Power as a Consumer

In today’s world we vote with our dollars so make sure you are spending wisely!

There are many great, fashion-forward companies that are eco-friendly and do GOOD for society rather than bad. Many are local start-ups that need support!

By buying from such companies, you can help them stay in existence. By blogging, tweeting, facebooking, etc etc and sharing the positive experiences you have with such companies, you can make a huge difference!

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Sweat-Free Shopping Guide

As I’ve stated earlier, it is difficult to tell if a company uses sweatshops or not.

So for my last post, I want to leave you all with a guide guaranteed shopping sweat-free.

The Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit organization that helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice, has a great guide to ethical shopping that I highly recommend. Fair Indigo and Fair World Gallery are also great sources of sweat-free clothing line information.

According to the Center for a New American Dream, the follow clothing lines are completely sweat-free and environmentally-friendly:

Autonomie Project: Sweatshop free, eco-friendly sneakers, tees, and accessories. All AP products are certified Fair Trade and are made with organic cotton and natural rubber.

Good Humans: Sweatshop-free and organic clothing

The Green Loop: Organic and fair trade eco-fashion and personal care products. Sweatshop free, organic cotton clothing. Fair trade, organic, artisanal clothing.

Hae Now: Sweatshop-free, organic clothing.

Justice Clothing Company: Union-made and sweatshop-free apparel.

Lotus Organics: Sweatshop free, organic and natural fiber clothing.

NatureWear Organics: Organic and sweatshop-free clothing

No Sweat Apparel: 100% sweatshop free clothing. Sweatshop free clothing for all occasions, jeans, sneakers and accessories. Wide selection of organics. Organic clothing for all. Wear it for as long as you’d like and recycle it back in any condition for credits. Sweatshop free and organic cotton environmentally friendly screen printing for t-shirts. Organic, fair trade positive message t-shirts and hoodies.

See below or click here for a video about the importance of sweat-free apparel:

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Made in L.A.

Made in L.A. is an Emmy award-winning feature film that follows the story of three Latina immigrants working in a LA-based sweatshop that manufactures Forever 21 clothing. The film documents the three-year legal battle that I discussed earlier in this blog. It follows the public protests and struggles of these three women to gain support for their cause and be given the rights that they are entitled to.

According to the filmmakers, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity, and the courage it takes to find your voice:

Lupe Hernandez, a five-foot tall dynamo who learned survival skills at an early age, has been working in Los Angeles garment factories for over 15 years since she left Mexico City at age 17. Maura Colorado left her three children in the care of relatives in El Salvador while she sought work in L.A. to support them. She found that the low-paid work came with a high price – wretched conditions in the factories and an “undocumented” status that deprived her of seeing her children for over eighteen years. María Pineda came to Southern California from Mexico in hopes of a better life at 18, with an equally young husband. Twenty three years later, substandard working conditions, a meager salary and domestic abuse have left her struggling for her children’s future and for her own human dignity.

The trailer:

About the filming of the documentary:

The workers’ struggle for basic economic justice and personal dignity yields hope and growth, but is also full of disappointments and dangers. Lupe reflects on her journey:

The more I learn, the lonelier I feel. Ignorance somehow protects you. But then I say, I’ve come this far, and nothing can take that away from me.

An interview with the filmmakers:

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A Landmark Lawsuit

Trovata, a designer clothing brand based in Newport Beach, was the first to take Forever 21 into the courtroom for “copying” their designs. After a two-year out-of-court legal battle, the case was heard in the U.S. District Court right here in our neighborhood, in Santa Ana.

Below are designs from the Forever 21 and Trovata case. The top row is Forever 21’s and the bottom row is Trovata’s.

The case involved seven garments Forever 21 sold in its stores in 2007, claimed by Trovota to look identical to the designs it featured on the runway and in magazines. Although U.S. copyright laws do not protect a garment’s basic design, legislation is pending in Congress — supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America — to expand copyright laws to the “the appearance as a whole of an article of apparel, including its ornamentation.” The Design Piracy Prohibition Act, introduced on March 30, 2006 by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, is still stuck in committee. Critics believe that if passed, the bill would stifle competition and commerce in the apparel industry.

The Trovata case had the potential to clarify intellectual property rights regarding fashion design and the piracy of existing apparel. You see, unlike the prior cases against Forever 21, Trovata wasn’t suing for copyright infringement. Trovata was suing for the similar use of ornamentation: the distinct button patterns, decorative stitching and similar patterns. If Trovata had won the case, the ruling would have had the same effect on the industry as the Design Piracy Prohibition Act.

In court, Forever 21’s lawyer defended this claim:

“Trovata is claiming that certain button patterns and stripes on a sweater would cause consumers to associate the garments with its brand, but there is no evidence to suggest that consumers would be confused,” said Bruce Brunda, an attorney for Forever 21. “Forever 21’s products are only sold in Forever 21 stores and are labeled with Forever 21’s brand. The design features on the Trovata designs are rather generic and are not protected by copyrights.”

The juror, Stephen Sharp, that stopped Trovata from winning said design elements in Trovata garments weren’t widely known and, therefore, any similar merchandise in Forever 21 stores didn’t confuse the public about the brand.

According to Women’s Wear Daily, the leading fashion newspaper, Jin Sook Chang, Don Won Chang’s wife, who has lived in the U.S. almost 25 years, said she spoke little English and used a Korean interpreter during the trial. Chang stated she didn’t know Forever 21 had profits exceeding $1.7 billion, that she didn’t know the top executives of the company, and that she hadn’t heard of Trovata until the lawsuit.

Despite the mistrial, Trovata is continuing allegations against Forever 21.

If Trovata is to win, then Forever 21 (and other companies using the fast-production business model) would be greatly limited in their ability to copy designs fresh off the runway. The implications of this would be a longer turnover rate, which would decrease the high pressure level placed on the factories to produce high quantities at fast rates, which would decrease the likelihood of sweatshop use.

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Spotlight on Cases

In April of 2007, designer Anna Sui sued Forever 21. According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Southern New York:

“It was brought to the attention of Sui that Defendants [Forever 21] were selling and offering for sale in their stores numerous women’s clothing items bearing a striking similarity to the Sui Products features at the most recent New York Fashion Week shows. Indeed, much of the collection displayed by Sui at the shows had itself not yet been finally manufactured and Sui’s own distribution of some of its newest Sui products not yet released.”

Sui’s designs are on the right, and Forever 21’s are on the left. I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not you think Forever 21 copied Sui.


In addition to filing the lawsuit, Sui designed a shirt in the style of the “wild wild west” wanted photos with a quote from Exodus, referencing Forever 21’s usage of “John 3:16″ on every one of their yellow shopping bags.

In order to truly appreciate the fast-production business model that Forever 21 follows, it is necessary to see some more of the designs that Forever 21 “took inspiration from.”

Foley + Corinna launched this look (right) in 2007 and found Forever 21’s version (left) in stores within two weeks.

Also in 2007, Gwen Stefani filed suit against Forever 21 for allegedly copying her Harajuku Lovers line. The originals are on the left, Forever 21’s are on the right.

There are countless more cases I could cite and examples I could show, but I don’t want to stray too far from the main topic at hand. As I stated in my prior post, Forever 21’s business model revolves around putting their own spin on designs they spot on the runway and getting those designs into stores as soon as possible, often before the originals are out. As long as Forever 21 continues to use this copyright-infringing method, factories will be pressured to maximize output at a fast rate and sweatshop conditions will continue to arise.

After a company has been cited for sweatshop use, they take every precaution possible to not be indicted again, even if their practices haven’t changed. Unfortunately, Forever 21 has become very resistant to releasing the sites of their factories which makes it difficult to investigate charges of unfair labor practices. However, Forever 21 continues to use the fast-production business model, so it is safe to assume that the garment workers are still feeling immense pressure to produce. In my opinion, once a sweatshop, always a sweatshop.

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Copyright Infringement leads to Sweatshop Conditions

In the past five years, Forever 21 faced over 150 lawsuits dealing with copyright or trademark infringement issues. Diane Von Furstenburg, Bebe, Marc Jacobs, Anthropoligie and Gwen Stefani are among the many clothing lines that have filed copyright or trademark infringement lawsuits against Forever 21. For more information about each of the cases, please follow the links.

Copyright/trademark infringement violations and the fast-chain production model of stores like Forever 21 are causing a decrease in creativity and quality, are causing renowned designer labels to declare bankruptcy and due to the high production and turnover rate, the fast-chain model is causing a rise in sweatshops.

Basically, what Forever 21 does is spot emerging trends on the major runways and manufacture their own versions of the trends. Sometimes, Forever 21’s designs are too spot-on for comfort and could be called copies. When this occurs, it is considered copyright or trademark infringement.

Copyright infringement has many negative repercussions, the most obvious and immediate of which being that designer lines suffer. More and more of the renowned lines are declaring bankruptcy. Those that are still in business are no longer creating amazing, creative pieces, but have reverted to showcasing and producing ready-to-wear garments that are more street-style than fashion-forward (something I witnessed firsthand when working as a fashion writer in New York Spring 2009 fashion week). Cheap reproductions found in the fast-production chain stores such as Forever 21 are causing a decline in the creativity of the industry.

This is bad, however, on top of that, the high demand and fast turnover rate places increased pressure on the factories that actually manufacture the clothes to meet higher-than-normal demands at a faster-than-normal rate. To meet these demands and deadlines, factories often pay their workers by “piece rate,” force them to work unpaid overtime, or force them to take unfinished work home with them, all of which are sweatshop conditions.

Forever 21 has the highest turnover rate in the industry. Most stores receive new shipments of fresh designs about once every month. Forever 21 re-stocks its shelves and clothes racks with new designs every two weeks. This is one of Forever 21’s main selling points: they stay on the curve of the changing Fashion trends.

Imagine: two weeks to design, manufacture and ship a full line of new designs to hundreds of stores nationwide. What kind of working conditions do you think this creates?

In Forever 21’s sweatshop case, this created mandatory unpaid overtime and also forced workers to take work home with them.

So you see, everything is related. Forever 21’s business model is based on “re-making” the designer trends, often with Forever 21’s knockoff versions hitting stores before the originals. This high turnover rate increases the pressure on the factories, which in turn increase the pressure on the garment workers and often impose sweatshop conditions to fulfill demand.

That cheap price tag really has more to it. Forever 21 is able to do this at the expense of the designers it copies and the garment workers who are forced to work unpaid overtime to meet the demands.

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An Interview with a Forever 21 Manager

I’ve never “crossed the picket line” or worked for a company that has been protested before. I’ve always been curious as to what it would be like work for a company that has been protested or under other public scrutiny. Also, I thought it would add an interesting dimension to my blog to include an interview with a manager of one of the stores that was picketed in front of.

After a week’s worth of wrong names, non-working phone numbers and rude hang-ups, I finally reached a manager at one of the Forever 21 stores that was picketed in the South Central Farm scandal in March of 2009.

I spoke to the manager (under pretense of being an important social media magazine reporter who had prior permission from Forever 21’s PR department to interview store managers) under terms of confidentiality and cannot reveal the name or exact location of the store.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone who was employed at Forever 21 during the protests, however, the manager I interviewed was hired as a sales representative directly after the protests ceased at that location.

The interview:

What was it like working for a company that was being protested?

“At the time I got hired, I really needed a job. Although I understood the issue and what was going on, I needed work and Forever 21 needed employees. To me, the situation was that simple equation, with no external factors on the side.”

What was the general feeling or atmosphere of the store and your co-workers for the duration of the protest?

“Well, the reason I was hired was because some of the sales representatives quit due to the protests. They were mostly college students who needed a part-time job and didn’t know anything about what was going on until the picket lines appeared. The manager who hired me even mentioned that they saw one of the former employees on the picket line after they quit.”

How did you rise from being a floor employee to being a manager?

“As anyone else, though hard work.”

So you’re saying you were rewarded for your hard work.

“Yes.”

You said that you are familiar with the South Central Farm scandal since you were hired when it was prevalent. However, are you aware that Forever 21 has a history of sweatshop use?

“I’ve heard some rumors.”

The rumors are more like facts. From 2001-2004 Forever 21 faced charges for failing to pay minimum wage and unpaid overtime, among other things. Does it surprise you that a company that rewarded you for your hard work failed to reward those on the bottom of the ladder for theirs ?

“Yes, it does surprise me. Forever 21 has kept up with the standard wages for sales representatives and managers. Everyone, including me, loves working here. We have fun on the job and like the company.”

“Thank you for your time.”

And then the line went dead.

I think he may have caught on to the fact that I didn’t have prior permission from Forever 21’s PR department to be calling with questions 😉

In addition to the interview, I went out to Forever 21 stores in the area and conducted very short, typically one or two-question interviews with Forever 21 floor employees. Out of the fifteen people I spoke with, 100 % of the employees that I spoke with had no idea that Forever 21 had ever had any problems with sweatshop use or copyright infringement and only one of them had heard about the South Central Farm scandal.

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