We use to make our own clothes in America. It wasn't until the 1960s and 70s that a few large retail chains like GAP and JCPenny's discovered the beauty of outsourcing to other countries where wages were lower. Within a matter of decades, we went from making 95% of our clothes in America to only 2%..... But what's most surprising about these statistics is that 80% of Americans say they would rather buy clothes made in the USA.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
They say it... but they don't do it. And who can blame them, the prices of foreign made clothes are so much cheaper. In fact, an article in The Street last year shared results from a study where researchers asked 1,000+ respondents if they would rather pay $85 for an American made pair of pants or $50 for the same pair made overseas. "An astounding 67% said they would go for the cheaper product with there being no difference in responses based on a participant's income."
What has happened as a result of these changes is not only an era of wasteful shopping -- where we own a lot of poor quality clothing rather than fewer, high quality items -- but an era of unethical shopping, where the unseen laborers suffer. I'm not pointing a finger at you, the consumer, because I genuinely don't think most Americans understand the impact that buying a $15 dress made in India has on people living in the developing world. We all have busy lives - we work, we spend time with our families, we buy what we need from the stores in our cities and we don't give it much thought.
The Detrimental Effect of Retail Chains
Unfortunately, while we're busy shopping, the biggest retail chains are driving the wages of these poor foreign workers lower and lower and they force manufactures to compete with one another. So what started out as "job creation" in these countries is now little more than slave labor.
A factory worker in Bangladesh receives monthly wages as low as $68/ month (~$2/day). Moreover, some women have reported violence from their bosses at Bangladeshi factories when they try to demand better wages. As I live in Asia, I continue to hear stories of just how brutal the garment industry truly is. These are women, just like you and I. They work hard. They have families. They try to get ahead and yet, unlike Americans, they just don't have the same rights and protection.
Your favorite brands are only making the situation worse. H&M, Zara and Marks & Spencer were all recently linked to pollution and water contamination at their factories in China. The list goes on... I cannot stress to you enough the importance of thinking twice about your clothing purchases. Unlike cigarette labels, there are no horrifying pictures on the clothes we buy of the poor conditions some women and children are working in (maybe there should be). It's easy to ignore what is happening far away. Please don't.
Any small effort you make to shop for fair trade items can make a difference. And most of all, please buy less. It's better for people as well as the environment.
About Tropic Bliss
Tropic Bliss is an American fair trade company that produces its clothing in Thailand. We produce in Thailand because we want to offer competitive prices to customers without sacrifices in our ethics. Our employees are paid well for their work, receive full health insurance, holiday pay, and enjoy a happy work environment. We are able to ensure these benefits by operating in Thailand and by remaining a small, boutique style business.