In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames. Within 20 minutes, the lives of 146 workers, mostly women, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants, had been lost. One hundred and one years later, Fashion Institute of Technology students took a few hours out on March 21 to chalk the names and ages of the victims on the sidewalk near their school, located at Seventh Avenue and 27th Street amid the remnants of New York City’s once-bustling garment district.
It’s the ages that gets the students thinking, said Daniel Levinson Wilk, a professor of history. “Then it’s not just an industrial accident for them, it’s a whole way of life where girls are cheated out of their potential.”
While 2012 isn’t the banner commemorative year 2011 was, when the city exploded with panel discussions, lectures, ceremonies and performances remembering the fire at the century mark, the FIT group vowed to mark the anniversary every year. They know unsafe working conditions like those at the Triangle factory are hardly history and they want other people to know that, too, said Amber Wiley, who is in the textile development and marketing program.
“As college students at FIT, we’re going into jobs where we will tell people what to make, but these are the people who were doing the making. Without them, we have no way to realize our designs, nothing to market, nothing to sell, nothing to see,” she said. “But at Triangle and the factories where our products are being made today, the same everyday dangers exist.”