was a good dog - I friggin was terrified when the babysitter came by; my brother and sister fell asleep; and i was wathching tv; all those decades ago - at 6. I got a blanket - made a tent; said come on girl - come on. And my life - that night - if ended - i remembered - would be well spent.

She came into my tent - me all of but 6;


She laid behind me.

I tucked her in.

I Put her arm around me.

She looked up - i looked at her.

And she put her head down - slept.

She belonged to me - and i belonged to her.

This Vietnam throwaway. Dog.

It would vey interesting to many of your readers for this journalist to go back to the designers/business owners and address some of the questions a d issues raised by the commenters. It would make this an interactive, learning discussion.



I have many.

Do You?. I don't care if you have a green card;

Red Card.

Black Card.

White Card.

What "issues" are to be raised.

Say what you want.

After you read about the French and Indian Wars in 1737.

Assets Liabilites Capital Revenue Expenditures.

Accruals; Suspense;.

People Crunching Numbers.

I'd rather cut someone's lawn.

It's real.


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