Confessions From The Rag Trade 1; How Fashion Feeds Poverty & Environmental Destruction

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…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Akumal Adventures; Easy Family Picks on The Maya Riviera

The first time I ever visited what has come to be known as The Maya Riviera, the approximately 200 kilometer stretch of powder white beaches running due south from Cancun to Punta Allen, Mexico was twenty years ago.

From now over-built Playa del Carmen and the dozens of new condo projects under construction, to the ruins of ancient Tulum overlooking the turquoise Caribbean, the area was little more than a hippie hang out and fisherman’s paradise. In 1990 I spent two months swinging in a hammock strung out in front of a $5 a night thatched palapa at Don Armando’s Cabanas a half click south of Tulum. You could get a full meal with cerveza for about $4 bucks and as funds ran low I could even haggle for free meals and camping rights if I was willing to rake the beach of seaweed every morning and help the cook make grocery runs into town every other day.

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Have Gear, Will Travel!

A great part of travelling well is having the right gear and garb. (uhm oh yes and cash is always helpful LOL)

With two growing boys, 10 and 14 at the moment, we’ve gone through a lot of togs over the past 15 years. (Angelica was 5 months pregnant when we took our first ‘family’ trip and we always tease our oldest that he hasn’t stopped travelling since!)

We only plan to review travel gear, clothing and accessories we have actually used ourselves so each of us has selected one item from our most recent outfitting and travels to offer up some feedback on.

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Bermuda Bliss; A Family Friendly Weekend

We recently escaped from Toronto for a quick weekend jaunt and my better half’s 40th BD by jumping the two and a half hr flight to Bermuda. I can only say LOVELY! and we’ll be back before summer high season kicks in.

Following is our shortlist of family friendly activities to fill up a 3-4 day weekend but first w word about the folks on Bermuda. This is definately NOT the Caribbean though many folks seem to confuse the point, one which Bermudians are quick to correct.

Ethically the historic mix is quite particular to the island. While discovered in 1505 by Juan de Bermudez, who gave the coral atols his name, it wasnt until 1609 that the first boatload of Europeans landed. They were part of a fleet of settlement ships on their way to the Virginia colonies who had been caught in a storm, forced to shipwreck themselves on the reefs in order not to be drowned and sunk at sea.

Since then a trickle of white settlers, African slaves and Portuguese manual laborers made their ways (or were brought by force) to the British Crown colony. Nowadays, Filipinos, Canadians and expat Brits have joined the mix and generally speaking its a well balanced community.

Everywhere we went we were greeted with friendly smiles and helpful folks who went out of their ways to share their family stories, chat with our kids and to ensure we were having the best possible time on their tiny collection of rocky isles.

As for activites, they abound from world class golf and dining to nature preserves, historic attractions, forts, beaches, caves and boating. Here are our TOP 5 for a quick weekend stay;

1. HORSESHOE BAY BEACH

There are a dozen great beaches on Bermuda at least from long expanses of the island’s famous pink sand to hidden little outcroppings among the craggy shore but Horseshoe Bay is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch! This 4 mile long bay is the southern most beach and while it can become quite crowded in high season, if you move off down past the first mile or so, there’s generally plenty of room for beach fun and frolicing.

Lifeguards are on duty from May thru October and as the seas here can get a bit dicey that’s definately a good thing. During calm weather the snorkeling is great and all the amenities one would expect are available…showers, toilets, food vendors, snorkling gear can all be easily found. Located at the end of Horseshoe Road off Southroad, buses, taxis and rental scooters all have easy access. (for everything you need to know about Bermuda’s bus system check; http://www.bermuda-attractions.com/bermuda_00006f.htm )

 

 

 

 

2.  THE CRYSTAL & FANTASY CAVES

http://www.caves.bm/

These fantastic limestone caves were accidentally discovered by two young boys back in 1905 when their cricket ball was whacked into the bushes and dissapeared down a hole. Without the aide of anything more than a bicycle lamp and a length of rope the two adventurously clambered down the rocky hole 120 feet underground to the water filled caves below, taking the time to enjoy a swim in the near bitch darkness!

Nowadays visitors can take a guided tour of one or both sets of caves decending the 90 steps down into cut rock pathways to take a well lit stroll across the floating pontoon bridges. Definately NOT to be missed with the kids!

 

       

 

3.  THE DELIVERANCE & KING’S SQUARE

Kids will love clambering aboard this full sized replica of THE DELIVERANCE, the stout, wooden sailing ship built in 1609 by the crew and settlers who has been shipwrecked on Bermuda while on their way to the Virginia colony of North America.

The original was built from indigenous Bermudan ceders (now all but extinct on the island) the remains of the wrecked SEA VENTURE, the settler’s flagship. The replica sits on Ordinance Island just off King’s Square in the town of St. George at the far north-east point of Bermuda. A stroll around the square is topped off by a visit to the town hall where the Mayor himself greets visitors. Definately get some great pics with the kids slapped into the stockades and of the ship itself before heading into St. George for some shopping and a visit to Fort St. Catherine.

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4. FORT ST. CATHERINE

Fort St. Catherine, rumored to be haunted by George the Ghost, was one of the original four stockades built by the English to defend the islands from Spanish invaders. Dating from 1612 the fort went through numerous improvement up until the 19th Century and now houses a museum collection of antique weapons and replicas of the British Crown Jewels.

There is a small entrance fee of $5US for adults and $2US for kids which is well worth the price to help storm the fort and climb the cannons with your own little band of adventurers. Take a bike or hike the 25 minutes from the town of St. George. There’s a great little bayside beach as well so take your swim trunks and some drinks / snack along. You can catch a bus at the beach for the ride back to town.

 

5.  THE REEF EXPLORER

http://www.bermudareefexplorer.com/glassbottom.asp

With so many water based attractions and activities (as one would expect on an island!) one of the best for the whole family is the 2 hour trip aboard the 70 foot REEF EXPLORER. This glass bottomed boat tour offers spectacular views of the seaslife in and around the islands coral reefs. Rates change by season so its best to check with them via email or ask your hotel tour desk for updates.

Atlantic Green turtles, overgrown shipwrecks and thousands of tropical fish along with Captin Mike’s stories of local lore and history make for an enjoyable family outting. They also offer a range of snorkling tours, private parties and the famous Pirate Party Adventure. Best to go when there is NOT a cruise ship in town.

All in all, just enough to fill a great weekend away to this balym little piece of Brittan in the Atlantic Ocean!

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Traditional Mexican Cooking Adventures in Rural Mexico

Skip the beach next time you go down Mexico way and spend a few days with the folks at CASA MALINCHE just outside of Huamantla, Mexico for traditional Mexican cooking classes at their rustic 17th Century hacienda. A leisurely 40 minute drive from the city of Puebla with easy air connections from Houston, Texas and Newark, New Jersey a long weekend to CASA MALINCHE offers visitors a glimpse into the rural traditions of Mexico’s past.

Javier and Marianna Zamora, with 3 children in tow, have opened their rural hacienda to visitors and volunteers from around the world who are looking to connect with the real Mexico and its delectable cuisine. Rustic guest rooms with private baths are available with breakfast starting at $US 65 per night while the Zamora family’s renowned Hotel Hacienda Soltepec & Country Club offers more comfortable digs only 15 minutes away by car. (www.haciendasoltepec.com)

Wherever you choose to stay, a couple of days in Marianna’s kitchen will give amateur chefs (big and little!) a hands on opportunity to prepare and taste some of the region’s most mouth-watering dishes from cream de huitlacoche and mole poblana to mixote de carnero and filete Soltepec. Half day classes for up to 6 people run from $US 80 to 120 depending on the menu and ingredients and Marianna and her girls will be happy to take you along to the local markets for hands on shopping fun!

You can book or make enquiries through THE MEXICAN KITCHEN (Twitter @Mexican_Kitchen) http://www.wix.com/mexicankitchen/tlaxcala

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