When Montreal author “Stick” (aka Jon Reisler) published his first collection of engrossing short stories My Dirty Clothes, I realized how dog-eat-dog the garment (or “schmatta”) industry in this city could be (I spent three summers during my high school years working at Reitman’s warehouse on Sauve Street), but I never realized it was THIS dog-eat-dog.
And now with his new collection Dirty Rags, he takes us even further down the murky, intensely competitive world of the fashion industry around the globe, and these tales, which has to be somewhat based on actual experiences in the needle trade, are just as luridly entertaining.
From garmentos (salesmen) trying to survive selling their respective clothing lines from customer to customer, to cut throat clothing label owners, to the modern day sweatshops of India and Latin America, to the glamourous world of sales conferences and fashion week shows and parties, practically every aspect of the needle trade is focused in unabashed, profane and ironic prose.
Some of my favourite stories in the collection include “Chicken Shack”, in which a travelling garmento’s fondness for Indian cuisine brings him to a southern India chicken shack, where his weakness for the local fare, and his aversion to stray dogs hanging around the shack, leads to a rather bizarre gastronomic end; “Hymie the Handicap”, about a garmento who spends more time playing golf than selling his clothing lines; “Bastards”, a searing indictment of corporate indifference when a fashion label’s factory in Bangladesh collapses and kills over 1000 workers; and “Star-Crossed Lovers”, a love story between two fashion salespeople who meet at a trade show, fall in love, and end up as the garment trade’s answer to Romeo and Juliet.
Dirty Rags is a terrific collection of short stories that almost gives a documentary look at how fierce the fashion industry is from manufacturing to selling, and how there is so much competition, rivalries, drama and tragedy behind those designer labels that one likes to wear as a personal statement or status symbol. Hopefully, “Stick” will have more material (no pun intended) to produce more stories-cum-exposes about how dirty the garment industry can really be. (Sticky AKA Publishing, $26.50)