Driving around southern New England, you can’t hardly turn around without seeing some business or street or something named after Uncas. He was the leader of the Mohegan people in the seventeenth century and sided with the Puritans in their various wars with other Native Americans, including the devastating Pequot War of 1637 and King Philip’s War in 1676. Of course, the Mohegans didn’t really fare very well in this strategy and found themselves dispossessed like the rest of Native America.
As in the rest of the country, once the Indians weren’t any kind of a threat, people starting naming things after them. I thought of this today when I read this story about a store in San Francisco called Unionmade. Giving the impression of selling incredibly high-priced union produced products, it is in fact a marketing front for non-union made products.
That sums up the point well. If you want to have an attractively curated store that sells insanely overpriced clothes designed to mimic the clothes that poor people wore a century ago, fine. But calling your store “Unionmade” (and modeling your logo on the AFL-CIO’s) while not selling union made goods is just as asinine and insulting as calling your store “Americanmade” while selling things manufactured in China. It’s blatantly misleading. It’s fraudulent. It’s the fashion equivalent of a TV preacher using Jesus love for the poor as a selling point to line his own pockets. On the other hand, subjugating the meaning of a real, serious political issue that affects millions of people’s lives to the fact that you like the vibe of the sound of the name of it seems perfectly in character for a store that sells luxury-priced 1890s miners clothes to affluent people who will wear them while sitting inside their air-conditioned advertising agency office job.
We emailed Unionmade about this, and received the following response:
You are correct, though some of the brands we carry are union made, many are not. The unfortunate reality is that there are not many unions left in the garment industry and so the name was cultivated as a signifier of well-made and aesthetically timeless goods. There have been customers that take issue with the store’s name and we certainly understand and respect their opinion, though by and large the majority of our customers understand the use of the name as an overarching narrative of the store. This being that we strive to carry well-made items that will age well in regard to both wear from use and stylistically.
At this rate, your $1,085 Unionmade military jacket will last longer than unions will.
But hey, aren’t unions extinct? And now that they are like the dodo or Mohegans, we can market a romanticized image of them to sell things. Remember when things were well-made, people well-paid, and economies stable? Not really? Well, shell out a ton of money and you can claim to know.