Daily 49er

Buying into the façade of cheap clothing

Popular clothing stores lure students into their racks, hiding the truth of their manufacturer's work conditions.

Pablo Mendez Mendez, 48, says earns around $7 an hour as a sewing machine operator and works 11-hour-days. (Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times)

Pablo Mendez Mendez, 48, says earns around $7 an hour as a sewing machine operator and works 11-hour-days. (Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times)



Pablo Mendez Mendez, 48, says earns around $7 an hour as a sewing machine operator and works 11-hour-days. (Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times)


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Popular clothing brands have become problematic; their prices are suspiciously low, and consumers fail to understand the repercussions of their shopping brand preferences. Big-time women’s clothing companies profit off of wildly underpaid labor; however, there’s no solution in sight due to most of their demographic being women up to their mid 20’s who feel they have no choice but to shop at where they can afford.

This group is typically uninformed about the workers’ conditions; they don’t question their clothing store preferences due the consumer-based society that we live in.

At Cal State Long Beach, I notice many students wear vintage clothing, and students flood the pop-up shops that we have at school. They might choose to stay away from big-name clothing companies. However, there is still a large population of people who shop at stores such as Forever 21 whose prices and history indicate unfair pay to their manufacturing companies.

According to the LA Times, the workers at these Forever 21 manufacturers are typically Hispanic immigrants who work over about 50 hours a week. Investigators found that some companies have cheated workers out of $1.1 million. These manufactures get away with the low cost of labor because the Department of Labor can only penalize companies that directly employ workers. Retailers avoid branding the factories that work for them; as such, the retailers are technically not responsible for what it doesn’t own.

Even so, retailers should feel responsible for the dangerous work environment that manufactures create.

The Garment Worker Center published Dirty Threads, Dangerous Factories, a research study that surveyed a group of 300 workers on the work and health conditions of this labor sector. Unsurprisingly, there were a range of conditions that workers were forced to undergo. The locations were poorly ventilated, unsanitary and dangerous. Danger ranges from the obstruction of fire exits to the lack of safety training for both workers and their supervisors, which is especially unsettling considering that these people work with heavy machinery and are oftentimes not provided protective garments such as masks, gloves, or machine guards.

Incidents of abuse also exists in these factories.

“89% [of workers] reported their injury to their employer [and] over half of those reports resulted in a negative reaction by the employer,” Dirty Threads, Dangerous Factories reported.

Many work injuries result from verbal abuse from workers who threaten to fire workers for not working quick enough; this causes damage to workers hands and arms, adding to this cycle of mistreatment.

Retailers such as H&M and Urban Outfitters are more than aware of these conditions, but due to rising competition, favor low-costs and high-profits overall.

This idea that people will boycott a brand in hopes of offering their laborers a raise in wages is unlikely. Many students admit that they already don’t have money as it is, so their only option is to shop at these low-priced clothing stores.

At some degree, this is understandable. First, many customers and students alike are simply unaware of the workers’ conditions. They are part of a society that values consumerism, and they’ve become a part of this system by making purchases without performing research on their products of interest.

Additionally, one might argue that students have an array of costs, from school supplies to transportation. There comes a point, however, where students can set their priorities straight and allocate their funds elsewhere. In or near Long Beach, there are numerous stores that have used vintage or vintage-styled clothing at a low price, such as Plato’s Closet in Hawaiian Gardens, Goodwill and Out of the Closet in Long Beach.

Some students who are discovering the true costs on their shopping trends are looking toward these solutions. On average, girls spend about $700 a month on new outfits. Child development Major Julie Truong, a senior, recently discovered that clothing store manufacturers for Forever 21 that make the clothing in downtown LA basements make about $4.50 an hour.

“I had no clue,” Troung said. “That’s so disheartening to hear. It is so expensive to live in Southern California, and I know their jobs aren’t easy. I don’t think I can shop there anymore.”

A person who is working just like every individual doesn’t deserve to be paid about $4.50 to $6.00 an hour. It is impossible to survive in Southern California without making a reasonable income.

“You can’t buy anything you need between money and food,” said Pedro Montiel, a worker for an underground manufacturer, told the LA Times, “No money is left.

Those without legal documentation see four dollars simply as an amount to ‘get by,’ but the cost of living in Southern California is beyond what they make. A single person in California should earn an average of $12.30 an hour, working full time. An average income needed to cover basic household expenses for a single adult is about $30,000.

$4 an hour clearly doesn’t hit anywhere near that mark.

Students who complain about the high-cost of living should direct their scrutiny to these companies and call them out for their low-paid laborers. We’re two groups trying to survive on limited income; there needs to be more compassion and protest against the profitization of low-wage workers.

Hopefully, people start to educate themselves on what is going on with other branded names that have low-cost clothing. The fact that their targeted demographics are young, lower middle to middle class women should not be an excuse for them to disregard the truth behind the production of their clothing products.

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