Think globally, buy locally

You get what you pay for. Also known as "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

I'm a big proponent of thinking globally and buying locally. I favour clothes that are designed and made in Canada or the United States.

I'm not protectionist. I'm down with comparative advantage. If some country can make the same item at the same quality for less, then they deserve the business. I am, however, in favour of fair wages and progressive labour laws. And I'm in favour of quality over quantity.

If I buy a top that costs, say, $10, I assume a few things about it. One is that it won't last long. There are exceptions, but in general I've found that the less you pay, the less wear you get. Another is that every previous step in the manufacturing and distribution process costs even less, with the actual garment worker making the least of all. The retailer certainly makes a profit. The wholesaler does as well. If something costs so little, who gets most squeezed? The one who actually made the item.

I don't want to buy a cheap top at the expense of some poor woman who is struggling to feed her family and possibly lives under a repressive government.

I understand that not everyone can afford to buy from local designers who sell clothes made in Canada from sustainable materials. I realize that I'm fortunate that way. But here's what happens. You don't have much money, so you shop at WalMart. WalMart, more than any other retailer, has cut costs all the way through the supply chain so that they can sell for less and still make huge profits. But why don't you have much money? One big reason is WalMart and stores like it. In squeezing out maximum savings, they have also squeezed out jobs and local stores and depressed wages. WalMart creates a predatory cycle whereby people can no longer afford to shop at stores other than WalMart. Worse, its own underpaid employees with few or no benefits often can't even afford to shop there! It's off to the Sally Ann for them.

Seriously, do you want to perpetuate such a cycle? It's called a race to the bottom. The only winners are the Walton family.

It's not just WalMart, of course, but WalMart led the way. The reason WalMart, Target, Kohls, and others can sell at such low prices isn't just greater efficiency or volume. It's because someone in the supply chain is being squeezed. There's really no way around it.

I realize that it's not good to virtually boycott clothing from other countries. Low-wage countries become higher-wage countries only if they can sell the goods they make. I'm just choosy about the labels. I'm not that fond of "Fabriqué en Chine," but Central American countries, India, Turkey, and even Bangladesh are a different story. I don't know for sure that the conditions where those goods are made are any better or that workers are better off, but I hope they can improve their lot over time.

My strategy also doesn't work for shoes. I don't think anyone makes shoes in North America anymore. I love Italian shoes, but I can't spend that kind of money for the shoes I wear all the time. So I know my lovely Nine West shoes are made in China, and I'm stuck with that.

That's something that bugs me about offshore manufacturing in general. Nine West shoes are expensive. All designer clothes, shoes, and accessories are expensive. But are they made in higher wage countries? Rarely. That means someone is benefiting from a huge markup. I would rather that local designers, especially those using sustainable materials, earn a legitimate profit from me than to allow Versace or Coach to gouge me. The price of New Balance runners stayed the same when they stopped making shoes in the US and started making them in China. Curious, eh?

1 comment:

Anji said...

It is a difficult subject. The best I get nowadays is 'Designed in France - Made in China/Tunisia/India etc'. The buyers expect high standards from these countries so I hope that they have to employ reasonably skilled workers who are better paid - but I don't know for sure.

I think the only 'Made in France' clothes these days are handmade for the top designers.