There is a small trove of these ads from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union at the Library of Congress. They come from the 1970s, when union jobs in the garment industry were disappearing and clothing production was starting to move overseas. The message is not subtle–if union labor ends, the country might fall apart at the seams.
Why choose an older woman as the face of the union? It might have been a photo of a real workplace, but I also suspect it was designed to pull at the heart strings. If you didn’t buy American (and union) made clothing, you would put someone’s mom out of work.
And why focus on hand sewing? Although surely some union clothing still had handmade touches, this image also injects an element of pre-industrial craft into the production process. It implies that the hard earned skills of this worker, acquired over decades, would be lost without our support.
Ultimately, the campaign was unsuccessful. Not only has garment production in the United State declined, but so has union membership. However, there is one contemporary lesson we can take from this decades old ad. What we choose to buy has a broad impact at home and around the globe.