When America Was Up For Sale
Thirty-seven years ago, on my way from Illinois to Florida with a five-year layover in Atlanta, I “landed” a job very different from my cushy corporate writer/editor job. I say landed because I wanted to do something fresh, even if the pay sucked.
I was married to an IBMer. In IBM wife speak, it means I’ve Been Moved. I felt entitled to goof off for a summer and not bust ass being the highest paid girl on the block, much to IBM’s disappointment.
I stumbled on a classified ad in that Atlanta Journal for “communications director” for an apparel industry trade group. I interviewed at the lower level of a man’s home, tucked on the steep side of a Georgia green ravine. That was home office for the next two years.
My first day on the job was at the Atlanta Convention Center. I was a booth girl for the Southern Apparel Association of America. Everybody was there: the big zipper companies, the thread guys, machine people for cutters, trimmers and, of course, sewing equipment as big as gymnasiums.
I was pretty cute at 27 and became a little darling of the trade show. I probably had more fun than I should have, staying downtown all night with endless invitations to really good hospitality suites. On the first night, the Southern Apparel Association of America became the American Apparel Association of America. I’ll never drink B&B again.
My boss, Don, and I developed a terrific working relationship and a lifetime friendship, though husbands and wives kept us apart. He was a big guy: a snappy dresser, a terrific public speaker (D.C. trained) and he drove a Porsche. He was always three steps ahead of me.
Traveling through the south
Convincing him to trade the Porsche for an American-made truck with a camper, we traveled the south, rallying the women who worked in beautiful clean low-polluting factories. In some areas, these were the only jobs left. Almost everywhere we went, I was able to go into the company store and buy jeans and blouses and suits for a song. I was better dressed than ever.
At the end of our two years together, the apparel industry was a shambles despite our efforts. I’d created an adorable bumper sticker. Picture this: big block letters–top half stars, bottom half stripes. TAKE OFF YOUR FOREIGN CLOTHES. We sold them for a dollar each by the boxful.
Couldn’t save the apparel industry
But we couldn’t sell those bumper stickers fast enough to save the apparel industry. Heck, the shoe industry was already gone. We did raise enough for a kickass convention at the Ritz Carlton, downtown Atlanta … best event I ever hosted. Newt Gingrich was our featured speaker. He was a busy man even way back then. In the end, Reagan vetoed the apparel bill, and I was out of a job, too.
We talk now about dollars over lives. Then it was dollars over jobs. It is not easy to buy American-made. We just won’t pay for it. Those cute Kate Spades that arrived on my doorstep last week–in a lovely green box boldly stamped Kate Spade NEW YORK? Sadly, I found the Made in China sticker on the sole. I was so disappointed.
I still think Reagan was a great president. He rallied us. What would Reagan do in a worldwide pandemic? I need him on my TV screen in the comfort of my cluttered overused living room.
Stay well. Be beautiful.
Terri Edmund White is a writer, a realtor, and an Avon Lady on Florida’s Suncoast. You can reach her at WhiteHouseFLA@gmail.com.
Photo from Joe Baker.