The bargain on pants we get at the big box store can make us feel somewhat industrious and that things are finally starting to go our way. Unfortunately, the short term personal savings come at the expense of a denial that carries consequences we all must ultimately confront.
"There's a real cost to cheap clothing," says Shirley Lindefjeld, and it's the environment, marginalized workers in developing countries and the near extinct manufacturing American worker that picks up the tab.
Lindefjeld’s homegrown, grazing sheep, which provide the material for her Woolworks sweaters in Bedford, have a pretty negligible impact
Complicating the environmental concerns is the carbon footprint that is left in the wake of a foreign made article of clothing. “Let's follow wool," she says. "It's grown in New Zealand, it's processed in China. It goes to South America to be cut and sewn and then it finally comes to New York. So that little piece of sheep's wool travels the four corners of the globe to reach us."
Of course, all this allows the chains to remain competitive, produce higher profits and give us lower prices. Encompassed within the profit margins are the rights typically denied foreign workers. Child labor, unsafe conditions, oppressively long days and low wages, she says, "It's similar to the sweat shops we had here a hundred years ago."
As for reports stating that a coming factory draws hoards of workers, she won't deny the nobility of putting people to work, but the lack of transparency found overseas is still too high a price. "There's no reporting facilities, codes or ethical lines that let us know for sure that we're doing a good thing for these countries," she says.
Dawn Greenberg, owner of a fair trade arts and crafts shop in Chappaqua, turns the media spin a step further. "They are just visiting more misery on people," says the proprietor of Aurora on King Street.
The trade off doesn’t come close to adding up either. “Only about one percent of the retail price ever makes it back to the village,” she says.
In contrast, as she transacts with various fair trade wholesalers, the return on retail prices for the artist is more in the neighborhood between 20 and 40 percent. Getting a fair deal by her account also has a value that cannot be measured materially. “I have to believe these people are saying to themselves, I’m going out this morning and making scarves so my kids’ lives are better,” she says. “It gives people dignity.”
At the same time, hand made obviously trumps factory made and she’s not priced out by the larger competitors. “There’s not so much of a middle man so generally things are very well priced,” says Greenberg.
Back on the farm, Shirley’s sheep can’t really compete with mass production – even though the sweaters have made their way onto the shelves at Barney’s. Otherwise, she hopes heightened awareness brings a more streamlined approach to our wardrobes. “It’s just a slow understanding of not being such heavily burdened consumers. You don’t need so much. You can get by with less through quality and make better conscious decisions about what we’re wearing, buying and storing in our closets,” she says.
In turn, replacing needing more with needing less could still have a positive impact on American workers. Meaning, when we leave ourselves the extra money to purchase American made, manufacturing and agricultural jobs are created here.
The environmental and labor protections are contained within but looking for made in America is already a conscious decision that can be made now and is more likely to be found in the smaller and medium shops around town. Fortunately, the search can be narrowed with a simple click. “Google locally made products and the area,” says Lindefjeld.
Of course, if you want to go the fair trade distance, websites such as tenthousandvillages.com, the Organic Trade Association and Greatergood.com will take you there.
All indicates, according to Ms. Greenberg, that Fair mindedness is slowly getting there. “You see more and more wholesalers coming onboard,” she says.
As for consumers, they truly hold the future. “I just want people to think about it,” she says.
That accomplished, nature – and the market – should simply be able to take its course.
My Article originally appeared at : westchesterguardian.com
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