Not a pretty title is it?
A few inquiries have come down the pipe asking about further product reviews so I’ve decided to respond rather indirectly.
I am deep into the draft of my second book, this one a non-fiction work focusing on many of the learnings I’ve taken away from my twenty some years in the apparel and retail business. In no particular order I’d like to share here some excerpts and info which may be of interest to the general public and Mr & Mrs Consumer. For those from the industry the info will be nothing new but will perhaps cause some to take a deeper look at what goes on behind the scenes of the global fashion and apparel business.
Simply by way of validating my ability to address these issues, here’s a shortlist of some of the folks I have worked with, for and on behalf of in the retail and apparel world; Wal-Mart’s former exclusive buying agent-Pacific Resources Export Limited (PREL), the Kellwood Brands stable of companies from Sag Harbor to XOXO to Halmode, Hong Kong based Li & Fung, Champion Athleticwear, Canada’s Tabi International, Hanes Brands and WRAP,( the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production labour standard).
I’ve often been asked why retailers and brands feel the need to scour the globe for ever more exotic locales in which to place their production. There is a simple and a complex answer. Simply stated, the primary driver is cheap labour. Let’s consider the AVERAGE monthly wages of sewing operators and direct production labourers in some of the world’s top apparel exporting countries, where a standard work week runs from 52-64 hrs including overtime;
Bangladesh $US 75.00
Cambodia $US 90.00
China $US 185.00
Honduras $US 280.00
Haiti $US 75.00
Vietnam $US 95.00
Indonesia $US 120.00
A typical mass to medium market garment is built of a few simple cost inputs before factories and in turn brokers, agents and trading companies tack on their profits which run from 10 to 30% on top of the base garment cost; labour, fabric, trims and overhead operating costs. Labour accounts for on average 30-40% of the price of a garment.
That puts the price of the average mid weight 180 gsm fabric tee at about $US 3.00 and a decent pair of 12.5 oz denim fabric jeans around $7.50. Of course there are no end of variables which may increase these base averages but I can point to dozens of factories around the world any day of the week which can meet these prices. But why do we NEED such cheap apparel? Herein lies the complex answer…we (meaning Western European and North American consumers) have become addicted to cheap fashion. We crave it, demand it and expect it, even believing that we deserve it because, to a great extent over the past decade and a half of deflationary pricing for global apparel commodities, we have been trained to. Amazon.com is full of books and reference materials that proudly point out the why’s and how’s of making people buy what they don’t really need, even to the extent of specific marketing efforts focused on children.
Interesting stuff? You bet. But how many of us are really going to change our buying behaviour if it means we have to pay double for the price of our 6 pack underwear for $3.99? Unfortunately, very few.
(To be continued…)