When I started this journey of owning and operating a USA Clothing factory it all stemmed from a background of making clothing overseas. I had worked for a few companies as head of product development and had visited several factories in other countries. The conditions were horrid.
Here's the thing: I knew they were only showing us the "good" factories. I know they were prepared for our visit and I know they were proud of these factories. With that being known, I can't imagine what it is like in the underbelly that was never exposed.
These are the conditions I walked into: An armed guard at a gated factory that seemed more gated for the purpose of keeping people in than keeping people out. The workers lived at the factory in squalid conditions that many times we were not allowed to tour. The workers got 1 day off a year. Seriously, 1 day a year. That is what was told to me by one worker I spent some time with. They were fed in slop lines at the factory. They worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week. Their room and board came out of their pay, with little to none left after those expenses.
One day while I was working in one of these factories (in a plush office removed from the production scene) the internet shut down. I asked what happened with the internet. I was told that they shut it down because the lunch bell had rang and they did not want their workers accessing the internet. It was at that point, I truly understood these workers are basically prisoners without the free will to come and go as they please working in slave-like conditions.
As I walked through the factory, the eyes of the workers were glazed and lifeless. I tried on several occasions to engage with them but I was met with fear, exhaustion and shells of humans. It truly is grim, as grim as you can imagine. Need I remind you, these are the factories we were allowed to see, the "good" ones.
As I left one particular clothing factory we passed a famous factory called Foxconn who is know for making the iphone. My driver pointed to the worker housing and then pointed out the nets that were being hung below windows and balconies. These nets were the solution to stop workers from jumping and committing suicide.
I am sharing this story because it is a huge part of why I started and operate a made in USA clothing factory. We are proud of what we do here. Proud of the wages we pay, proud of our skilled workers that also have home lives. We are proud of the life and light and exuberance in our building and proud to make in the USA.
I am also sharing this story because I know many people will never have the same opportunity as me. I also understand, if you don't see it for yourself it is easy to push away the thought and ignore it. I want people to think twice before buying that $10 t-shirt. Understand how that $10 shirt came to be. Someone somewhere has paid for that shirt. If we all cut down on our fast and cheap fashion consumption, we can better lives. If we are willing to own less and own better quality, we can change lives. If we are willing to ask companies #whomademyclothes and let them know we do care, we can change lives. All the power is in the consumer. That is how it will change.