So, Where DOES Our Fabric Come From???

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:

Alexander Henry
Andover Fabrics
Amy Butler
Elizabeth’s Studio
Free Spirit Fabrics
Henry Glass
Hoffman Fabrics
Kaffe Fassett
Robert Kaufman
Marcus Fabrics
Maywood Studio
Michael Miller
Moda Northcott
P&B Textiles
Timeless Treasures
Westminster 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.

Michael Steiner

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.

Thank you.

Barbara Shinn
Customer Service
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.


21 Responses to “So, Where DOES Our Fabric Come From???”

  1. 1 Wendy in Montana June 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Thank you so much for your research and for providing additional links to follow up on our own. I, too, after reading your post re: clothing made outside of US wondered about our fabric. Really appreciate the leg work you’ve done and are doing. I’ll stay posted 🙂

  2. 2 Matthew June 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I noticed that a lot of the highest-tech weaving machines, at least those featured on Youtube, were from Japan. I wonder if their technological superiority in fabric manufacturing explains why the companies might manufacture there.

    Also, I think you mentioned this in your last post, but the fact that the process is so automated and so modern suggests that the kind of abuses that might be common in the garment industry would be less common in fabric production.

  3. 3 kimberly shaw June 11, 2010 at 1:08 am

    This is really fascinating, I appreciate you sharing your research with us. John Linam of Fabri-Quilt told me they “print their fabrics in Asia because the laws in the USA are too strict.”

  4. 4 Heather August 30, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Thank you very much for this post. I currently live in South Korea and it is truly a fabric heaven. I know I’ll never be able to buy fabric this cheaply ever again! My sewing friends and I would like to try to tour some of the factories but so far have been unable to come up with locations and information.

    • 5 Kelly November 30, 2010 at 9:47 pm

      Heather- I too am living in SOuth Korea, just wondering if you know where exactly, in Seoul, I can get Robert Kaufman cat in the hat fabric from their latest collection “Celebrate Seuss”?

  5. 6 Tina Bridges June 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Fabric made in Korea, Japan and or China: Does this effect the quality of the fabric. I just finished making a quilt with some Moda I bought last year. Label says “made in Korea”, but it seemed like the fabric was much lighter and it frayed much easier than previously used Moda. What do you think?

  6. 7 niekemieke July 31, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Dit is op Love – Teach – Sew herblogden reageerde:
    I’ve been wondering about cheap fabrics for a while now. Part of the reason why I took my seamless pledge was the fact that I didn’t want to buy anymore cheap clothing possibly made by children. But ever since I’ve been wondering whether buying cheap fabrics isn’t exactly the same. How come these fabrics are so cheap and who makes them. I admit, I love finding cheap fabrics but my conscience keeps nagging me. That’s why I’m sharing this blogpost about where our fabric comes from. If you have any thoughts or opinions, please share. I would love to know more!

  7. 8 sewexhausted July 31, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    I appreciate that someone is putting in the effort to find answers to that question! I took the seamless pledge in January and have wondered the same thing. Thank you! ~Laurie

  8. 9 Shannon January 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    I know this is an old post, but wondered if you ever heard back from Kaufman Fabrics? I’m trying to find out where their fabric comes from. Thank for letting me know and thanks for sharing this valuable information!

  9. 10 saldo paypal kaskus August 22, 2014 at 1:04 am

    It’s an remarkable article in favor of all the online people; they will obtain advantage from it I am sure.

  10. 11 November 14, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks , I have just been looking for info about this
    topic for ages and yours is the greatest I have discovered till
    now. But, what about the bottom line? Are you
    positive about the supply?

  11. 12 Karen Gallman December 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    So did anyone ever get an answer on where Robert Kaufman fabrics are actually made? Where is the fabric mill located that makes RK fabrics?

  12. 13 web design software adobe October 2, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    It is likely to be bad for the designer who previously designed that
    website, but it surely’s good for everybody else.

  13. 14 Debbie December 27, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Is it then reasonable in thinking that Made in USA clothing is not necessarily fabric created in USA.

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