Changing the Garment Industry

Erb Institute

Patagonia’s work as a founder of the Fair Labor Association is well-known. If Patagonia struggles to find products not made by ‪#‎humantrafficking‬ is there hope for other companies? ‪#‎UNSDG‬

Maybe for entrepreneurs and people here who are willing to make it with integrity for valuing the laborers, or by simultaneously transforming the way businesses and the markets are structured, operated, and owned (i.e. worker-owned, etc.) you’ll find a more straightforward path. Otherwise, no. The solution has yet to exist on a large, especially international scale and Patagonia’s one of the best to speak out on it.

We’re stuck with what exists in the market and all of the systemic tendencies that make exploiting workers so pervasive–even here in the U.S.

The naive hope is that dramatic private-sector/NGO led surges will make headway (e.g. Sustainable Apparel Coalition, FLA, etc.), or we hope for policy solutions to instigate and sustained change to happen. On a superficial level, the political climate and how people tend to interpret the constitution probably would favor the private sector “market based” approach.

But that doesn’t guarantee timely transition and doesn’t solve the problem. I suspect it will need a coordinated mix of both, on an international level just as the Atlantic article [1]  points out.

My grandmother worked in LA Sweatshops at 8 cents per piece in the late 80s-90s. The wages and systems for employment and compensation haven’t changed much [2].

I’ve worked on some global transparency and supply chain education initiatives concerning the apparel industry–we had trouble reaching some of Patagonia’s suppliers or getting access to their sites even with Patagonia’s blessings. It’s just as confounding and complex as the Atlantic article points out even when taking a superficial peek into what’s happening.

What I think the article misses is that we have an opportunity, even a need, for the public to understand what’s happening and how we can educate around the industry about ethical sourcing even with young people who are still in k-12/primary school. That said, there’s plenty of work to do.





The Erb Institute sent a reply as you’ll see (and also reposted the refinery article I shared with them and publicly thanked me!)–changing the garment industry and its supply chains is a major topic for them this year, so keep an eye out for new perspectives there.

Featured image note:


This was the closest thing that evokes a connection to garments. Obviously, I was running a race and earned a t-shirt for my efforts. In this case the shirt probably came from the Dominican Republic if I recall correctly. Friends of the Rouge is a beloved watershed education and stewardship organization.

Also: I refrained from mentioning it in the post above, but I’m getting very nostalgic about work I did on curriculum design & review for the Ride to Learn Central Asia unit with some amazing people who traveled the world exploring supply chains and met the people who make our clothes, shoes, and bikes. You can get a glimpse of their adventures here:

The experience and one of the educational units (on shoes) here:

Organic Cotton Production footage in Senegal:

And for anyone who just wants to live vicariously with their Morocco travels:

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