Where are my clothes made? How are they made? What are they made of? These are all questions that I, as a consumer, have been asking myself for the past year. For so long, I had overlooked that my clothes come from Indonesia, from Bangladesh, from India and Pakistan, or China — all countries whose ethical issues in production I had easily distanced myself from. With every click into my digital cart, I managed to justify my need for a off-shoulder top, or just slightly baggier jeans with the thought: “Well, it’s an international problem — not my issue.” (I admit, deeply flawed thinking — and a problem that after doing a bit of research, I found, is actually very much my issue).
What I had failed to consider is that most of these fast fashion companies from whom I was buying based production right in my home state of California.
With factories in LA that are massively under-regulated and rife with labor rights issues, the problem wasn’t international anymore. It was happening right on my doorstep, in a country that has yet to fully commit to international human rights standards. I was shocked. Especially considering the extent to which, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the LA’s garment industry’s worker’s rights issues have become massively exacerbated. I knew I felt the need for change, and I was just one voice in a sea of ethical fashion advocates. In 2021, California state legislators re-introduced the proposed Garment Worker Protection Act, SB62.
The Problems & Loopholes
SB62, seeks to make the LA garment district more equitable. It specifically addresses three main problems existing within the current structure of subcontracted production, and what can be done, policy-wise to protect garment workers long-term.
Problem #1: Garment workers are not being compensated adequately for skilled labor. Under the current outdated piece-pay rate system, garment workers are paid based on their ability to meet an impossibly high quota of clothes by the end of the working day.
Rather than enforce incentive to work harder, as the piece pay rate system theoretically suggests, it creates a workforce that is severely underpaid.
In 2015 and 2016, the US Department of Labor completed random inspections of 77 garment factories and found that 85% of those factories were guilty of wage violations.
As reported by the LA Times, “the situation hasn’t gotten any better, with many undocumented Latino immigrants afraid to file wage claims over fears of deportation.” Since 2020, and the rampant rise of COVID-19 infections, the garment industry has reported enormous increases in wage violations. Since contracts have been canceled with subcontracted factories, workers have been left unpaid for completed labor — which in such trying times has affected their living conditions to an unimaginable extent. Many report food insecurity and being unable to pay rent. The Garment Worker Center reports: “62% of garment workers indicated working daily overtime hours, but because of the piece-rate many are not paid proper overtime. 48% work 10 hours or more per day. Almost a third of garment workers reported not being allowed to take rest breaks when they needed them.”Wage theft has totaled to skilled workers being paid as low as 4 cents for a single operation, making an average of $5 per hour. Even though CA has raised minimum wage from $13/hr in 2020 to $14/hr in 2021, and $15/hr in 2022, garment workers haven’t seen the results.
California garment worker Santa Son said in a statement to NBC News: “if the minimum wage is going up, they [garment workers] don’t know about it, since everything is paid by the piece.”
In 2020, she worked 60 hours to 75 hours a week to earn $300. If minimum wage were in effect, she would be paid at least $975, for 60 hours of work.
Solution #1: SB62 would ensure an end to the piece-pay rate system, and instead implement minimum wage — the standard compensation — in the LA garment manufacturing industry.
Problem #2: Inadequate Corporate Accountability allows fast fashion brands to get away with labour abuse and greenwashing!
Solution #2: SB62 would ensure corporate responsibility is upheld through ensuring corporate accountability. By amending the Garment Worker Protection Fund from its original version outlined in 1999 legislation of AB 63, SB62 would create an independent and separate fund — the Garment Worker’s Special Account — which is comprised of $75 taken from garment manufacturers’ membership fees. This separate account will be managed by the Labour Commissioner. Under this new proposed legislation, the Labour Commissioner would have direct authority to call on brand guarantors and garment manufacturers to address any labor violations.
Problem #3: No standardization of transparency into Production Processes: the LA garment industry, much like most of the fashion industry, is notorious for operating on a system of subcontracting and outsourcing. Under this system, brands can absolve themselves of responsibility from wage theft or other labor rights violations that occur in subcontracted factories by pushing sole responsibility into the hands of the manufacturers.
Solution #3: SB62 would put in place a legal entity of a “Brand Guarantor” to ensure transparency in the production chain. A Brand Guarantor would ensure that there is corporate liability for all labor processes under a company’s garment manufacturing process, from contracting to producing. SB62 expands the extent of manufacturing, re-defining it as: “expand[ing] the definition of garment manufacturing to include dyeing, altering a garment’s design, and affixing a label to a garment.” — thus maximizing corporate responsibility.
In addition to individual donations and support, the 2021 SB62 legislation of the GWPA has received massive levels of brand support. Brands have been eager to become guarantors and ensure that their production process is as ethical as possible. Reformation is a prime example. Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s Chief Sustainability Officer & VP Operations says: “We care about what goes into producing each Reformation garment, ensuring fair treatment and working conditions for all workers around the world. We created a completely sustainable apparel factory in Los Angeles and invest in the people who make this sustainable revolution possible by paying 100% of our employees a living wage and providing on-the-job training and opportunities for growth. Living wages provide the means for workers to purchase goods and services like food, energy, education, housing, transportation, health care, and are key to ending cycles of poverty that have lasted for generations. We’re proud of the work we’ve done, but know it isn’t done yet. We’re developing strategies for wage transparency and implementing fair compensation initiatives for workers in our partner manufacturing facilities as well.” Brands, like Reformation, have committed to SB62. They are indeed one of the rockstars that are helping to reshape the fashion industry at its core.
Brands That Support SB62
So what are some other brands that are in support of SB62? Here is our list of brands getting behind minimum wage and in support of ending piece-pay rate:
1) NANA Atelier: an LA-based garment manufacturer, NANA Atelier is committed to re-inventing the space of garment manufacturing to be fully transparent, “responsible, mindful, sustainable and ethical.” You can check out their 5,000 square feet warehouse, and their wonderful production team, here!
2) Carleen: Designer Kelsy Parkhouse gets her inspiration from scenes of nature. Her LA-based brand, Carleen returns to the handmade aesthetic of American nostalgia. Carleen — “made in LA for women who make things.” — knows what it means to be ethical. They’ve signed in support of the SB62 legislation.
3) Known Supply: Committed to a fully ethical and transparent labor force, Known Supply has a “Meet the Makers” section on their website, where you can check out who made your clothes.
4) Stella Abril: A brand focused on “offering options that not only look good but do good through every production stage and beyond,” Stella Abril believes in the ethics of fashion. As a T-shirt company, they pledge that “100% of [their] products are sustainably made with certified organic cotton and fair labor.” They’ve also signed on to support SB62 legislation, further ensuring their commitment to fair labor practices.
5) Eileen Fisher: A long-time believe in sustainability, Eileen Fisher has updated their website with overview information about their supply chain, as well as a Fair Trade and Workers section to keep customers informed and up to date regarding their business practices.
6) LACAUSA: This bohemian basics brand is committed to full transparency, and securing human and environmental rights. They have published a list of all of the organizations that they have donated to in the past.
7) All for Ramon: A family story, All for Ramon is owned by the sisters Rocio Chavez & Diana Ibarria. Named after their brother, their brand is focused on creating repeatable and elevated basics that come at less of a cost to the environment. They are committed to a sustainable and ethical platform and have signed onto SB62 legislation.
8) Bhoomki: A Brooklyn-based ethical fashion boutique puts out annual Sustainability and Ethics reports to keep their customers up to date on all brand efforts. Being one of NYC’s leading ethical fashion boutiques for 8 years, Bhoomki is committed to ethical labor standards.
9) Reformation: Reformation is a brand committed to sustainability and ethical fashion. Chief Sustainability Officer & VP Operations Kathleen Talbot spoke to me about the measures they have taken towards ensuring an ethical production line. She says: “In addition to paying 100% of our employees a living wage, we require all of our manufacturing partners (direct cut, sew, and finish) to adhere to our Code of Conduct and additional policies (our requirements for ethical operations) and be monitored to ensure fair, safe, and healthy working conditions through annual independent, third-party social assessments and continuous improvement efforts like root cause analysis and development of necessary management systems. Additionally, we published Our Factories list so you can learn more about the factories behind our clothes. Transparency is key to accountability, which is why we disclose 100% of Tier 1 finished goods manufacturers and subcontractors within our supply chain. We have aligned with the Transparency Pledge and are participating in the Open Apparel Registry (OAR) to expand on the details that are made public so we can be more accountable for the working conditions in our partner factories.” Reformation supports SB62 legislation primarily because: “Signing on to SB62 is in line with Reformation’s ethos, centering sustainability and dignity for the people that make our clothes. It was an easy decision for us, especially as an LA-based brand – we support this California bill to improve working conditions in America’s largest garment industry.”
10) Qeep Up: Started by actress Maggie Q., Qeep up is focused on making the world a better place — whether it be through environmental advocacy or labor transparency. Qeep up has signed on in support of SB62!
11) Boyish: Denim production can be one of the most environmentally taxing and labor-intensive garment work, but Boyish Jeans ensures that they do it right! Committed to “quality, fit, and authentic washes,” Boyish constantly updates their total environmental impact on their website. They have also signed onto SB62 in support of the Garment Worker Protection Act, and fair labor standards.
12) Equihua: The celebrity-famous brand has been a great advocate of ethical and sustainable fashion. Through normalizing outfit repeating, they contribute to making a fashion culture that is more sustainable.
13) Senza Tempo: Senza Tempo is a vintage-inspired brand seeking to streamline the consumer wardrobe. With clean-cut silhouettes, this American luxury basics brand will take you back to your comfort zone!
14) Mara Hoffman: A brand focused on designing and manufacturing garments with lower impact, Mara Hoffman breaks down their manufacturing process in terms of ethical labor standards on their website.
15) SUAY Sew Shop: SUAY is an LA-based upcycling brand, with its products being “created from a minimum of 85% post-consumer waste.” Its activist roots contribute to its investment in creating a culture of responsibility and ethicality.
The role of brands in ensuring an ethical environment for their production is paramount. In conversation with Reformation, Kathleen Talbot left me with an incredibly important takeaway: “The fashion industry as a whole is in need of some serious systemic change and in order to see improvements happen, passing bills like SB62 is necessary. These regulations could help establish a new standard of compliance and help drive decision-making for the industry at large.”