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Uncas

[ 37 ] November 16, 2012 |

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.

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Comments (37)

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  1. Jim Lynch says:

    Had I ever opened a saloon in San Francisco, I would have named it: “Since 1849″.

    “The miners came in ’49,
    The whores in ’51,
    And when they got together,
    They made the native son”.

  2. DrDick says:

    For the record, the Mohegans are still around as well. The same is true of many, if not most New England tribes.

  3. Unions gained what power they had through economic distress, violence, and threats of violence, but many people seem to believe that unions could have held onto that power without those things. I wonder why that is.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Such people probably believe that “Pinkertons” is a type of rose.

    • Dave says:

      Violence and threats of violence are not Bad Things; except when other ways have a decent chance of working, and threats of violence will predispose a substantial majority to oppose you. The tragedy of US labor history is that, while the former was only sometimes true, the latter appears almost always to have been so.

  4. tucker says:

    My mantra going forward is in response to what is best?

    “To see your enemies driven before you, hear the lamentation of their women and to crush them”

    Sage advice from Arnie.

    Red staters, neo-confederates, un-ironic hipsters best beware.

  5. rea says:

    I suspect that most of the “Uncas” names are for the Last of the Mohicans character, and not for his historic namesake.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I don’t think so–the regionalism of it makes it unlikely. If there were Uncas names around the country, sure. But this is a very regional thing corresponding to the Mohegans’ territory.

    • DocAmazing says:

      You sure they’re not named for Uncas Crooge?

    • jefft452 says:

      But isn’t “Last of the Mohicans” basically a southern New England story?*
      Was it ever really popular down south or in the mid west?

      *Yeah, I know it takes place in NY, but the story starts out with the Conn militia marching to Ft Edward, a big side plot involves the Psalm instructor’s very New England brand of religious nuttery and how he doesn’t fit in any better with New Yorkers then he does in the wilderness, it goes on and on about Narragansett horse breeding, and the Capt from the 60th foot is from Virginia, but he enlisted in New Haven

  6. Davis X. Machina says:

    You just know there’s a gated community out there somewhere called ‘Commanding Heights’….

  7. Linnaeus says:

    But hey, aren’t unions extinct?

    They’re not, but I’m not optimistic about their future. But the end of unions in their current form – should that happen – will not necessarily mean the end of the labor movement.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Eric,

    I just stopped by to write that every time I click on an Alternet article that pops up in my Twitter feed, I’m hoping (and then dashed) that you’re the author.

    I still link anti-tax idiots to your Progressive History of the Income Tax article often.

    Keep up the good fight.

  9. Xof says:

    I’m totally going to start using this. “Well, yes, I fucked my secretary, but the overarching narrative is that I’m faithful to you, honey.”

  10. UserGoogol says:

    Honestly if it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve explicitly admitted that it was, I wouldn’t have assumed the name was meant to refer to labor unions. The word “union” can refer to an extremely wide variety of things, and brand names are often enough random strings of words that I don’t really pay that much attention to what the words literally mean. For myself, I tend to assume the word union refers to unions in the set theory sense, although that’s a personal quirk as much as anything else.

    • NonyNony says:

      Yes, but it isn’t just named “Union” – the store was named “Unionmade”.

      Even though the word Union also makes me go to set theory before labor, the phrase “union made” pretty much only has one connotation in my mind.

      • UserGoogol says:

        Well for some reason the lack of a space makes it feel all “hip and modern” and therefore my brain doesn’t really feel a need to attach it to literal meaning. Although that too is probably a personal quirk.

        • Vance Maverick says:

          There’s a Union Street in SF, expressing Northern triumphalism of 1865 rather than labor solidarity. (There may have been a Confederate general from Big Sur, but he lost.)

  11. Kadin says:

    Reminds me of Kid Rock’s “Made in Detroit” brand.

  12. Jon H says:

    Oh lord, alongside the expensive crap, they also carry stuff like Carhartt and, for the love of god, Dr. Bronners.

  13. Jon H says:

    Their front page talks about how they asked a bunch of their favorite brands what they would do with Harris tweed.

    I’m of a mind to email them and ask, “If you’re called “Unionmade”, but your products aren’t Union-made, shouldn’t I assume your Harris tweed products aren’t actually Harris tweed?”

  14. Halloween Jack says:

    A local historian in central Illinois made the point once that subdivisions are usually named after what they destroy.

  15. [...] sports, particularly bicycling, discussed (and discussed well) by the London Review of Books. •On nostalgia for Native Americans (and unions) after they’re gone. •A reminder that while Hostess blames [...]

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