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Buyer beware: sometimes if a deal seems too good to be true, it is. Now I get it, as a shopaholic I certainly depend on a nice price to stretch my college-student-sized wallet to buy even a fraction of the clothes I desire. The problem of underpriced clothing goods is the ridiculous low cost they are manufactured at and the resulting wages for the people making them.

Many of our favorite brands are openly accused of using child labor, paying slave wages, having sweatshop conditions, or a combination of the three to produce their clothing at a low price to sell inexpensive clothes and still make a profit. These include Gap, H&M, and Adidas, called out by Human Rights Watch back in 2015. All three brands were using Cambodian labor, where women often work for as low as 50 cents an hour, thus enabling them to sell a $15 hoodie.

We either assume that it isn’t our job to step into this humanitarian crisis, and continue to graze on $8 dresses like sheep, or do our part by boycotting when it’s convenient and buying American-made products because slavery only happens in India and China. First world, global superpower America, a “strong fighter for human rights”, has laws to prevent such atrocities. Right?

Wrong. In fact the favorite store of many a tween or thirty-somethings trying to relive their youth, Forever 21, underpays its employees in its factory in downtown Los Angeles, here in the U.S..There Ulloa, an employee, reported in her state wage claim she only was paid $6 an hour for her work making up to 700 shirts in a day. How is that legal? Well, it’s not, but unfortunately corporate giants like Forever 21 are able to find loopholes, specifically an outdated law which allows workers to receive back wages from the boss of the factory. Since Forever 21 claims to be a retailer rather than a manufacturer, it avoids being classified as an LA factory.

So, how you can avoid purchasing garments made with slave labor? It can be very difficult to discern which brands are the culprits since so few international clothing brands choose to release information on where their products are made and who their suppliers and subcontractors are. Many times small subcontractor factories with short term contracts actually have far worse conditions and wages than large factories since it is more difficult for labor unions to form there. Unfortunately, there is also nobody with legal power going around and inspecting oversea factories of American Clothing Companies. Inspections are up to them. Rest assured, it is possible to be a responsible shopper.

One sure way is to check the “End Slavery Now Slave Free Buying Guide” and stick to their recommended slavery free products in each category and pay attention to their ranking system to see what brands are doing to prevent the use of slave labor. Patagonia, People Tree, YOGASMOGA, and Apolis are among the clothing companies receiving their top ranking. “The Good Trade” also has an excellent list of slavery free brands. Keep an eye out for the phrase “Fair Trade” when considering buying any product made outside the United States.

In my opinion, the key to changing the way our clothes are made is to change the way we think about them. Stop searching for the lowest price and instead search for quality ingredients, trustworthy, transparent brands, and fair prices. The clothes you wear express who you are, and I think that it’s time they also reflect the basic human rights you believe in. Perhaps when the general consumer expresses awareness and concern for the people making the shirts on their backs and holds manufacturers responsible rather than pressuring them for lower prices companies will be forced to change their ways.

Lila Holland

Agnes Scott '22

Lila Holland was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. Passions and hobbies include fashion, speech and debate, mock trial, crafting, creative writing, advocating for eating disorder and anxiety awareness and treatment, and her bearded dragon Mushu and pit mix Rocky. After graduating the International Baccalaureate program at Irmo High School in 2018 she left to Attend Agnes Scott College. She is currently a Junior Majoring in Political Science, minoring in philosophy. She hopes to bring a serious, relevant, and informative aspect to Her Campus.
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