My last post outlined why it’s better to buy fabric than finished garments made outside of the United States. I also acknowledged that much of the well-loved, well-designed, well-blogged fabric we buy in our lovely sewing world was not made in America. But I thought it would be helpful to round out the issue by actually finding out where our fabric comes from. I contacted as many designers/companies as I could, including the following:
Free Spirit Fabrics
I have heard back from three companies thus far. First, I received the following from Michael Steiner at Michael Miller Fabrics:
Thank you for your inquiry. We print our fabrics primarily in South Korea
and Japan. As in the garment industry, different companies produce their
products in different countries.
Next, I heard from Diane Robertson at Westminster Fibers, who says:
Our fabric is made in Korea but I don’t know the process.
Finally, I heard from Barbara Shinn at Moda, who says:
Most of our fabric is printed in Korea & Japan. The woven fabrics are usually from India.
United Notions/Moda Fabrics
I have to admit, I was surprised when I heard back from three companies so quickly after I sent the email on Friday. It’s really nice to know that the people at Michael Miller, Westminster, and Moda took the time to answer an email from little old me. I’m hoping for more replies as the week rolls on, and I’ll post them here as I receive them.
Now, on to the important stuff — All three companies manufacture in Japan and Korea. Which begs the question; what are employment conditions like in those countries?
Japan has an extremely specific, detailed, comprehensive Labor Standards law that sets national standards to which employers must adhere. Among other things, It sets the legal working age at above fifteen, guarantees equal pay and opportunities for women, and lays the foundation for a minimum wage. You can read the entirety of Japan’s Labour Standards Law at the International Labour Organization website. One of the most striking parts of Japanese labor law is it’s relatively high minimum wage; Wikipedia says that “In Japan minimum wage depends on the industry and the region. The lowest minimum wage for a region (Miyazaki) is ¥4,712 (~US$47.34) per day, and the highest minimum wage for a region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka) is ¥5465 (~US$54.91) per day.” Even if a worker works ten hours a day, that’s aroiund $5 an hour. Not bad when you compare it to, say, China’s minimum wage, which I’ll touch on again in a bit.
Now let’s consider Korea. Korea also has very detailed and comprehensive labor laws which ensure reasonable work hours, paid leave, and a minimum working age of fifteen, among other things. You can read more, if you’d like, here. From what I could find out during a quick google search, according to The Korea Times, Korea has a minimum wage of around $3.80 per hour. Not great, but not terrible in the international world.
Contrast these two countries with, say, China. Feel free to browse China’s Labor Laws, which do demand a regional minimum wage, and which do allow for the formation of trade unions. The laws themselves however, are so vague as to be unenforceable. And that minimum wage the law requries? According to Wikipedia, “In February 2010, officials in Jiangsu province increased the minimum wage to 960 RMB (about US$140.62) per month, the same as Shanghai. China’s highest minimum wage is in Shenzhen (1000 RMB per month). Guangdong Province increased its minimum wage on 1 September 2006 and was split into five categories. The highest is ¥780 per month or ¥4.66 (~US$0.68) an hour (in Guangzhou city). The lowest is ¥450 per month or ¥2.69 (~US$0.39) an hour. In short, in China, if you make minimum wage, you might make no more than $0.39 per hour. A far cry from Japan’s $5 per hour or even Korea’s $3.80 per hour.
China, although it does have a number of labor laws which have the potential to make a difference in its working environments, does not enforce them enough or pay its workers anywhere near what Japan and Korea does. So although I wish they would manufacture items within the United States, you have to hand it to Michael Miller, Westminster, and Moda for producing their fabric in countries that do have a more consistent record of fair labor practices. Let’s hope the rest of the companies I listed above are making similar choices (or better). I’ll let you know what I find as more info comes in.