If you’ve been paying attention to global trade issues lately, you’ve undoubtedly run across discussions about fair wages also known as a “living wage.” Simply put, a living wage is a close approximation of the amount of money it would cost to support a single person or family in the area in which they live. This well written article, by on racked.com about the apparel giant H&M, discusses why they probably aren’t paying their workers a living wage, what it means to make sure a labor force benefits from good pay and how you can make a difference. Please take the time to read it and visit the great links embedded in there. When the people you’ll read about who make the apparel you buy and wear live with their families on the other side of the world, it’s easy to put them out of your mind. However, your consumption of a $10 t-shirt or $20 pair of pants at H&M, Target, Uniqlo or other importer of apparel manufactured overseas impacts the wages of those workers. Your bad consumption habits are denying them a living wage.
The lack of a living wage and safe working conditions for the workers who manufacture over 90% of the apparel available for us to buy in the U.S. is nothing new. I’ve been covering this issue in my lectures, writing and social media for over a decade. So, let’s skip to the questions I know you’re going to ask, “Why should I care? I can’t change what’s in the store to buy. Isn’t it cheaper to live there anyway? I don’t set the prices. I’m just one person. How can I come up with the solution?” Here’s an answer you can use, with some simple steps you can adopt that aren’t too difficult or too expensive.
Dare to Change How You Think About Consuming Apparel
Step 1. Realize you don’t need to include the latest trend in your wardrobe!
Here’s why: you probably don’t look good in it anyway, you shouldn’t be letting big box retailers tell you what to wear because they don’t know you and you’ll probably only wear it once or twice so it’s really a waste of your money.
Step 2. Change where you shop so you can buy well made clothing that is above trends.
Just because clothing isn’t trendy, doesn’t mean it’s boring or shapeless. Some of the most interesting clothing that will make you look like a million bucks is not sold at department stores or, heaven forbid, at the mall. It’s sold at individual boutiques like BK & Co in West Hartford, or from a custom apparel maker like United Sewing and Design or Rebecca Rheinbold. Yes, I know it will cost more but you’re going to wear it for years because it won’t go out of style, it fits you perfectly, it’s made of great materials, it’s well constructed and you’ll never get tired of it!
Step 3. Learn to sew.
Even if you just learn to mend, you can repair a hem or a seam or sew on a button to avoid throwing out perfectly wearable clothing. Go to YouTube for tutorials or better yet, take classes at your local fabric store or a studio like Hartford Stitch. It’ll be relaxing, you’ll meet new friends and by making your own clothing, you’ll have the freedom to decide what to wear. Guys can learn to sew too.
Step 4. Give a previously loved look a new home.
Try a brand like Patagonia which employs folks to refurbish used styles that customers send them then resells them for less. Consider shopping consignment at a neighborhood shop in your town like the Consignment Originals stores in CT, or your local Goodwill. If you haven’t tried any of these options, don’t worry. All of what they sell is clean, in great condition, and seasonally appropriate. Many stores feature designer apparel and accessories often with the tags still on. No one’s going to pull you too far out of your comfort zone by insisting you buy underwear or socks. Plus, you get the pleasure of finding a brag worthy “DEAL!”
Don’t let yourself be manipulated by apparel manufacturers and retailers anymore. If consumers don’t show retailers and manufacturers that we care about workers receiving a living wage, most brands and retailers won’t.
If you want more great ideas and content like this, be sure to subscribe to the blog by entering your email up on the right.
Mary Ruth, Owner of United Sewing and Design has over 30 years experience in the manufacturing of products by sewing and is author of “Industry Sewing Construction Methods” http://amzn.to/2yMxMmk. Her focus is on design, entrepreneurship; social enterprise; the connections between the environment, the apparel industry, and manufacturing; and how owners can leverage artistic methods to benefit their business.