Known as the golden age of the mob, the 1970s through the ‘80s saw the ultimate rise to power of the Italian-American Mafia in New York City. Recently chronicled in the new Netflix docu-series, Fear City: New York vs The Mafia, NYC was under the complete control of the core five crime families (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese), who maintained a tight and tenacious grip on the Big Apple since 1931.
Before taking root in New York, the Mafia established its power in Italy. The island of Sicily was historically overrun by various countries due to its geographic vulnerability. In the 19th century, Sicilians formed independent secret societies as a means of protecting themselves and their countrymen. In response to a lack of government intervention, those who were once considered gangs of bandits organized an uprising against the last dynasty to rule the Italian island, the Bourbons. La Cosa Nostra (a term for the Mafia, translating to “Our Thing”) was considered the unofficial authority, taking on roles such as the paid protection of local business interests, tax collection, and even law enforcement, with a tight grasp on the region’s financial system. The code of silence, known as omertà, took hold with the help of profoundly rooted Sicilian loyalty, paired with the fear of reprisal and recognition of the Mafia’s extensive reach. No one dared oppose or speak out against them without paying the ultimate price.
By the time Italians began emigrating to New York, the Black Hand’s influence was deeply ingrained in the culture and its organized crime traveled overseas, too. By 1920, a quarter of New York’s population was Italian-American, and the mob’s scope of power was solidified. To maintain its control, the Mafia had a hand in legitimate businesses, labor unions, and entire industries throughout New York’s five boroughs as a means to filter its finances through money laundering to protect illegal enterprises such as drug trafficking and prostititution. The mob took hold of the restaurant industry, the fish market, delivery and trucking, construction, sanitation, and the garment industry. Its affiliation with the latter proved especially influential, with fashion being one of the most profitable and vital industries to the city’s economy.
Following the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, the labor movement began as a means to protect garment workers from sweatshops and inhumane working conditions. Born from this disaster and the blatant mistreatment of Jewish and Italian seamstresses, several labor unions began guiding the garment industry. However, these soon came under Mafia control. By the end of the first World War, the New York City garment industry became one of the largest business sectors in the city and one of the most influential centers of manufacturing in the country. To expand its enterprises, mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky, the “Mob’s Accountant,” took the garment industry from the Jewish mafia in the 1920s. The Black Hand came to own most of the major labor unions–the Teamsters Truckers Union, the Hotel Employees Union, and the Laborers Unions–through violence, manipulation, extortion, loansharking, and intimidation.
Tommy Gambino, captain of the Gambino crime family and eldest son of one of the most prolific Mafia dons in history, Carlo Gambino, presided over the garment district by way of his monopolistic trucking companies, the largest being Consolidated Carriers Corporation. When the biggest organized crime investigation in history bugged the telephone lines and homes of the Mafia’s then-reigning five dons, the tapes captured Gambino mob boss Paul Castellano discussing “dividing up the garment district” with Tommy.
When facing racketeering charges of larceny, extortion, and enterprise-corruption in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court in the early ‘90s, Tommy and his brother, Joseph, took a plea to avoid jail time in exchange for a million fine, an agreement to refrain from any and all anti-competitive practices, and to remove themselves from the trucking and garment industries forever. Throughout the court proceedings, the Gambinos maintained the narrative that their practices were not coercive and actually benefited the small mom-and-pop shops in the area, but the evidence and statements from manufacturers told another story.
The Gambinos dominated the fashion industry’s trucking trade, transporting goods from Seventh Avenue manufacturers to the sewing shops in which the garments were produced, by strong-arming its vendors and imposing an approximate six percent mob tax on the finished clothing. At the time of his arrest, the mafioso had accumulated a fortune of about million. Almost every sewing shop in the garment district was allocated to a trucking company controlled by either the Gambino or the Lucchese family. (The Lucchese’s perhaps had even more influence on the city’s rag trade, notorious for resorting to murder, torture, corruption, and degradation.) The truckers would trade or sell shops to one another, all without the consent of the manufacturers they were “serving.” If a manufacturer wished to drive their own goods or hire an independent hauler, they were still under obligation to compensate their connected driver. While some businesses were fine with the status-quo, others were not so complacent.
In 1992, an industry veteran and production manager at fashion label Nicole Miller testified in court that when he entered the business, he quickly learned that garment makers had to deny any outsider offering to transport their cutwork to the sewing shops to avoid any hostility. One manufacturer named George Schneider recalled an especially intimidating exchange during his testimony. After leasing a truck to transport his own merchandise, he received a telephone call from his hotel room, strongly suggesting he reconsider his plan and reminding him that many accidents occur on the road. Unsurprisingly, Schneider cancelled his lease.
About a year after the Gambinos’ enforced exit from the industry, shipping costs in the garment district were reportedly cut in half, while independent truckers found success in creating new competition. With the mob’s massive push for financial gain, organized crime put the pressure on garment factories to drive production momentum for speedy returns on their investments. While the Mafia’s grip has most certainly eased after the law enforcement crack-down, the acceleration of garment making has yet to abate.
The mob’s reputation for extortion, gambling, and bootlegging intertwined with its role in the fashion industry, and some of its shady business practices continue today. While the bootleg goods and counterfeit designs typically sold on New York’s Canal Street have more overt ties to China and even South Africa, the Italian Mafia has a stake in producing and selling knock-offs as well. The Black Hand that remains in Italy profits off the nation’s loose copyright system, allowing for a considerable amount of “legal fakes” wherein copycats register for a brand’s trademark in a country where the label hasn’t been launched or established yet. The most notorious example of this is New York-based brand Supreme, which doesn’t own a trademark in Italy. Its signature box logo has been used for an influx of knock-offs from groups such as Supreme Italia, while evading any legal ramifications.
Today, New York City is known as one of the world’s greatest fashion capitals, a status made possible in part by the mob’s enterprises. Although they ruled with an iron first of terror, violence, extortion, and manipulation, America’s innate obsession with all things mafioso has yet to waiver.
prev link: https://www.crfashionbook.com/culture/a33623704/new-york-mafia-fashion-industry/
createdAt:Mon, 17 Aug 2020 15:39:31 +0000
displayType:Long Form Article