Spotlight on “The Foundrie”

At a time when justice and human rights are at risk with free trade agreements, there is a growing need to support your local economy and fair production practices.

‘Buying local’ has become a nationwide trend, and with good reason. Communities are give and take, and if you are giving back to yours then you will get even more in return. By showing your community how important your local economy is, before you know it, community gardens and apparel and products made within your own neighborhoods could start appearing.

There are several places here in St. Louis that have local produce and apparel available. One in particular is “The Foundrie”.

The Foundrie was started up by two St. Louisians: Shelah McClymont and Elizabeth Hahn-Lawrence. Shelah receive her Degree in Fashion Merchandising and has her own jewelry line called ‘Destroyed by Design’. Elizabeth studied Design and Advertising at Southern Illinois University and has her own clothing and accessory line called ‘Just Liv’. They are now celebrating The Foundrie’s second anniversary in their current location at Chesterfield Mall. And, they have many reasons to celebrate!

When walking into their store, not only will you find apparel handmade here in St. Louis, but products that have been ‘upcycled’ or ‘revived’. Upcycling is an awesome way to make use out of unwanted clothes and products. Instead of buying apparel or home décor items, you can take what you already have and make into something new!

The store is divided up by designers, so you can take a look at their products as well as learn a little bit about them. You will find everything from jewelry to body butter to home décor. The Foundrie is also hosting some fun events in-store such as once-a-month B.O.Y.C (bring your own craft) nights where you can bring in a craft you are working on as well as your own drinks or food to share. The Foundrie also offers their own supplies to the guests if you are fresh out of ideas. It’s an interesting way to make crafty friends, take away new ideas and hang out in a really cool setting! Take a look at their website: http://www.thefoundrie.com and learn more about Shelah and Elizabeth, the work they are doing in their store and a description of the events they are hosting in-store. There is also a page on their website where you can find all of the designers they are currently featuring.

For an opportunity to meet the ladies of The Foundrie as well as participate in a community event, check out Swap-O-Rama-Rama at the Missouri History Museum tomorrow from 12:00-4:00pm. Swap-O-Rama-Rama is a national event hosted by Creative Commons, a non-profit agency. The idea is to bring a bag of your own fabrics or apparel items and learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle them. There is also a community table where you can swap out your clothing for other items and create something with them. You can take the items you want to keep home or to the sewing rooms that will be set up where volunteers will help you create and alter your materials! Visit http://www.mohistory.org/node/8187 for more information.

Posted by Kara Sheehan

Congratulations to St. Louis County for joining the SweatFree Initiative!

On March 12, 2013 the St. Louis County Council passed a Sweatshop-Free Purchasing Ordinance.  The Ordinance sets forth standards for vendors to ensure that the county’s uniforms are not being made under sweatshop practices.

In just under three years, St. Louis County, University City and the City of St. Louis have become SweatFree Communities.  University City and the City of St. Louis have enacted Sweatshop-Free Resolutions similar to that of the County’s Ordinance.  We are now reaching out and organizing with other municipalities to adopt their own Sweatfree Resolution or Ordinance in hopes that they will become SweatFree Communities as well.

As our work is continuing, I think about how significant this is for the United States right now.  We are at a moment where we can really make a shift, either towards just labor practices and more domestic job opportunities through putting an end to sweatshops or towards exploitation and cheap labor through free trade agreements and offshore manufacturing.  I have found myself checking the news articles that have been posted regarding the County’s passing of the Sweatfree Ordinance to see if there is any positive feedback or just any St. Louis citizen who also feels how critical this movement is.  But, alas, this has yet to happen.  Unfortunately, the one comment I have found states that a Sweatshop-free Ordinance is a stupid law proposal.  I feel the need now to relay why SweatFree Communities are not in fact stupid, but absolutely necessary if we ever want to change the norm of cheap products and human rights abuses.

Just over a century ago in 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City burned to the ground killing 146 people.  After this occurred, there was a call for support for stronger worker protection from workplace health and safety to workers’ rights to organize.  But, 100 years later on November 25, 2012 the Tazreen Fashion garment factory in Bangladesh suffered from a devastating fire that killed over 100 people and injured many more.  It appears that workers safety and health has not improved as the amount of deaths at the Tazreen Factory was due to the lack of fire escapes and inadequate safety precautions.  This has severely affected families and communities who lost their loved ones, and it will continue to occur as Bangladesh is the second-largest garment manufacturer in the world with hundreds of other factories with safety hazards like that of the Tazreen.

Many large US retailers were receiving their garments from the Tazreen factory, including Wal Mart, Sears and Sean PDiddy Combs’ line, who stated that they didn’t know their clothes were being made in conditions like this.

Other retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, Macy’s and Guess? have been tied to sweatshops similar to the Tazreen factory.  Whether they actually know about the conditions inside these factories is uncertain.  What is certain is that companies like these retailers look for places with the lowest prices to purchase their garments, and these factories are able to have such low prices because they pay their workers less and they are usually in areas with little to no human rights protections.  And these companies are able to get away with this because the US Labor Department only requires internal monitoring.

But, it is not enough to push for US made products for not too long ago sweatshops were exposed in Los Angeles and New York as well.  In fact, some studies have shown that over 60% of factories in LA and New York are sweatshops (www.dosomething.org).  Whether these sweatshops are in the United States or outside, large US retailers are directly supporting these horrible labor practices by purchasing their products from them.

So, there’s the reality of the manufacturing world.  Factories can’t compete unless they offer the cheapest of the cheap when it comes to products, and guess what the first thing is to go to lower costs?  Workers’ protection, whether those protections include safety precautions or things like a living wage, production comes first.   This is the norm, and it needs to change, and to do that we need to start with local governments and urge them to join the SweatFree Community Initiative.

Government is a force, a force they can use responsibly by promoting fair treatment and protection of our workers.  If they chose to become a SweatFree Community, they will assist sweatshop workers globally in their struggles to improve working conditions and form strong, independent unions.

By becoming a SweatFree Community, local municipalities will sign onto a SweatFree Resolution or Ordinance that will call for them to look into their buying policies for its uniforms.   The Comprehensive Sweatshop Free Program set by this Resolution or Ordinance requires vendors to report where they receive their uniforms from and what the workplace conditions, labor practices and production processes are like.  The SweatFree Resolution or Ordinance pursues policies that follow a ‘sweat-free’ standard. Practices that do not meet the standards of being “sweat-free” include: defying minimum wage and overtime laws of the state, supporting child labor, giving industrial homework, safety and health hazards and abusing worker’s compensation laws.  Nine states, 43 cities, 15 counties and 118 school districts have sweat-free procurement policies and resolutions adopted in the U.S.

The overall goal is goal is to change the rules of competition to favor not businesses that produce the cheapest possible goods at the expense of workers, but those that offer good value while operating transparently, providing humane working conditions, and valuing workers’ human and labor rights.  I believe that if large forces such as our government enforce these sweat-free practices it will start the trend for all textile manufacturers to use responsibility when creating jobs, promoting decent working conditions, leveling the playing field, and improving transparency and accountability.  It is not to close down factories, but make it possible for them to operate under fair practices.

After all of that rambling, hopefully you can see why this movement is important to me, even if you do not agree with it.  But, if you would like to promote fair and just practices, reach out to your local governments and tell them you want to become a Sweatfree Community J

Contributed by Kara Sheehan

A ‘SweatFree’ Future

It has become a habit of mine to take a peak at the tags before I purchase any clothing item.  It seems that nine times out of ten when I look at the label it reads:  “Made in China”, or recently, “Made in Bangladesh”, as these two countries have become the top clothing manufacturers in the world.  But, that isn’t the only thing they hold in common.  As well as the top manufacturers, they both have less human rights protections for their workers and citizens. Coincidence? Not at all.  In fact, their lack of protections is how they have been able to hold the title of mega-world-clothing-manufacturers.

Bangladesh and China are able to compete so well in the apparel industry because they can offer the cheapest of the cheap when it comes to their products.  These clothing factories are able to produce more-than-affordable apparel items because they slash their costs by lowering their employees wages and cutting corners when it comes to factory safety.  In other words, these factories are running on sweatshop practices where their workers are subject to extreme exploitation. These sweatshop laborers usually work 60-80 hours per week and are not paid enough money to put food on the table and care for their families. Often, the sweatshop environment they are forced to work in is unsafe.  They are harassed, they work overtime without compensation, and are made to work in dangerous and unhealthy environments.

So, these workers produce a cheaply made product, which is then sold to retailers here in the United States, and then we purchase these items at ridiculously inflated prices.  And then the cycle continues, keeping these factories open and allowing sweatshops to become the norm.  Sweatshops are not a thing of the past.  They are a trend today and will continue unless it is made possible for these factories to run in an ethical manner.  Let’s not allow sweatshops to be the norm. Let’s push for improved workers rights and better-quality products.

Easier said then done?  I think not.  Think before you buy.  Look for ‘fair trade labels’ or search around for stores that boast about their ethically made products.  Do a little investigating and check into production practices of your favorite clothing stores.  Sweatshops are being exposed and the information is out there.  A simple google search could surprise you.  Some searches may return positive news stories, and some may show you an ugly truth.  Either way, it’s time to start thinking before you buy.

If you’re like me and you have an inner-activist in you waiting to get out, then ‘thinking before you buy’ won’t be enough.  It’s surprising how few people know how their products are being produced.  Education is another step we can take to help end sweatshop labor.  Get the word out there.  Write a letter to your local government telling them how important this is to you.  Government is a force, and that force can be used to put an end to labor injustices.  Along with that, you can build a ‘SweatFree’ community in your town.  We are doing this right here in St. Louis and we hope the trend spreads.

SweatFree Communities, a campaign of the International Labor Rights Forum, assists sweatshop workers globally in their struggles to improve working conditions and form strong, independent unions.  If your local government decides to become a SweatFree Community they will sign onto a Resolution or create an ordinance that will require them to look into buying practices of their own uniforms and apparel.  SweatFree Communities have become a national trend, and their website is filled with useful information to assist you and your town.  Even if you are not interested in helping your community become SweatFree, take a gander at their website.  It provides information on ethical clothing producers and up-to-date news releases on sweatshops around the world (you may be surprised to see some are right here in the United States).

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Contributed by Kara Sheehan, affiliate of the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America