What is a living wage and why do we insist on paying it?
Do you want to know something shocking? Only three percent of the world's fashion brands pay a living wage to sewers, cutters, pattern makers and the people making their retail products. Want to know something even worse? Most fashion brands don't even pay sewers a minimum wage.
According to research by Workers Rights Consortium, (WRC) from businessoffashion.com, garment workers' average wage has decreased over the last 12 months by over a fifth (21%) from an average of $187 per month to an average of $147 per month.
Why is it important to us to create jobs in Kansas City?
Kansas City is our community, and sustaining existing jobs and creating new jobs is important to the local Kansas City economy. And, it's pivotal for the success of of locally made fashion industry in our city. We've been contracting and employing sewers from our team in the West Bottoms for over eight years. The owner, Laura Treas, has made an entire career out of cut and sew production, consulting and her own line of shapewear called Affirmawear. We've worked hand in hand over the years to grow each others' businesses and listen to what we each need to be successful in the ethical fashion world. Both Kansas City sewing teams we work with are small batch micro factories, and we work together to keep waste at less than 1%.
How do we take steps to ensure contracted sewers are paid a living wage? Instead of demanding price points from our workers, we ask how much they'd like and need to get paid to cut and sew each product in order to make sweatshop-free, fair wages. This often involves quite a bit of testing and timing the production of each product. Once we know how long it takes for our sew team to make a product, we do the math to determine how much we will have to pay for labor for that product, based on the amount of time it takes.
The living wage standard in Missouri where we're headquartered is $13.75. Since all of our products are made in KC, we know we must pay our sewers a minimum of $13.75 per hour. Our sew team usually bumps that up a bit to cover the costs of some very important elements that most consumers or even fashion brand owners and management members don't often consider: the cost of doing business for the sewing factory!
Fashion brands are so set on paying the lowest wage possible to remain competitive in the market, but not only does this hurt the sewers as they can't provide for their families, but it also hurts the factories. The factories must cover the costs of their building rent, machine maintenance, utilities, web fees, insurance, taxes, etc. When fashion brands pay per-piece costs that translate to less than minimum wage, this doesn't leave the sewer with much to live on and it doesn't leave the factory with much to strive or even survive on.
How do I shop for ethically-made products?
One misconception and often overlooked element of ethical fashion is the fact that it's not only about using sustainable fabrics. Sure, that's one important element of creating a transparent and successful ethical fashion brand. But, paying a living wage is equally a necessity and a bare minimum to be considered an ethical fashion brand. As a consumer, it's actually fairly easy to find out if a company is paying a fair wage. How? Well, they'll shout it from the rooftops! :)
As mentioned in the beginning of this blog, less than three percent of the world's fashion brands pay a living wage to sewers. It's unfortunately SO common to pay unfair wages in clothing factories that when companies actually attempt to do the right thing by paying fair wages, we make a big deal of promoting it! We do like to toot our own horn :) because it's an educational moment, but it's also hard work. We profit less than our competitors by sticking to this non negotiable business moral, and we won't settle for anything less.
So, the best way to shop products that are ethically made is to do a little research. Hop on their website and look in the about section to read about their production methods. Click through their social media to make sure they're using sustainable fabrics and championing for living wages. It's honestly pretty easy to know right away if brands are doing the right thing.
If we've done our job, we've encouraged you as our customer and our community to FEEL SOMETHING. We’ve gotten you to slow down and THINK about what you’re buying, consuming, wearing, donating. Who made it? Who/what will it affect? Where will it end up? Who needs it?
Yes, our products may make you feel good and happy and confident when you wear them, especially thinking of how you made a difference. BUT - sometimes with our products and learning about what we do, you may instead feel sad, empathetic, impactful, a bit helpless, etc. Because one of our goals is to educate on fair wages vs unfair wages, underwear donations and why there’s a need to begin with, low waste vs fashion waste, biodegradable vs plastic, chemical dye waste vs natural and toxic-free low waste dyes, etc. It can feel overwhelming wondering how can I (one person) make a difference and impact the global fashion industry. Well, every bit counts, and our goal of educating consumers is simply to encourage you to feel SOMETHING, ANYTHING - especially empathy to help us make a difference.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for supporting us and for choosing to shop from our sustainable, ethical, fair wage fashion brand.
XO, Team MADI