Monday, November 26, 2007
MZ's PSA - the shopping FAQ...
the funny thing is around this time of year, i frequently get asked questions about shopping... i don't know if it's because i tend to be a very picky shopper or because i know a lot about garment manufacturing (that being my degree and having worked in manufacturing for 10+ years) or both. anyway, since i get asked these same questions every year, i thought i'd post them here with my stock answer. and if you have any other questions about shopping, garments or manufacturing - please post them in comments and if i can answer them i will. :)
1) what stores aren't connected to sweatshops?
this is by far the most popular question. which i guess is good since it means more people want to shop with a clear conscience. the bad news is that no one (except the manufacturers) can tell you if they're connected with a sweatshop. sweatshops exist here in the US as well as overseas. and it's extremely difficult to police the activities of any manufacturer.
in a nutshell, here's how it worked when i was still in the biz... i would only place orders with manufacturers who were approved after a long drawn out, detailed audit process - including factory visits, numerous samples of work, etc... to ensure that they did not allow sweatshop environments or child labor, etc... after placing the order, either one of our employees or an agent overseas would be expected to monitor the work in progress. they do not and are not expected to monitor all the time. so, every once in a while, i would get a call from an employee/agent overseas letting me know that at his/her last inspection, a child was found working and that all production had ceased. after we felt that the situation had been resolved, production would begin again. if this directive was violated too often however, we would stop working with that specific factory altogether.
personally, i try not to shop at places where the pricing is too good to be true. because if the price is too good to be true, my knee jerk reaction is that some kind of cheap, possibly sweatshop, labor was involved.
if i do have to buy something at one of those places, i try to buy on sale because by the time the goods reach the store, the manufacturer has already been paid. so, theoretically, if i buy on sale, the manufacturer doesn't get "hurt", the store/ designer does. consequently however, the buyers/sellers for the store/designer may think that the price point of the item was too high and the following season will ask production people (like me) to find manufacturers who can produce the same item for an even lower price. because of that, i'll buy stuff at TJ Maxx or Marshalls and save all of those buyers and sellers the trouble. that stuff is usually overstock or stuff that was ticketed with the wrong ink or some random stupidness like that.... no, really. it happened to one of my orders that went to a store with black inked tickets and not blue inked tickets. (admittedly, my random stupidness, but you should have seen that store's quality assurance binder, it was bigger than a phone book.)
2) is this * insert shirt, pant, shoe, hat* really worth the $$$$$?
it depends. first of all, (in my experience) the more "processes" put into an item the more expensive the item was to produce - every button, buttonhole, zippers, zipper pulls, snaps, plackets, belt loops, extra finishing seams, embellishments like embroidery, patches, iron on transfers, etc... costs $.5, $.10, $.25 more... so, the more bells and whistles an item has, the more it will cost you. and if it's made in the US, it will cost more.
second of all, manufacturers will produce similar items for different labels. i used to work for a large lycra manufacturer who made garments for high end labels and discounters. we bought the same fabric for the same customers from the same vendor and except for maybe a slight adjustment in fit, the left side of the manufacturing floor would sew in a discount label and tag it with a discount price ticket and the right side would sew in a high end label and tag it with a high end price ticket. so, if it's something "basic", i don't buy it at a high end retailer.
lastly, i always find sweaters are good bet. i'm a beginner knitter and yarn is kinda pricey (for me) so when i find a sweater (at one of my "approved" shopping venues) that i like, i'll buy it because i can't make it for less.
3) what about organic cotton and recycled fiber clothing?
when i buy organic cotton clothing i always make sure that the cotton was grown here and the garment was made here. in my experience with imported clothing, it is sprayed with pesticides when it enters the country at customs. maybe there's an exception for organic overseas cotton but i don't know about that. re: recycled fiber. a common misconception is that all fleece is recycled fiber. it's not. you have to check the label/tags to make sure it is. other than that, i'm over the moon about recycled anything... i love to shop resale shops and thrift stores. often, i'll purchase stuff and update them with new buttons or patches. i've always thought that when the paloma gets a stain on something that i should just buy a bunch of patches, put one on the offensive stain and just scatter the rest on the garment...
4) can i hand wash this even though it says "dry clean only" on the tag?
no. labels are very tricky. often, to get by with cheap labels, manufacturers/designers will sew in "dry clean" tags. this means that you CAN hand wash. but dry clean ONLY means dry clean ONLY.
however, if you do intend to hand wash something - use your shampoo to clean it. many of the chemicals in hand wash soaps are really not good for delicates in the long run.
and if you're handwashing something made of wool. don't wring it or move it or agitate it around too much - that's what makes the wool shrink (unless already preshrunk).
ok, i think that's it... hope it was helpful! happy shopping!