EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 5, 2013

Shoppers face hurdles in finding ethical clothing


Local nongovernment groups train the retailers’ workers on their rights. And workers are provided a grievance process to report problems directly to the Fair Trade organization.

Still, well under 1 percent of clothing sold in the U.S. is stamped with a Fair Trade label. And shoppers will find that Fair Trade certified clothing is typically about 5 percent more expensive than similar items that don’t have the label.

Fair Indigo is an online retailer that sells clothes and accessories that are certified by Fair Trade U.S.A., including $59.90 pima organic cotton dresses, $45.90 faux wrap skirts and $100 floral ballet flats.

Rob Behnke, Fair Indigo’s co-founder and president, says some shoppers are calling in and citing the latest fatalities in Bangladesh. The retailer, which generates annual sales of just under $10 million, had a 35 percent rise in revenue (compared with last year) following the disaster. That was in line with the 38 percent revenue surge it had during the November-December season, following the factory fire.

Behnke says that the company’s catalog and website that features some of the garment workers in countries including Peru are resonating with shoppers.

“We are connecting consumers with the garment workers on a personal level,” he says. “We are showing that the garment workers are just like you and me.”

While some retailers are working to improve safety overseas, others are making a “Made in USA” pitch.

Los Angeles-based American Apparel, which says it knits, dyes, cuts and sews all of its products in-house in California, touts on its website that the working conditions are “sweatshop free.” The company highlights how it pays decent wages, offers subsidized lunches, free onsite massages and an onsite medical clinic.

American Apparel officials didn’t return phone calls for this article, but in an interview in November with The Associated Press, the company’s founder and CEO, Dov Charney, said that companies can control working conditions but they need to bring the production to the U.S.

“When the company knows the face of its worker, that’s important,” Charney said.

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