Well this is a strange article, how can my search for work combine with my hunt for quality, timeless, well constructed and ethically supplied clothing and accessories for my own personal wardrobe? Honestly, I had no idea that these paths would intersect but when in life you see an opportunity it is often prudent to investigate it, so that is exactly what I am doing. The opportunity in question came as I was looking through various retailers web stores on Sunday night just to see what their general range of offerings was like and basically trying to spot a gap in the market, and I believe that I found one. My idle musings on the internet on Sunday evening took me both through web stores and my more usual forum haunts, paying particular reference to the “What Are You Wearing Today” threads, as I like to see what brands and styles of wear currently hold general sway (more on that in a future article), and I notice that most people (myself included) list the brands which they are wearing underneath their picture, and it was in the lists that a subtle observation lead me to a potentially revolutionary thought.
This being the denim scene it is clear that most of us focus on our denim when it comes to purchasing, this is swiftly followed by shirts, boots and jackets as the main area of expenditure for your average denim head. Some of us them move onto leather accessories such as belts and wallets, some to watches, some to bags, some to jewellery and bracelets and the really fortunate amongst us can afford to take an interest in it all, so what is missing? Well, the thing which struck me from the list of brands is the repeated mention of the following brands and retailers, GAP, H&M, Uniqlo, American Apparel and Old Navy, and what is it that these people sell which makes it into the wardrobe of so many denim heads? Tee shirts, just basic, plain tee shirts.
For every denim head who can and does spend the best part of $100 on high end, mainly loop wheel constructed tee by their favourite denim brand there are 5 or even 10 who stick with the established high street basics. It seems that retailers in this industry are happily selling big ticket items but missing out on selling cheaper basics which might also fit in with their range. There have been many times when, as a customer, I have bought from a high end retailer and then immediately logged onto Uniqlo to buy a pack of plain tees or a plain hoodies for work and casual so there are potential sales slipping through the net for independent retailers and onto the high street which have potential to return decent numbers.
So that is the problem and here is the solution. As part of my FWA hunt I identified Japanese basics company United Athle as a source of really well made plain cotton tees, hoodies and sweatshirts all available at a more than reasonable price. United Athle are owned by CAB Clothing which is the parent Japanese brand making items such as flannels and chambray shirts and military reproduction/ work wear jackets in China and South East Asia but using Japanese quality control on site and their own patterns and detailing. The inevitable outcome of this is that they are producing clothes which are manufactured to Japanese quality and detail standards for far less money owing to more favourable labour costs, which raises a question of ethics and this is a question which I put to CAB Clothing. The companies who produce the CAB and therefore United Athle clothing are Japanese owned and operated, and the workers are paid a fair living wage for their country whilst working in clean and safe conditions.
It is important that we make the distinction between lower labour costs and sweatshop labour as they are not the same thing. Labour costs in places where living costs are not so high is cheaper for the basic reason that it costs less to live there, food, rent and utilities are all cheaper. It is a basic fact that these costs are much lower in China and other South Asian countries than they are in Japan and therefore cheaper living costs equals lower wages, which makes manufacturing in these countries very attractive compared to manufacturing in Japan. Sweatshop labour is where unscrupulous companies take advantage of lower labour costs, unregulated working conditions and a lack of a working time directive to pay a wage far below the living standard, to workers who do their job in often unsafe conditions, for shifts which can often be up to 18 hours long, the distinction is a case of ethics and basic human compassion. Happily, CAB Clothing have an ethical supply chain and manufacturing policy.
Mainly my questions were based around the FWA aspect of this blog, I wanted to know that if I were to pick out United Athle tee’s as an FWA for basic tees that I could be sure that I was not sponsoring exploitation of workers, but combining this information with the thought about independent retailers not catering for cheaper basics I was struck that one was the solution to the other, and now I come to the Get Paid part of things. It also occurs to me that as I am in contact with various retailers around Europe and the Continental United States that I might just be the man to help bring this brand to Europe and to help retailers claw back a little more from the High Street. This is the proposal which I sent to CAB Clothing, I am awaiting a response as to whether they like the idea as much as I do, as always I will keep you informed through Denim HQ.