In 1970, I left Europe and arrived in New York with a suitcase full of little dresses. It was the soul and beauty of this great nation that called to me then, and its creative spirit provided me with the opportunity to build a global fashion business and become the woman I wanted to be. With these dresses, I lived an American dream.
In the world of fashion, mine is not an uncommon story. For centuries, immigrants have built and grown important fashion houses in America, including Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzarra. There is a mosaic of foreign languages buzzing behind the curtains of showrooms and backstage at fashion shows. The patterns, contrasts and textures of the clothes we design are just as colorful as the flags and stories of each of the workers who create them. Many work in textile factories, sewing and conceiving rich designs to bring to life in the garments, shoes and accessories we wear.
Today, however, the vibrancy of our industry is at risk. The future of American fashion — and jobs — depends on the modernization of the immigration system. Hardworking undocumented immigrants should be able to earn legal status after successfully passing a background check.
We should have smarter immigration enforcement priorities rather than aiming to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants (and even some legal immigrants), keeping in mind how long they have lived here, how strong their contributions are to their community, and how many U.S. citizens depend on them.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and FWD.us, a bipartisan organization working to advance commonsense immigration reform, recently surveyed professionals in the fashion industry. The findings show that access and retention of top talent, and the difficulty and high cost of navigating the broken immigration system, are significant concerns for our industry.
Most agree that foreign talent is “very important” or “absolutely essential” to the growth and success of the fashion business. Specifically, the use of visas is integral in recruiting talent in high-skilled specialties such as atelier work and design.
The outdated immigration system is an issue not just for fashion, but for the competitiveness of the U.S. economy as a whole. For centuries, America’s creative industries have been able to blossom thanks to such immigrants as Alexander Liberman, Vladimir Kagan and so many more. When domestic manufacturing is challenged, it becomes all the more crucial to keep creative jobs.
June is Immigrant Heritage Month, a nationwide effort to gather and share stories like mine. In that spirit, I ask you to join me in standing in solidarity with immigrants across our nation. We take great risks and are willing to leave everything behind in pursuit of big dreams and ideas. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our work. We believe in America. In return, we ask that the country we love and invest in embraces the values of tolerance and inclusiveness by giving people from around the world the opportunity to succeed. It would be foolish to look at all that untapped potential and turn them away.