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The Modern Beauty Inside Americas Last Fabric Factories

This photographic series by New York based photographer Chris Payne is absolutely breathtaking. Titled Made in the USA: Textiles, these photos paint a beautiful story of America’s last fabric factories and the faces that run them. Here’s a look into the project:

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA- Textiles Fall River Knitting Mills, Fall River, Massachusetts//Photo by Christopher Payne
Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA: Textiles Bartlettyarns, Harmony, Maine//Photo by Christopher Payne

For this project, Payne gained access to numerous textile mills throughout the Northeast. These mills are little gems, “miraculously coexisting with the present,” as he puts it. Walking into these mills must be like a blast from the past. They’re time capsules, functioning as they did back in the day, using vintage equipment, which I think is the coolest thing. It’s this type of old-fashioned, good ole’ American production that’s “prized for producing the ‘genuine article’.”

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA: Textiles Darn Tough Socks, Cabot Mills, Northfield, Vermont//Photo by Christopher Payne
Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA- Textiles Langhorne Carpet Company, Penndel, Pennsylvania//Photo by Christopher Payne

Some mills, like those Payne toured in the Carolinas, have seen a shift towards a more automated, modern fabric production. These mills “have survived by adapting technologically to the global marketplace,” says Payne. “[And] though they bear little resemblance to their Northern forbearers, they are bound by a common history and are economically dependent on each other.”

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA: Textiles Langhorne Carpet Company, Penndel, Pennsylvania//Photo by Christopher Payne
Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA- Textiles Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania//Photo by Christopher Payne

Looking through these photographs, I’m amazed at the wholesome production. Automated or vintage, it doesn’t matter, it’s a standard of production that I know has been lost throughout the global industry. One that I can visibly see, as the cheap shirt I’m wearing has a hole in it after only a day of wear. Which isn’t surprising, as Chris surmises, ” today we have little idea where, or how, the shirt on our back is made.” And I honestly don’t know where my shirt was made, sadly somewhere overseas.

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA- Textiles Leavers Lace, West Greenwich, Rhode Island//Photo by Christopher Payne

It’s this type of overseas production that’s been slowly killing off the textile industry in the States. “Several decades of overseas competition, unequal trade policies, and a flood of cheap imports have decimated American factories,” Chris writes. “Since 1990, job losses in apparel and textiles have been greater than those in any other type of manufacturing…” Though not a surprise, it’s a fact about modern fabric production that’s unsettling, for multiple reasons.

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA: Textiles Langhorne Carpet Company, Penndel, Pennsylvania//Photo by Christopher Payne

What blows my mind is the thin veil that Christopher Payne has pulled back from this hidden world of the textile world. We come into contact with fabric everyday. We wear it, sit on in, use it to keep ourselves warm, decorate with it. That’s what’s truly unsettling about this project. The haunting quality of modern fabric production that’s been lying under our noses, and the people that work these mills.

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA- Textiles Griswold Textile Print, Westerly, Rhode Island//Photo by Christopher Payne

These textile mills are “iconic symbol of American manufacturing,” and Payne’s project strives to show how the years have worn on them since their founding, forcing change and adaptation, and to what their future may hold. As for the faces in the midst of the reams of fabric, he wishes to “pay tribute to the undervalued segment of Americans who work in this sector. They are a cross section of young and old, skilled and unskilled, recent immigrants, and veteran employees, some of whom have spent their entire lives in a single factory. Together, they share a quiet pride and dignity, and are proof that manual labor and craftsmanship still have value in today’s economy.”

Modern Fabric |YLiving
Made in USA: Textiles Woolrich Woolen Mills, Woolrich, Pennsylvania//Photo by Christopher Payne

So what’s this all got to do with YLiving and modern design? Well, we here at YLiving appreciate and support the ideals of designs with integrity. We believe that designers and manufactures should responsibly produce products responsible manufacturing and sourcing practices. We want you to know where that shirt off your back came from, or the textile that your couch was upholstered in, or that the tree that was cut down to produce your dining room table was milled in an eco-friendly way. That’s why we support brands like Inhabit, that strive to pledge eco initiatives and practice responsible manufacturing principles.

And that’s why I was so drawn to Payne’s photographs. They bring everything out into the open, and help start the conversation about knowing where the things you buy are coming from, who is making it, and how they’re making it.

Click here to see more photographs of Christopher Payne’s Made in USA: Textiles project.

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Team Y

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