Karen Stewart, co-founder and designer of Stewart + Brown
To answer bluntly, yes, China does get an unfair rap due to various health, human-rights, and environmental issues that have surfaced over the years, along with recent anti-fast-fashion sentiment. This is also a question we asked ourselves before Stewart + Brown, which is produced mostly in the United States, embarked on working with Chinese production facilities for some of our knits. Through our research, as well as personal experience, we discovered that with the bad also comes the good.
The best advice we can give regarding the ethics of buying clothing manufactured in China is for customers to do some due diligence on what goes on behind the “Made in China” label on their would-be purchase. Every company operates differently.
Every company is different, so you need to do find out what goes on behind each “Made in China” label.
At Stewart + Brown, we value our Chinese vendors for their centuries-old wisdom, expertise, and pride in craftsmanship. We’ve visited and continue to check in with the factories we work with in China on a regular basis. Our partners are family-run businesses that follow very stringent regulations and labor practices, while maintaining the cleanest working conditions.
Minimizing our impact on the environment and treating people with dignity are two of our brand’s precepts. Our factories in China operate according to fair-trade guidelines, just like the ones we work with in the United States and Mongolia. This means that all factories are required to:
- Create a safe, non-hazardous, and productive environment for all workers, including access to first aid and the eschewal of toxic carcinogens.
- Treat labor in a fair way, which includes providing clean working environments, restrooms, regular breaks, fair and regulated wages, and overtime pay. And absolutely no underage labor.
- Adhere to environmental regulations including treating and purifying all waste water, recycling raw materials when possible, and no illegal waste dumping.
One of our factories in China is the very same one that Patagonia uses for its production. Patagonia probably has one of the most stringent environmental and fair-labor rules in the entire apparel industry.
For good or for ill, there is no one-size-fits-all box for made-in-China manufacturing.
Another interesting piece of info is that this facility is actually one of China’s first-ever “green” factories. The owner, who is also a personal friend, worked with the Chinese government to establish a new protocol for eco-friendly apparel-factory conditions. This particular factory, not only adheres to CSCC standards, but it also uses solar power, as well.
In short, for good or for ill, there is no one-size-fits-all box for made-in-China manufacturing. It’s up to us to be educated consumers, to make mindful purchases, and to support companies that are operating in an ethical and conscious manner, no matter where that may be.