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Although we may not be fully aware of the extent of the problem, most of us are aware that at least some of our clothes are made under exploitative conditions. Consumers certainly bear some of the responsibility, says Richard Appelbaum, Ph.D., professor of sociology and global and international studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and coauthor of Behind the Label. Buying on the cheap certainly exacerbates the problem. There comes a point when we have to open our eyes: If you buy a shirt for $9.99, how much do you think the worker who made that shirt could possibly have earned? That’s not to say that only inexpensive clothes are made in sweatshopssome higher-priced designer lines come from the exact same factories. But sweatshops flourish more than ever when consumers view clothes as disposable and retail prices are continually driven down. In the past three decades, despite inflation and rising wages in most other sectors, garment workerswages have dropped to rock bottom. Long before she became a labor advocate, Katie Quan worked as a garment seamstress from 1975 to 1982 in New York’s Chinatown. In those days, I could make $18 an hour on piece rate, sewing women’s slacks for a brand called Counterpoint that retailed at Macy’s for $45, she says. By 1995, I was the head of the union in San Francisco, and Counterpoint pants were sewn by my union members for an average of $9 an hour. By that time, they retailed at JC Penney’s for just $14.50. A major reason the garment sweatshop didn’t become a dinosaur of the twentieth century lies in the product itself: fabric’s pliability makes it difficult to automate the manufacturing process. While the rigid electronic components of, say, a television set can be put together by a machine, the flexible denim for a pair of stretch jeans would be tougher for a machine to maneuver. Certain parts of the apparel-making process can be done by machine, but most of the assembly still requires human hands. So, while manufacturers of other types of goods have been able to shave expenses by mechanizing production, garment makers are left with no other alternative than to cut human labor costs.Fashionable Shoes | ALL FOR FASHION DESIGN Ltf

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