Friday, November 16, 2012

the great dilemma

by frédérik

Last week’s post on denim sandal boots inspired me to look for sandal boots designed with men in mind. Predictably, I didn’t find any, except for this sharp-looking pair:

Image borrowed from under fair use for illustrative purposes only.
I tracked it to the website, were I learned that these are manufactured in Zhejiang China, is branded under the name “Faye’s”, is made of canvas and genuine leather with a rubber outsole. It also retails for $31.58 a pair, with discounts for wholesale orders.

And what, you may ask, It’s an eCommerce website –  part of the Chinese-based Alibaba Group – that allows shoppers to browse and purchase from an array of Chinese-made products.

If I came across this pair of shoes at my local Macy’s or some boutique, I would probably buy them – except for the fact that labour conditions in China makes me wary of purchasing Chinese-made products. So, really, I mostly like wouldn’t buy them although I’d feel that mighty inner tug between my inner consumer and my inner ethicist.

But here’s a bit of dimension to the scenario: I’m not opposed to buying from China or any other country. I just prefer to buy local where possible; it's better for the environment, supports local craftspeople and artisans,  and stimulates the local economy. However, for some items that aren't available where I live, it makes sense to buy them from where they are available. Those espadrilles I recently bought, for example, were hand-made in Spain by artesans. By that logic, shouldn't I allow myself the indulgence of buying the above boot sandals since that's not something I'll find here (as far as I know)?

Similarly, I've decided to embark on a great shirt quest since, as the weather (finally) cools down here in LA, I'm in need of long sleeve shirts. Since the usual dress shirts are too plain and familiar, I'm aiming to find something a bit different. One idea I had was to have custom shirts made so I could choose the colours and all-important details such as cuffs, collars, and center plackets. And it seems that there are plenty of tailors, a few even in the US, that will offer a variety of fabrics and style options...all tailored to my measurement.

There's a catch, of course, and it's a rather strange one. A lot of the sites I came across were rather anonymous. No company profile other than the usual self-serving praise. No obvious mailing address or phone number. At best, I could figure out that these were companies backed by Asian manufacturing, although a pricier few did seem to have US production.

The dilemma, of course, starts off with economics: if I'm in need of multiple shirts, shouldn't I go with the cheaper company and get multiple shirts for the price of a single shirt from one of the other companies? But this is where the real dilemma kicks in: if I don't know who is actually producing my shirts, how can I gauge the real cost of what I'm buying?

That's the problem: not knowing exactly where the shoes or shirts are being made, and how. How are we supposed to make informed decisions about what we buy when we don't about our products' provenance and manufacture?

I'd love to hear what you think about all of this. Your comments and suggestions would be most appreciated.


Mica said...

I've been thinking about this a bit - got a book called "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" and it really makes you think! I would have no idea where most of my clothes are made, very sobering thought. It's a very good idea if you have the budget and time to look out quality products and places where you know workers are being treated fairly, but it doesn't seem easy to do. I'm only about half way through the book, if I come across any tips for where to look or what to look for for ethical fashion I will let you know :)

Frederik Sisa said...

I know enough about the fashion industry to be quite conservative about buying stuff, and not just clothes. If you think fashion is bad, you should look up the cost of consumer electronics.

I'll be curious to see what you learn from that book, though. Maybe if you like it when you're done I'll find a copy to read. :)

Mica said...

Well buying and reading that book has definitely stopped my urges to shop so much! Even managed to turn down participating in the 40% off sale at my favourite store - I just feel guilty about shopping now! Like she said in the book, you can't just spend more. Higher cost doesn't equally quality or ethics, so you really can't be sure when you are buying anything!

Sadly the only alternatives the writer gave were to make your own clothes, and named 2 companies in the US that had ethical fashion choices. Not as helpful as I thought it would be.

Not a very easy read, lots of figures and facts that isn't my usual choice of fun reading, but definitely worth a peek I think :)

Frederik Sisa said...

There are plenty more options than those companies, I'm sure. It's just a question of making an effort to look around. And developing a habit of weighing the pros and cons of each purchase. Do you have anything like State of Unique in Australia? It's a great event I've been going to for the past few years here in LA. Plenty of local (or regional) vendors and designers with lots of eco-conscious offerings. I particularly like being able to talk to the artisans themselves to learn about their products.

Mica said...

I can't think of anything like State of Unique but it sounds interesting.

I think maybe there just needs to be a bit of digging around before you make purchases, which is strange for me as I'm such an impulse shopper.

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