By Melissa Hook
Apparel labels are to inform us of the content of each piece of clothing we purchase. The information they are to disclose is the garment’s country of origin, brand, size and care conditions. Many consumers were not aware of the importance behind these labels until the last decade as the buzz around child labor laws and fair treatment of workers was brought to attention. Sadly it was not until bad news hit the headlines, but nonetheless it made us more aware of our little white labels inside our clothing.
Because of the reputation China and other large clothing production countries like India were given many consumer became weary of purchasing imported clothing as a whole. Made in USA became an easy recognizable way of thinking your clothing was produced ethically, in our country, giving jobs to our own workers, right? Wrong.
The truth is that only the final phase in the manufacturing of a garment is necessary to be in the country of which is stated as the “country of origin”. This is unfortunate as it gives consumers the false belief that these garments were produced and only touched by hands of our workers. In reality the cotton to make the 100% cotton, Made in USA, t-shirt could have been grown in China, shipped to Peru just for carding and spinning, then back to China for dyeing, to India for weaving into fabric, then finally to the United States to be cut and sewn into a t-shirt and distributed to retailers, wholesalers or online distribution centers. That is a lot of traveling for our little t-shirt!
Do not feel to shot down at this point, as I, being the fashion conscious environmentalist I am, did not know this until about a year and a half ago, when Professor Ulasewicz, our Chair on our Board of Advisors and professor of my Textiles in the World Marketplace class at San Francisco State, enlightened me. I can distinctly remember my her telling the class this and my good thoughts about Made in USA labels shattering, but I am here today with more knowledge to better understand how to decode these simple little white labels.
Misconceptions are also common with labels that read, made with love, or made just for you. These phrases are put on garments and it automatically means to consumers, made with better quality, but how do we actually know this and where was the garment really made. That t-shirt with the label reading, made with love, could very well have been made of cotton produced and picked by underpaid workers, and then shipped to underpaid workers in factories across the world.
The only way to ensure that your clothing was made in an ethical and environmentally conscious manner is to look for certifications the brand has acquired like, Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO), Sustainable Cotton Initiative, Cradle to Cradle, or ask questions! If the designer states, made with love, on their labels, ask why? The designer could have had the garment produced in an ethical manner and not been certified because of the high cost of certifications. The most important thing to remember is to not take that little white label at face value, really question how far this garment has come, how it was produced and whether or not the workers were treated fairly.