Made in China
by Sica Schmitz | Posted on February 10 2017
I once heard, "If you want to know next season's hottest colors, just look at the rivers in China."
So, sure, hearing "Made in China" usually makes me cringe with concern, but the truth is that even a country often synonymous with child labor, poor working conditions, minimal pay, and toxic chemicals does have some ethical factories, overseen by people and companies that actually care about upholding humanitarian and environmental values. We even carry some apparel produced in such factories, audited by 3rd party labor groups to ensure they meet the standards that we at Bead & Reel (and the designers we work with) believe in.
We want to support fair wages, safety, health care, and education globally - including in China - so last week we stopped by the office of a local LA vegan brand that manufactures in China. I had been chatting with them for several weeks and they were excited about our mission of ethical manufacturing, vegan materials, and fashion that is going good, and we were excited about their very cute designs.
Surrounded by next season's newest styles and fabrics (all of which I felt very confident were needed for my own Spring wardrobe) I asked to learn more about their factories. They explained that they require more than the minimal labor laws in China, that they give their manufacturers 1 day off per week, work days end at 12 hours, and that the dormitories the factory employees live in are clean and safe. They are aiming to improve, slowly moving to factories more inland so that employees can more easily visit their families in the distant villages they come from.
I was told the standard assurances that factory workers are considered middle class, that this kind of lifestyle and these conditions are normal in China. And I was told that when it comes to manufacturing, China is not nearly as bad as many other countries - and sadly this is true.
However, just because something is considered normal doesn't mean it is acceptable.
I often think about a story an ex-fashion designer told me about why he left the fashion industry. He was working for a major brand and was sent to their factory in China to oversee their latest collection. The first thing he noticed was that the floor was covered in toxic dyes and solvents which were draining into the nearby river. He asked the factory manager how the constant exposure to such chemicals was going to affect the workers when they were older, and the factory manger grimly said that no one was expected to live longer than 10 years, so nobody worried about being older. Many of the workers were teenagers.
And this is the reality of most fashion. This is the true cost of the cheap trendy items we pick up at the mall (and, often the expensive ones too). And the best way to change this is to simply stop supporting it. We have to demand that those making our clothing and shoes and handbags don't have to work 72 hours per week (or more!) to make a livable wage. That they can have time with their families, safe machinery and materials, clean drinking water, and can have the luxury of planning to live long enough to think about their future, to worry about getting older we like do.
So I decided I won't be able to carry that brand. It's great that they are trying to be a little bit better, but it's going to take more than requiring 1 day off per week to change the world.