Fey fashion designer Alexander Wang has been smacked with a $50 million lawsuit brought against him by about 30 garment manufacturers. The suit alleges that the company has been running a down-and-dirty sweatshop, rife with unsafe conditions and overworked employees, at 386 Broadway in New York's Chinatown—right around the corner from Gawker headquarters. So earlier this afternoon, I walked over with intern Maeve Keirans to check it out. And we didn't see much. Of anything.
The suit, which was initially brought on by Wenyu Lu, a 56-year-old employee who was hospitalized after passing out at his workstation, says the workplace is a claustrophobic and windowless room where employees are forced to work for 16-hour stretches without overtime or breaks. Lu's collapse followed a grueling, pre-fashion week 25-hour shift, after which he was supposedly fired for filing a worker's comp claim. He says had been threatened with dismissal several times for complaining about work conditions. Lu's lawyer Ming Hair has yet to respond to my calls for comment.
The building is located smack in the middle of Chinatown, sandwiched between an I Heart New York t-shirt store and a bank. And as expected, no one on the floors owned by Wang (three, five, and six) had any interest in speaking with us. The third floor is home to an appointment-only showroom and the fifth floor was spotless and vacant. A young woman on the sixth floor informed me in broken English that, no, I could not have a look around, but that this was indeed the "design and manufacture floor."
"So, this is where the actual garments are manufactured?" I asked her.
"Uh...I can't," she said smiling, shaking her head.
A middle-aged man in a button-down shirt and navy pants appeared from a room behind her and asked how he could help me. I introduced myself, mentioned where I worked, and asked if we could have a quick look around the office. A quick Google search in the elevator after our meeting revealed that it was Mark Greene, the company's CFO.
"I'm sorry," Greene said, "but no. As you can imagine we're not… it's not that we have anything to hide, but no. I'm afraid I can't have you look around. You'd need to speak with our press rep."
"Even just for a quick look?" I asked, peering around the piles of boxes blocking a separate room.
"Yes. We're not allowing anyone in. Give her Christina's number," he told the receptionist.
I asked again if this was where the actual garments are manufactured. "I'd really feel more comfortable if you spoke to our press representative," he responded. And that was that.
No sight of hunched-over, overworked employees. No cramped spaces full of dark Dickensian sewing machines. The discretion of their employees doesn't mean much, and other than the standard office clutter, there was nothing unusual or exceptional about the space or our interactions at all. While the office normalcy doesn't point to any seedy goings-on in the world of the fashion underbelly, it certainly doesn't disqualify them either. So is it true? Who knows. It really just depends on whether or not you hear a multimillion dollar fashion house's "no comment" as an, "I'm guilty."
[Image via Getty]