Why made in China? 4 things you probably didn't know about the global fashion supply chain.
"Iam extremely disappointed that you manufacture your sweaters in China. I actively try to never buy anything made in China... Consider doing your manufacturing in the United States. Most people will pay more for a product made in our own country."
This was the gist of an email we received from a new Public Habit customer who had just discovered that we manufacture our slow fashion styles in China. This isn't the first time we've been asked, and it won't be the last. We get asked a lot about why we produce in China. That's why we wanted to share some important context in a myth-busting effort to highlight issues we care about.
Let's talk about the stigma first.
According to Bloomberg, a recent poll from May 2020 shows that 40% of Americans won’t buy Made-in-China products. This has only accelerated under the current US administration. A Pew poll taken in March 2020 showed 66% of U.S. adults held China in an unfavorable light—a record high in Pew surveys going back to 2005 and up almost 20 percentage points the current administration took office in January 2017.
There is actually a Facebook group called 'Boycott China and Products Made in China' with almost 30,000 followers.
So, why are so many things made in China?
Let's give you a quick crash course on textile and manufacturing in China just for context. Up until around 1940, businesses largely produced locally and sold locally. Since then, the prices of sea freight and air freights plunged, making shipping affordable and foreign goods more and more competitive.
And that isn't necessarily bad, either. Global trade is largely responsible for lifting the world out of poverty.
Before 1979, China was a poor, closed communist country. In December 1978, the government partially embraced the principles of capitalism, letting people own businesses, welcoming foreign investments, and starting trade with the outside world.
The Chinese government invested heavily in machinery and manufacturing infrastructure to support the growing global demand. If you’re like most people, the majority of your possessions were made in China (or were at least partially made there).
1. "China doesn't have the best record when it comes to human rights."
That's a fact. And while we aren't perfect in the U.S. either, China's human rights record is not the greatest and their persecution of millions of Muslims in Western Xinjiang is inhumane and inexcusable. At Public Habit, we don't condone these behaviors.
We also don't see China's political policy as representative of the 1.6 billion people living there. One thing that bothered me living in China is how sheltered and censored the public there is from the political dialogue. The average middle-class citizen or garment worker has absolutely no idea what the government is doing in Xinjiang because of censorship in the media controlling what the country hears.
Because of this lack of visibility into challenges to push for progress, we don't blame the fashion industry in China. Should garment workers and factory owners relying on global business for survival be punished for government actions beyond their scope or control? (We don't think so.)
At Public Habit we are proud of the facilities we partner with because we know them inside and out. We have done our due diligence to know that we are working with factories that do not employ any labor from the Xinjiang region nor source any materials from conflict regions. We know their working and management styles, including fair wages and treatment of their garment workers.
2. "Made-in-China means lower quality."
False. There is no evidence that Chinese products are lesser quality than US-made products. During the industrial era, the bulk of textile manufacturing moved overseas for cheaper labor for the same quality production. Over the years, China's production capabilities have become arguably the most sophisticated in the world, and FYI, they certainly aren't the cheapest!
Textile manufacturing is woven into the rich Chinese history and culture in a way that it just isn't in our Western cultures. One of the reasons we started building our factory partnerships in China was because our partners there have taught us so much about how we can make textile manufacturing more sustainable and less wasteful.
We are partnering with factories that have invested in the technology and hardware to move to on-demand production at scale. They understand the real impact and threat of climate change—pollution in industrial regions is impossible to avoid in China.
3. "Boycotting Chinese-made products will bring more manufacturing jobs back to the U.S."
False. In the past 15 years, the amount of textile manufacturing that has left China has increased dramatically. China is no longer the source of cheap labor that it once was. Now, Western brands and retailers are going beyond the region for cheaper labor alternatives to produce fast fashion garments that we buy for less than $10.
Countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and other parts of South East Asia are now the new hot spots for textile manufacturing where factory conditions and worker safety are under scrutiny. How can we buy a t-shirt for less than a can of soup and expect that the garment worker can feed their own family?
In reality, we pay a premium by sourcing materials and producing garments in China.
The quality and forward-looking innovation in our partnerships are worth the investment in our future, our fashion, and our planet.
It would be extremely difficult—I'll go so far as to say impossible—for the average American to boycott all Made-in-China products. 90% of all electronics products have parts made in Shenzhen, a city in the South of China neighboring Hong Kong. Apple, Samsung, Sony, Microsoft, and Canon all have factories there.
The U.S. does not have the capacity, the capability, or the demand to replace China as the manufacturing capital of the world.
One reason the trade war with China has had such a negative impact on American businesses is that now it is much more expensive for US companies to source parts, components, and raw materials from China. The only way to source them is to increase retail prices, something consumers definitely can't afford right now in the current recession.
4. "China started the COVID-19 pandemic and can't be trusted."
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. At Public Habit, we encourage you to ask for the data to make informed decisions.
Without making or defending broad, sweeping judgments like these. Our goal at Public Habit is always to learn and share. We want to create a space to empower our community to keep an open-minded dialogue that puts people (and planet) first.
Most importantly, when we evaluate factories anywhere in the globe, we are evaluating the people. Do they share the same values as we do when it comes to reversing climate change? Do they care about leaving a better world for their children? Do they believe in honesty, integrity, and hard work? On all counts, our partners in China are just like us.
ENJOY WHAT YOU JUST READ?
Subscribe to our blog Public Knowledge for informative and uplifting fashion and sustainability facts delivered straight into your inbox.
THE PUBLIC HABIT PHILOSOPHY
At Public Habit, we believe the key to a sustainably fashionable world is a world in which everything is made on demand. We make only what you want; not what we think you will want. Our approach eliminates waste and builds a longer-lasting wardrobe. The result? A happier and healthier population and planet.
One campaign that stood out to us was the 2016 #30wears campaign, started by Livia Firth (yes, that's Colin Firth's wife) with now over 84,000 posts on Instagram. The 30 wears...Read more
Throw-away masks and gloves are adding more plastic pollution. But, if there's anything we learned from Fashion Week, it's that masks aren't just stopping the spread of COVID-19, they're an...Read more
Why do we manufacture our slow fashion in China? We're glad you asked! In this blog our Co-founder, Sydney Badger, helps us navigate the facts, fiction, and some serious stigmas...Read more