Tim Underwood’s Bio
Tim’s EW experience
I started early Spring, 1972. By the end of that year Norman lived in Hawaii part of the time. By 3rd Street days he wasn’t around much. He appeared a few times a year for the garment shows that East West attended, to take orders and show new coats. I started as a clicker near the door at the Folsom Street factory and I remember the wary looks the delivery guys had. They got in and out quickly, most of them, though a few were hoping to score weed or check out the lovely bra less women leaning over the tables. Stepping into the Folsom Street factory was entering another world.
I remember Norman Stubbs as always busy doing things, always intensely involved in some project beyond my ken. Given his personality and reserved demeanor it surprised me that he went to the NYC garment shows dressed in the wildest new coat or sequined velvet jacket he had just designed — carelessly parading in front of people —but he did. There was definitely strangeness and a mystery about Norman, and since one of the managers at the time was an old friend, I got exaggerated behind-the-scenes stories which added to the distortion. Given the lack of clear picture or reliable information, and the lack of direct communication, and the fact that we preferred to see ourselves as somewhat exploited pure-at-heart hippies working for the Man, we all made up our own idea of Norman. I was surprised to discover that he got high. I missed witnessing all that. Though I recall Norman saying somewhere recently, maybe on his Science of Consciousness website, that taking acid had straightened him out and untied his knots.
In my view, we were all shell shocked survivors of the 1960s. For most of us, East West was a place to regroup and get by while we figured out what the heck we were going to do with our lives. Of course most of us were just keeping our heads down and living day to day, we weren’t burning the midnight oil pondering our path in life. But few if any of the workers planned to stay at East West and carve out a career. We all sensed that East West was a temporary haven where we could spend time working with ex-hippie artsy-craftsy people more or less like ourselves. There were few other places like that, even in San Francisco in the early 1970s. Many of us partied together in the evening and occasionally during the day at work. Some of the workers dated, a few married each other. People left suddenly and then resurfaced and re-upped a year or two later. A cutter working next to me came back just long enough to earn money to pay for a new set of teeth; he left the day he got them in. I still remember his big white smile. A very big plus to working at East West was the unspoken arrangement that we could quit and still draw unemployment as if laid off. That cost Norman money but it was a worker perk, probably left over from the Castro days. Most of us quit from time to time, often just to take a paid vacation. Piecework wasn’t easy but I made enough to buy a car, pay rent, eat out on weekends and save a little. You had to push yourself but some of the piecework workers, sewers and cutters alike, made decent money in an industry notorious for under-paying its labor. Though I remember one morning at 3rd Street, the cutter next to me came in, laid his head down on his cutting table, looked over at me and yelled, “Here we go! Another day with our NOSE to the GRINDSTONE!”. After a few years — I stayed for three —most of those I was close to moved on into more satisfying careers. I did. But I never experienced a carefree dysfunctional family scene like that again.
Tim Underwood 2011