Yes, jeans can cost $300

cost_of_300_jeans Grace asks me if the math adds up on this WSJ article about the costs of premium denim. The details are posted at right.

To answer the question, it is mostly accurate which isn’t the same thing as agreeing it would cost you the same to produce a similar pair of jeans but I’ll get to that in a minute. The only discrepancies I see are the costs of pocket linings, hardware and the waste allowance paid to the contractor. I can’t speak to the cost of selvedge white oak denim but you can buy nice denim (not to be confused with premium denim) yardage costing between $5 and $8 a yard depending on any number of things, one of which is the number of yards one buys.

Pocket linings: Obviously they want the best pocket twill there is but $1.90 seems very pricey indeed. Even half that price seems high.

Hardware: All of the hardware to include the zipper seems high, you could probably get products in the same category for about half that. One thing to keep in mind is that all of their inputs are custom and being that the brand is prestigious, there’s a lot of policing of hardware items that can inflate their costs. I don’t know if this is factored into the hardware costs or overhead.

Labor is probably on par with the LA market. LA isn’t the only place to do 5 pocket cut and sew. I know contractors in Texas that specialize in denim; their prices are 20% to 30% less.

Other items such as the 4% waste and mark up paid to the contractor is news to me; this total additional cost is about 25%. I’m wondering if something was lost in translation during the interview. Possible explanations are that this is a cost plus contract or it includes the cost of incidentals such as thread. I didn’t see an accounting for that. It could also include services such as ferrying jeans in whatever stage of completion to an outside contractor (embroidery etc). Schlepping stuff around can be costly.

The subtotal without washes or other hand applied affects is $56.06, multiply that by the mentioned 2.2 to 2.6 mark up and you get $123-$145 for a wholesale price. Retailer will then mark that up keystone (at least but usually more) so a price range of True Religion premium denims will cost the consumer anywhere from $250 to the $310 listed in the article.

If you wanted to produce a nice pair of mid range jeans in the US, your costs could be less than $30 a pair. Fabric, trim, labels and packaging would run about $12-$20 (trim not customized) and CMT would be about $7-$8.50 without washes etc depending on where you had the work done. You really should mark it up at least X2 or 2.33 ($38-$66) with an estimated cost to the consumer of $76 to $165. If you were vertical and did the sewing in house and sold it consumer direct, the consumer’s price could be as low as $55 to $57. The latter figure presumes 70% of the contract labor price and a 3X mark up over expenses.

Obviously your mileage may vary and I’m ready to hear all about it. Go ahead, tell me why I’m wrong :).

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  1. Rob says:

    Selvedge denim from White Oak is, as quoted by the guy who sells me my seconds, $6.50-$7.50 per yard. I was also told seconds get sold all the time to make first quality garments, especially in Italy. If you are okay using seconds, the price is $3.00. I have had really good results using the irregulars from Cone.

  2. From a completely different angle:

    At the nagging of a friend, I once tried on a pair of $300 jeans. Their cut and fit was superb, and if I wore jeans, I’d have seriously considered the investment.

    From the consumer’s standpoint, fit and durability (price divided by number of wearings) are only one of the factors, and possibly not the most important for many at this price point.

    Back to this topic: it’s immensely helpful to have cost breakdowns like this.

  3. clf says:

    The cost of (aMERkan!) labor for these jeans is just over 7 percent of the wholesale price and just under 4 percent of the retail price.

    And people wonder why the country is in the crapper.

  4. Jen in NY says:

    From a consumer point of view, the cost of the labor seems low, especially considering the price point of these jeans. On the plus side, contrary to Walmart e.g., that $11.65+ labor goes right back into our economy. If the product is made overseas the American economy sees none of that. As a consumer, and yes, I’d buy a pair of $300 jeans, I do want the workers to be paid reasonably well. I’m not sure if $11.65 represents that or not. I don’t know how long it takes a pro to do that labor, but if it’s an hour, that’s a difficult wage to live on in LA or NYC. Maybe hang tags that state, in $s, that the maker was paid a living wage…I’d like to see that!

  5. Don Pezzano says:

    Those prices seem fine except for the pocket lining and labor. G-Star jeans run around $250-300. The denim is beautiful, the cut superb and and they are incredibly durable so they are value for money.

  6. Rob says:

    I went to the Am. Apparel factory for a tour about three years ago. A friend of a friend was the Controller. We got a full tour and I was really surprised to see how much the stitchers there make. I am no longer surprised, now that I realize how much skill goes into sewing fast or doing an operation like felling jean inseams on a flat bed(I wish I had an off the arm). I saw the pods as they were called competing with each other. Every pod had all the machines to make any garment in the catalog so any bundles could be dropped for completion. The system was such that their output equated to their hourly wage. The higher the output, the higher the wage. I did not ask how garments of varying complexity were rated. Every pod got to see how the others were doing, and so the incentive to do better and more was plain as day. I remember that some of the groups were making over $13/hour each. Thats not bad, but its still hard, dirty work. Most were latino and I know from experience, a pay rate like that goes very far in that community. From being a pastry chef I know that latinos are very good at doing their job when treated amiably and trained properly. It seems like a very good system that could be very self correcting. Is this format common?
    My question is this, if a factory has more skilled labor, capable of doing higher quality work at a faster turn around, would they charge more or less because of their capabilities?

  7. Jay Arbetman says:

    A true (almost) 300 dollar jean story.

    I tried on a pair of 260 dollar jeans. Then as now, my body shape would be comparable to say…..well C Lo Green comes to mind. These jeans looked so good on me that I wanted to make out with myself… was magic.

    The jeans were made in China.

    The transport number and most of the other numbers here would be driven by quantity. The trim prices seem pretty enormous. The hang tag and woven labels seem pretty pricey. You can make an awfully good label bought in quantity for a dime. While some of the prices might be a little lofty but the cost list isn’t that bizarre.

  8. M. Smith says:

    If only! Those labour costs seem pretty unreal. Well for here at least. 16$ is a living wage and 10.25 soon to be the minimum. Asking people to buy locally made, small production-run goods amounts to enough of a consumer-price-tag-shock that I have to work really, really hard to account for my labour -to the point where I’m considering offering a make-your-own-jeans-workshop as a veritable marketing strategy.

  9. Quincunx says:

    I don’t think that’s an _hourly_ wage under “Labor” though–at least the original article doesn’t say anything about hourly wages either–otherwise how would you get the result of 25 cents for applying an American Flag label? ‘Course, it also doesn’t say anything about how long one of these jeans takes to be sewn (and schlepped around).

    Somewhat discouraging to the home sewer, though, that they can go from concept to store-ready product in five days. If I’m finished sewing and correcting the fit of the first pants (home usage) “muslin” in five days, I call it good. :P

  10. Laura says:

    “Each part and bit of labor may ultimately be marked up five times or more before the pants reach retail stores. So the $23.30 spent for a Los Angeles-based seamstress to sew a pair of Super Ts will cost the consumer more than $100 at full price.”

    I found this bit interesting, that the labor is being marked up 4x. I worked for a US electronics mfr that gradually shifted most of its manufacturing from NE US (unionized and often used illegal aliens even 20+ years ago) to the SE (non-unionized, still using illegal aliens when possible), and now to Mexico.

    In the US plants, an entry-level line-worker makes about $8/hr, but are covered on insurance the day they start work and have 10 days paid vacation each year after 90 days. In Mexico, the same worker makes about $8 a day and benefits include two meals a day provided in the cafeteria and transportation by bus to and from work. Workers in Mexico must be provided 50 hours of work a week (Mex. law), but if they work more they are not paid overtime. I don’t know about their insurance, but they do have a nurse on duty in the plant at all times. Unlike the nurses in the US plants, the Mexican plant nurse actually treats injuries, even serious ones, dispenses drugs and has medical responsibilities to the workers. The US plant nurses may perform a perfunctory exam and determine whether someone needs to see a doctor, but mostly their job consists of overseeing pee tests and protecting the company from workmen’s comp cases. The facilities inside and outside the US are built to the same specifications and look very similar inside. The places in Mexico are not sweat-shops, they are clean, well-maintained, air-conditioned throughout. The only major difference is that the Mexican plants are more security-oriented and have stricter policies for visitors (they have to walk through a metal-detector).

    It’s easy to see how much more profitable making products in Mexico would be. In the US, the worker has to provide their own transportation (for most, a car, fuel, insurance, taxes, etc.), their own food, etc.

    I believe the $23.30 probably includes all benefits paid by the employer. That means the 4x markup on labor is pretty drastic, IMO. If my work is worth $23.30 to you, how can you sell it for $100? I call not fair. The article pretty much proves that manufacturers can pay decent wages to US workers if they want. It’s not that the wages for workers are too high, it’s that the employer is overcharging the consumer for the worker’s work. So, now I feel justified in saying that $300 jeans cost too much. What is the typical markup on labor?

  11. Laura,

    If I make a baby hat using $10 of materials and an hour of labour at $10/hr, then my direct costs are $20. If I sell my hat for $20 I will make a loss because I also have overhead and my business needs to make a profit, so I will sell it for $40. A retailer who buys my hat can’t sell it for her direct cost of $40 because she has overhead too, and her business needs to make a profit too. She’ll need to sell it for $80 to $100. (A baby hat this expensive is probably not going to be a big seller. I’ll need to revisit my production.)

    Anyway, direct costs of $20 to the manufacturer translates to $80 to $100 at retail. This has nothing to do with being unfair, just the reality that running any business entails costs.

    There’s an old thread in the forum on a similar theme, here: // . Also, search both the blog and the forum for the word “keystone.”

  12. Quincunx says:

    In other words, it’s not 4x markup, it’s 2x done twice and supporting two sets of people instead of one set. Someone could find a manufacturer selling jeans direct-to-consumer and cut out a set, but that would probably result in a higher multiplier than 2x since one set of people is doing the work of two, and Laura might still reject the higher multiplier as exploitative. A knotty question.

    The bit about the Mexican plants’ nurses having responsibilities for healthcare and not just insurance paperwork was interesting along the same lines. The American plant has two sets of people for the same job of keeping the workers whole (the nurse to authorize the doctor’s visit and the doctor to provide care) where the Mexican plant has one, even before touching the explosive topic of insurance.


    Veering off on yet another tangent, the “custom fit” jean would also have to have a pattern cost included in every pair, wouldn’t it?

  13. Kathleen says:

    I was somewhat reluctant to post this because then everybody wants to count your money. It doesn’t matter to which party you talk to in the process, they all think they deserve more.

    For example, in this post, sales reps were getting upset that once product lines become successful, the manufacturer cuts the rate of commission. I argued that it was understandable they did because as the line becomes better known and respected (the company making significant investments in retail relations, marketing, branding etc), it made the line much easier to sell so it wasn’t as much work as before.

    The other thing is, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It doesn’t seem to matter what strides a company takes to be responsible, they get criticized anyway. This company is producing and sourcing domestically but that doesn’t seem to be enough. It wouldn’t matter what they did, somebody, somewhere, somehow would be counting their money and telling them why they were doing it wrong and how they should spend it. If all everybody is going to do is criticize you, you should just ignore them, go your own way and do what matters most to keep the enterprise viable. Namely, do what you have to do to keep customer happy and your people employed.

    About what the stitchers are paid. Sure, a stitcher could make more for themselves…or could they? Do you know how long it takes to sew a pair of jeans? In an automated plant, it is less than half an hour. At a sewing cost of $9.50 for sewing, the stitchers are drawing @ $20 an hour.

    A stitcher could not earn $20 an hour on their own. They don’t have all the specialized equipment (somebody had to buy that, set it up, maintain it, house it in a building with power, lighting etc). Even if a stitcher did have it all, it would take them much longer than 30 minutes to sew those jeans. They’d have to make a pattern, fit test it, prove the pattern, grade it, mark it, cut it out, and only then be able to sew it. Excluding the cost of pattern making, making fit prototypes, recutting the pattern etc and grading it, it could take 6 hours to make a pair of jeans. So the cost of the stitchers time (at the hourly rate paid by true religion) is already $120. Which doesn’t include fabric and materials (and they could not get the same price reductions for buying 2 yards etc). The $120 doesn’t include the costs of patterning, the acquisition, maintenance and facilities cost for machines etc. It also doesn’t include overhead, taxes etc. The stitcher would have to double that $120 cost of their labor just to break even. Long story short, once the cost of materials is included, you’re pretty close to that $300 retail price even if the stitcher is getting all of the value of the job.

    Of course, all of this presumes the stitcher has a customer for the jeans. The stitcher is an unknown quantity. The stitcher doesn’t have brand recognition that would get them the job. If it were so easy to do, they’d all be doing it. Which brings me to, if it’s so easy and profitable to do it, how come more people aren’t doing it? Obviously there’s more to it.

    Like I said, everybody wants to count your money.

  14. Kathleen says:

    I remember that some of the groups were making over $13/hour each. Thats not bad, but its still hard, dirty work.

    $13 an hour isn’t so great in LA -maybe it was good 3 years ago? I know somebody who pays a base rate of $12.50 an hour in Houston (but with bonuses, it works out to $15). That’s a better deal due to the much lower cost of living there.

    Your comment about “hard dirty work” makes me ill at ease. I’ve worked in many factories. None of them were dirty. With American Apparel’s profile, I’m guessing their plant isn’t either but it could boil down to your perspective. No it’s not a clean room or office setting that is kept clean by people who come in at night to dust and vacuum. “Hard” is relative. I’m guessing you’re referring to manual labor. Manual labor is not a bad thing. The problem we have in this country (and this industry) is that we have too few people who are willing to get their hands dirty. We’ve decided it is beneath us, that everybody should go to college which leaves _____ to do the actual work?

    This is painful to read; minimally it sounds paternalistic.

    Most were latino and I know from experience, a pay rate like that goes very far in that community. From being a pastry chef I know that latinos are very good at doing their job when treated amiably and trained properly.

    My knee-jerk reaction is to say too bad anglos aren’t as routinely good at their jobs even when they’re treated amiably and trained properly. I don’t understand how race enters into the equation. Well, except that too few anglos want to get their hands “dirty”. If we didn’t have immigration, what few sewing businesses we have today wouldn’t be in existence without immigrants. Most people consider manual labor to be beneath them. We can only employ so many white collar workers. The proof is in the pudding; we’ve got rampant unemployment especially among the young who are saddled with $100K student loans while factories can’t find enough workers. We have a manufacturing crisis in this country. Not that there are too few jobs but that there are too few workers. See the link I left above.

    It seems like a very good system that could be very self correcting. Is this format common?

    This is called lean manufacturing. I’ve written a lot about it. It is not as common as it should be.

    My question is this, if a factory has more skilled labor, capable of doing higher quality work at a faster turn around, would they charge more or less because of their capabilities?

    It is difficult to answer because it requires an in depth discussion of lean manufacturing concepts (do see the link to lean manufacturing). The quick answer to your question is “no”, a company doesn’t charge more because of their capabilities.

    Lean boils down to this:
    1. The customer determines value.
    2. The customer pays for value.
    3. The manufacturer can only charge for value.
    4. The customer is demeaned if they’re expected to pay for waste.
    5. Therefore, a manufacturer reduces waste (Kaizen) because these costs cannot be passed along to the customer.

    At this stage you have to know what waste means. It means a lot of things (there are 8 basic kinds). The point of it all being, a manufacturer like this provides more value to the customer so the customer will want to do business with them vs any others. Now, because the manufacturer is leaner with less waste, their operating costs are lower. So, if their costs are lower, why would they charge more than (presumably) a competitor who doesn’t deliver the same value and whose costs are higher? The lean manufacturer will get more business because their costs are lower relative to other products in the marketplace and still do well enough financially to provide stable work for their employees whom they need to continue to provide the products to meet their customers expectations and demand.

    Again, the above is very simplistic, there’s a lot of books on the market about it. Value is one thing that is very subjective (I plan on writing about that soon, maybe today). Let’s say you’re in the baby diapers market; it is vibrant with competition. Price is only one element in the value equation. If you think that pricing lower with respect to the competition is the only thing you have going for you, you’re probably right. If that’s the case, I suggest selling your business and becoming a commodities broker.

    How do you provide value? Well, you can provide exclusivity. If you’re cutting one-offs, you have design options that no one else can touch (there’s only one lean manufacturer that I know of in that space). Customers value exclusivity (and will pay for it). Another type of waste is time itself, how long it takes to get the item into the customers hands. If you’re doing one-offs (cutting, sewing and shipping in 24 hours), that is another value that your competitor isn’t providing that your customer will pay for.

    The end result being, you can price your products commensurate to others in the same space but because you’re adding value the others aren’t, you’re getting the customers.

  15. sfriedberg says:

    Rob, obviously I haven’t visited the factory and you did, but I’m surprised to hear any sewing factory (much less one set up with production pods) called “dirty”. And while manual labor is certainly more physically taxing than sitting at a computer, sewing labor is surely less “hard” than farm labor or construction.

    Mining is the essential “hard, dirty labor”. Large machinery repair, where you have to scrape and blast a half-inch of mud, grease, dirt and/or metal chips off the machine before you can even get started, is hard and dirty. Fish packing and slaughterhouse work is hard and dirty. As manual labor goes, sewing is comparatively easy and clean, and much less mind-numbing than sorting produce on a conveyor belt.

  16. Rob says:

    I guess I need to clarify. First of all, I am white, from an affluent conservative family that built everything on blue collar trades and good investing.
    Hard dirty work is where you break a sweat. You know, get dirty, have a quota to meet and dont have time to grabass. Humping steel conduit for my father’s hazardous location electrical contracting business is one example. The indigo I get on my hands after sewing jeans for 12 hours on my one day off from the crappy fabric store I work at is another. 16 hour days making production pastry is hard dirty work regardless of how much chocolate mousse you get to eat.. If you are really good you can keep your french cuffs clean from the chocolate. Not many can. Hot ovens equal sweat. Working in high volume screen printing; hot, dirty, lint everywhere. Call it what you want but I am not going to call it clean, ever. I know what taxing work is, I question if you know those kinds of demands personally. Sewing is mentally and physically taxing to the extent that hard construction is just physically taxing. Are you trying to insinuate that one is easier than the other? I have done/do both and if you think so you are completely wrong. My family is affluent from blue collar work. Actual skill in blue collar trades builds the base that begets white collar wealth. Whites/Americans especially should get off their **** **** and get a real job that requires a real skill set and attention to detail. At least pay attention to the corporatocracy that is lowering the standard of living and limiting future opportunity for everyone here. Its time to stop worshipping Walmart and “cheap”.
    Am Ap has an old building and its not that nice. Despite the Colt 45 malt liquor posters with Billy D Williams. Its dirty with some graffiti around. It was an example of the the minimum amount of tidiness needed to keep things going. The building was not unmaintained. I have photos of the incredibly old elevator that doesnt even go to all the floors. They were putting in a medical facility for employees and that was nice and white. Maybe you two were nurses?
    Over all warehouses and other industrial manufacturing spaces I have been to or worked in are dirty places. I have seen it, not where you have worked maybe, but enough to know I would want a broom and a mop before unrolling my sleeping bag to spend the night. I have never seen freshly painted white rooms in those environments from my experience. Always the walls are scuffed because the work takes precedence.
    Painful to read?! Get over yourself. The world isnt politically correct, what I said is not incorrect. Its observation. In 18 years of working I have seen every time that Latinos and Asians will out perform whites/Americans if given the same opportunities to succeed. From a management perspective, they are happier with less and complain less, unless unequal treatment is insultingly obvious. Its the truth and I dont care how you slant it. Waste is less also. Its all about training but it doesnt go for Americans. Americans will ask for a raise sooner, sick day sooner, and want to go home early sooner than the Asian and Latino counter part. Its just what I have experienced.
    Also, I know exactly how far money goes in the ethnic labor communities because it has been my job in the past to source specialty food items from ethnic stores. I know a lot of immigrant workers because I have worked in so many different production environments. Spending time with many different sets of people will give that perspective when trends emerge. Studying food has led me study the values of the two cultures. They dont eat out on their lunch break, they bring food from home. They have less sets of clothes and less materialistic want. I know these are generalities but I have seen it way more this way than the opposite. The family unit operates differently in regards to where money gets spent and how want manifests itself. I see it at the fabric store all the time. The purchases, values and attitudes are different from whites every time. Even whites at the same socioeconomic level. Ethic people cook simpler foods and have more people per household. Thats how money stretches. Its a matter of leveraging your pay.
    I have worked in 5 different industries and see latinos and asians as superior workers bar none. Way above blacks and whites. It doesnt mean they are more creative or original in how they do it. They do the work how they are told/trained to because in general they are getting more than what they got in the country they left. There is no feeling of being owed anything. They dont want to be chef, they want a set schedule they can depend on. The values are way different. Americans, white and non can learn a lot from immigrant workers. I dont care about your unease either. I think you are ignorant on this one. Money goes farther in those communities because most of the time they spend their pay differently. Asian and latino markets have prices and selection that exemplify this. The low social context of these cultures point to less money being spent on frivolity and more being retained for important things like family. First gen immigrants dont give their kids excess like Xboxes from what I have seen. Sometimes but even then its toned down from their American counterparts. That happens later when the social context drops as the household gains wealth and new generations spring forth. Thus becoming Americanized.
    I probably could have done better but I have strep right now and its not fun at all. Hrumph.

  17. Kathleen says:

    Cost of design is in overhead.
    I don’t know what the mark up to contractor is and had said:

    Other items such as the 4% waste and mark up paid to the contractor is news to me; this total additional cost is about 25%. I’m wondering if something was lost in translation during the interview. Possible explanations are that this is a cost plus contract or it includes the cost of incidentals such as thread. I didn’t see an accounting for that. It could also include services such as ferrying jeans in whatever stage of completion to an outside contractor (embroidery etc). Schlepping stuff around can be costly.

    First a few points with respect to form.

    1. Please refrain from using expletives. I’ve removed your less than civil verbiage.

    2. Consider adding a double carriage return between paragraphs, especially on long passages of text. It makes for easier reading. Otherwise, with no white space to rest the eyes it resembles the dreaded wall of text which few can or will read.

    3. If you’re not going to leave a url, please leave that field blank on the form. Otherwise, the “http://deleted” you’ve been leaving in there is live and you’re sending others off on a wasted click (I’ve been forced to edit every single comment you’ve made; now I’ve put you on moderation to make my job easier).

    As to your content: You are free to disagree but personal attacks have no place here. There is a line of civility, don’t cross it. Consider:

    I question if you know those kinds of demands personally.

    It is quite amazing that you’d say something like that. If you’d read more of this site, you’d know I know. And probably more than you.

    Painful to read?! Get over yourself.

    This toes the line of personal attack. Would you prefer I be less diplomatic? What I was thinking wasn’t as charitable; that minimally, I would (diplomatically) describe you as “culturally insensitive” due to the implication you left in your first comment.

    I know exactly how far money goes in the ethnic labor communities because it has been my job in the past to source specialty food items from ethnic stores.

    Oh. But not because you have lived this or not because any in “the ethnic labor communities” are family, friends and/or that you have lived in “ethnic labor communities” for decades or speak the language(s) -like I have and do. That you find it necessary to specify “ethnic” says it all.

    I dont care about your unease either. I think you are ignorant on this one.

    Another personal attack. I would never suppose these things about you considering my lack of context (I’d rather give you rope and let you hang yourself). That you would say such things about me personally and make such rash assessments with respect to anyone’s intelligence (much less mine considering the prodigious amount of material here) is troubling and says more about you than anything else.

    Fwiw, I’m well aware of the sort of economic practices you ascribe to immigrants both academically and personally. Some of us “whites” still live that way, some of us still eat “very simple food”, nearly all of it “ethnic” as you describe it. Really, you should read more before coming to short sighted conclusions.

    I’m not going to be baited either way. Similar themes of your economic arguments (hopefully devoid of cultural insensitivity) are common on this site; I’ve made many of those points repeatedly (I majored in economics, specifically development) and there’s a difference between being not politically correct (as I often am) and cultural insensitivity.

  18. Laura says:

    Great discussion and very enlightening regarding the different viewpoints. I’ve worked as a sewing machine operator for several companies and that’s the only viewpoint I’m familiar with, so this helps me a lot in understanding the business from other angles.

  19. Sheila says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    I’m usually just a lurker here, but love your site and all of the discussion that goes on. I am especially facinated by all of the jeans posts.

    Related to this post, and also to the pop quiz abot cost vs quality, I was wondering if you could give some hints to those of us who are mere consumers, but like to spend wisely, how to tell whether a pair of “premiumly priced jeans” are actually worth the premium price. There are many pairs of expensive jeans out there… can the savy consumer tell if they really are quality goods?

  20. Kathleen says:

    These are very good questions Sheila. I plan to address some of this in my follow up crap vs quality post. Keep an eye out for it and let me know if it doesn’t answer all your questions.

  21. Jay Arbetman says:

    I’ve been in and out of garment factories for more than 40 yrs. Almost all of them are clean, safe and comfortable environments. The only time I have seen a face mask in a garment factory was when long hair fake furs were being cut.

    Several of the small “better shops” that I work with in Chicago are almost pristine. Dirty work and sweat??? Not a chance. The folks sewing in these shops are highly skilled and work in an upbeat atmosphere. In many cases that atmosphere is air conditioned.

    (no contractor in our market would would ever have a dirty shop. No one would buy there services)

    Two large factories here are nothing less than lovely places to work though I am sure this is not the case everywhere.

  22. When I was working for a diaper service we’d sometimes send diapers out to be re-overlocked if the stitching failed. There was one batch of diapers that had the contractor coming back to us with a warning that they were very poor quality and that the stitchers had had to wear face masks because of all the dust they generated.

    So yeah, it does happen. But it’s not considered routine.

  23. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    The shop that I work at *is* pristine. True, we don’t make garments; we make digitally printed signage for trade shows and exhibitions. At a minimum, the cutting tables are wiped down daily, the floor is swept daily and larger scraps are thrown away immediately, the carpets (the fitting area; most of the signs are *very* large) are vacuumed at least once a day and often more often, the kitchenette and dishes are cleaned by whoever has the time (more often than not someone in management), blah blah blah. At least once a week floors are mopped, machines are moved to sweep under *everything*, and the carpets are shampooed. Why? Our products go from our company directly to tradeshows; if they pick up dirt while we make them, then it makes our clients look bad, which makes *us* look bad.

    No, it’s not air conditioned; except for a few days a year, fans work well enough. Yes, it gets messy; I’m usually covered with stray bits of thread and scraps of seam binding at the end of a day. My point is: producing sewn products in a dirty environment isn’t really cost effective; you can’t sell dirty products without cleaning them first. It’s cheaper to keep things clean than to clean them afterwards. What *is* clean may not *look* clean to someone that doesn’t know exactly what they are looking at.

    Oh, and I (with my $80K college degree, much to the amusement of my supervisor) work in production. And yes, I enjoy it.

    Back to the original discussion though: I try to make something that you could call “jeans” when I have the time and inclination. My problem is that labor alone runs me 20+ hours for a single pair, partly because I have only one machine (and hence need to change setups frequently to perform different operations), and partly because my patterns typically have 30+ pieces. I estimated once that the wholesale cost would need to be around $400 (!) for me to even make $10/hr. on them. Oops. Suddenly, my potential market is very, very small.

  24. Arobinson says:

    ” From being a pastry chef I know that latinos are very good at doing their job when treated amiably and trained properly”

    Me: I am a minority myself, and there is something so distasteful about this comment. Would you use the same statement to describe “White Americans”(as you make mention of in later posts)? Second, I would like to submit that MOST people on the face of the earth are very good at doing their job WHEN treated with the appropriate professionalism, and given respect.

    We’re moving fast towards globalization and I think that carte blanche stereotypical assumptions about entire groups of people purely based upon their ethnicity, race, gender, national origin, etc. simply have no place in the workplace or anywhere else.


    ” In 18 years of working I have seen every time that Latinos and Asians will out perform whites/Americans if given the same opportunities to succeed. From a management perspective, they are happier with less and complain less, unless unequal treatment is insultingly obvious. Its the truth and I dont care how you slant it. ”


    I have to ask what is up with the constant use of “whites/Americans”? Joining words using the forward slash generally implies the two words being synonymous or “one and the same”. Are you implying that the Latinos & Asians that you come across are any less American? Are you stating that you work for INS and know the actual immigration status of every individual that you come in contact with that is not European in appearance? Perhaps you are implying that all of the European people that you come across must by physical phenotype alone be American? Those are some hefty implications!


    “…They are happier with less”

    Less than 150 years ago, the primary argument for maintaining slaves was that black people were simple minded, child-like folk who were suited to slavery and simply happier in that position. That is an extreme example but one that I think is pertinent to this situation because it illustrates how the “us” vs. “them mentality can be used to dehumanize a group of people and subvert their rights to equality. I would say that the new plantation is not a farm, but our modern day multi-national corporations. Your assertion that ALL Latinos and Asians are “happier with less” sounds like the platform upon which inequitable workplace practices are built.

    From a purely anecdotal standpoint, I live in a community that is at least 70% Asian. My neighbors are primarily Filipino, Chinese, and Korean. Some of them are first generation immigrants who are now AMERICAN citizens. Many came to be American citizens the usual way: by birth. The community is largely composed of condos and homes beginning in the $800k range and and I see many of my neighbors of all colors (including those who are Asian-American) pulling up to the grocery store in their BMWs, Mercedes Benz, and even a Bentley or two. I would hardly call that being, “happy with less”. I am sure that they are happy that their employers/companies do not subscribe to that same managerial style that reasons their ethnic background naturally makes them “… happier with less”.

    I will stop here. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I’ve been so busy that I don’t get on here as much. When I visit I’ve often found this board to be filled with incredible information both in the posts and in the comments. As such, I don’t think that cultural,ethnic, racial, gender, or any other type of stereotype no matter the positive or negative intent has any place here.

  25. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    To everyone except Rob:

    Isn’t it amazing what people will say when they know that they can’t be confronted in person? Short of tracking down Rob’s IP address and tracking it back to a physical location, he is immune and thus free from the constraints of civilized society; he can spew any racist rhetoric he wants, and never have to worry about anything other than people calling him bad names and attempting to shame him.

    It should go without saying that his mind is rigid; due to conformation bias, he is only going to see what he wants or expects to see. The only thing that can be done is to attempt to shame him and, failing that, block him.

  26. I’m really pleased with the careful quality of the discourse against racism here.

    One thing I try to do is reframe people’s observations. When someone strangled with anxiety about the racist road he’s heading down, however unwillingly, says “But it’s *true!* Minority X really are more likely to commit street crime than majority Y!” I ask, OK, but which group is more likely to commit insider trading? This reframes the discourse into one of opportunity rather than one of inherent villainy without denying verifiable data.

    I have no idea whether any of the observations Rob thinks he’s made are supported by verifiable data. However, it may be possible to reframe the horrible “happy with less” conclusion. By definition, an emigrant is a person who isn’t limited by learned helplessness. (Describing the Irish emigrants during the potato famine: ‘all they had was their get up and go, so they got up and went.’) Someone who stays in their place of birth might or might not be. Comparing immigrants to stay-at-homes isn’t comparing ethnicities so much as comparing the frequency of different strategies in the face of hardship.

    The racism is not necessarily in the observation. (Though confirmation bias means it often is.) The racism is in the conclusions.

  27. Kathleen says:

    I know Rob, have spoken with him by phone and he’s even a forum member. He knows I know who he is so on balance, try to re-frame his comments within the context that he presumes he is accountable for his words. Iow, if he were a racist and knew it (most racists don’t), he would have covered his tracks. I am guessing he thinks he is very progressive and open minded. Not saying I agree which is why I suggested he was culturally insensitive.

    All: Keep in mind that much of what has been said in response to his comments is probably all new to him (because his friends are other anglos) and he has no idea how offensive his opinions are. Hopefully this has been a learning opportunity for him.

  28. Matthew Pius says:

    Coming a bit late to this discussion, but some questions about costs and price points. Kathleen, you made a brief comparison at the end of the post to how one might reduce the costs from $56/pair to $30/pair – reducing the retail price from $300 to $125 (roughly). Now, I understand that custom trimmings will cost more per, and “premium” fabric can cost more per yard. But wouldn’t it take the same amount and skill level of labor to make a pair of “designer” jeans as it would to make a pair of utilitarian jeans?

    Now, I’m looking at and where jeans are being sold retail for $60-$90 and for $15-$25 respectively. So, on your generalities, that would mean that the contractors’ costs are in the range of $15-$22/pair for Gap and $4-$6/pair for Walmart. How is that possible? Is the cost of shipping things from off-shore contractors part of the nebulous “overhead” so it doesn’t offset lower direct labor costs? Are they buying really low-quality fabric, or can they buy in bulk to such a degree that they save that much on the purchase?

    Your “crap vs. quality” post seems to imply that it’s impossible to say that any item is or isn’t worth its price except relative to the specific circumstances of each individual consumer. However, seeing such hugely different price points for what is essentially the same item makes me, as a consumer, confused. I can’t see what’s so great about the “premium” jeans to justify their cost at $300, and I wonder what corners were cut to offer a pair at retail for $20. Or am I just stuck in my own perspective?

  29. Matthew,

    RE different price points for virtually the same item: I am willing to pay various premiums for not having to think. There is a store in Montreal that has clothes I know will fit me and be suitable for work. I rarely shop for work clothes anywhere else. I wait until their semi-annual 70% off sale, spend about 45 minutes trying things on, and walk out with one or two outfits. By waiting for sales I choose to pay a premium in reduced selection and pay the lower dollar amount. By restricting my shopping to this store I don’t have to spend more than 90 minutes a year shopping for business clothes. It’s possible I could get “virtually the same” items somewhere else for a lower price, or at the same price at other times of the year. I don’t know and I don’t care.

    I don’t shop at Wal-Mart because there aren’t enough things that I want there, and because I would need a car to get there and I don’t drive. I could maybe get a better deal on the things I do want, but I’d have to wade through the stuff I don’t and make decisions about it. So I pay a dollar premium to shop at stores that have a higher proportion of stuff I do want and that are geographically convenient to me. I pay more money but invest less effort, and I feel good about supporting small businesses in my neighbourhood.

    The stores I go to have higher overhead and slower turnover, so their prices are higher for that reason alone. I’m fine with that.

    My point is that value isn’t just in the item itself. If the Wal-Mart jeans were sold at the Gap, they would sell for more than they do at Wal-Mart because Gap’s overhead is higher. They would fit differently from the Gap lines. The Gap customer wouldn’t necessarily perceive any increased value in them even if they were cheaper, because the Gap customer is prepared to pay the usual Gap prices and wants the Gap fit and look.

    Someone who pays $25k for a nice dress is paying for exclusivity. If the identical dress were an affordable $250 they *wouldn’t want it.*

    Lots of things justify prices. The point is that the customer justifies it, not the manufacturer or the retailer. If something sells, then it represents value to someone.

    That’s why identifying your target customer is so important. This goes way beyond “fashion-conscious women between 25 and 45” which is usually what people think of when they are asked who their target customer is. What you really want to know is how does your customer shop; what they are looking for; who they are fitting in with; what premiums they are willing to pay and what their price points are; and how you can get in touch with them. Once you have a handle on that then you can start to provide value for them. It’s also a reason to start small, so that you can figure out who is buying what you are selling and why before expanding.

  30. Natasha E says:

    Granted the American Apparel factory is in a slightly sketchier part of town closer to skid row than some of the other factories in LA but still its no where near a sweatshop

    They have a tour on their website if you want to see their setup

    I’m not really going to get into the $13hr going a long way and the whole they are “happier” on less other than the fact that wages in all industries here in LA are lower overall from 4 years due to the high unemployment rate we have in LA county and surrounding counties. Most industries are effected from warehousing to nursing. Just know this. In LA it is very common for “ethnic” families to get 2-3 families together to buy a small house to share because they couldn’t afford to do it any other way. People sleeping on floors and such like. It’s a hardknock life.

    Oh btw I guess I’m a White/New Zealander. Does that make me better?

  31. MOF says:

    These markups are insane and outrageous. You should be looking at CONSTANT DOLLAR markups compared with foreign made jeans, NOT percentage! If a $30 pair of jeans cost $10 to make and get two 70% markups, to sell at $30, the more expensive jeans should EASILY be able to be sold at two 30% markups, or roughly $110-120.

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