FASHION’S PAST AND FUTURE: Efforts to build a memorial commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire have been bolstered by a $25,000 donation by the CFDA to the endowment fund.
March 25 marks the 108th anniversary of the catastrophic fire that left 146 garment workers in New York City dead. After years of starting and stalling, plans for the Triangle Fire Memorial at the factory’s former site at 29 Washington Place are moving forward. With the help of a $1.5 million grant from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that was issued three years ago, supporters of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition are trying to raise an additional $850,000 to maintain the memorial upon its completion. The Landmarks Preservation Commission recently greenlit that the memorial be installed on what is now New York University’s Brown Building.
The CFDA’s Steven Kolb said Monday, “Obviously, it was a tragic, historic moment in our industry. When you look at the success of fashion or fashion as an industry, the human factor — the people who work in the factories — are really sometimes overlooked. We look at the clothes or the brands or the advertising or the social media. But the work really comes from people.”
“When I think about the work that we’re currently doing with our Fashion Manufacturing Initiative, which is supporting garment production, when I think about the people who work in those factories in some ways, it is a way to honor them for that work as much as it is to remember those who were lost in the fire,” he continued. “We can talk about technology and equipment and machinery and automation, but it’s really about the people who work in fashion. So we felt it was important as the governing body of American fashion to acknowledge the historic tragedy, but to also use it as a way to celebrate the very dynamic way workforce that is still working in factories.”
After a blind refereed competition, designers Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman were selected to design their “Reframing the Sky” memorial. Along with a brief description of the tragedy, the names of the 146 victims will be laser-cut into street-level panels on the facade of the building. A stainless-steel “ribbon” will descend from the building’s ninth floor to mark the area where most of the workers died. Supporters aim to complete the project before next year’s 109th anniversary.
The prospect of the CFDA’s donation prompting others to do the same would sit well with Kolb. “The monument is quite beautiful. I hope that our lead gift to the memorial encourages others to follow as well,” he said.
Earlier this month supporters of the project, including Yeohlee Teng, gathered at the Fashion Institute of Technology to help stitch together a 320-foot ribbon that will be the Triangle Fire Memorial’s vertical element. The two-day event featured communal sewing, storytelling, panel discussions and performances including an excerpt from Julia Wolfe’s oratorio, “Fire in My Mouth,” which recently premiered at the New York Philharmonic.