The Los Angeles Area Fashion Industry. A summary of data collected on Friday the 11th of April 2014.
The data was collected from:
- CIT Commercial Services, one of the nations leading providers of factoring and financing to the apparel industry
- California Fashion Association a non profit providing information for business expansion and growth to the apparel and textile industry in California
- Sweat Shop Watch a coalition of over 30 labor, community, civil and immigrant rights, women’s and student organizations, and individuals, committed to eliminating the exploitation, which occurs in sweatshops; and factories in Southern California.
- The Garment Workers Center, whose mission is to empower garment workers in the Greater Los Angeles area and to work in solidarity with other low wage immigrant workers and disenfranchised communities in the struggle for social, economic and environmental justice.
Los Angeles is strong
in the Fashion, Apparel and Textiles Sector,
consider the following:
- 46 billion in apparel goods enters our ports annually.
- This global industry has clear reasons for sustaining a permanent place in this region, which boasts a well- paid employment base.
“Yes, the conditions are better here, but the notion that we still don’t have sweatshops in the United States is simply not true,” says Marissa Nuncio, director of the Garment Worker Center. “It’s important that people are aware of the conditions that exist like poor ventilation and terrible safety violations.” One common, and hazardous, violation is locking workers into the factory during operating hours.
Didn’t we learn our lesson from the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire in 1911?
- Given the enduring popularity of L.A.-based design, inspired by the sun and a vision of easy living, “L.A. Style” is constantly propagated by the national media’s obsession with Hollywood celebrities.
- L.A. brands and the constant influx of new designer names command a premium in the capital markets.
- Technology helps L.A.’s designers and manufacturers stay competitive, shortening product cycles and reducing costs.
- L.A.’s textile industry’s advantage is design: the ability to diversify product lines and take on vertical operations. These processes involve many layers of expertise, speed, and a willingness to try new things.
Working Conditions in Los Angeles have Improved
- May 2012, 3,770 independent fashion designers worked in Los Angeles, earning about 35 dollars an hour.
FITM – OTIS are listed as the best places to earn degrees in Fashion in Los Angeles: these schools cost well over 50,000 a year to attend. Students will graudate with 200,000 in student loans, one would have to work 6666 hours to pay off that educational debt.
- Wholesale apparel wages remain strong at $25 an hour, while basic manufacturing (cut-and-sew) apparel jobs offer $15 an hour, well above the California and federal minimum wages.
A problem for U.S. workers: Wage theft —a typical practice in an industry where workers often don’t speak English and may be in the country illegally. Wage theft occurs when employers violate minimum wage or overtime laws and keep those additional wages owed to employees. 90 percent of garment workers in Los Angeles do not receive overtime pay, even when they work more than 40 hours.
Unhealthy conditions persist because the laws on the books simply aren’t being enforced. California has some of the most progressive labor laws in the country, yet employers violate these laws all the time. Los Angeles has a handful of investigators to inspect the almost 4,000 factories, so for the employers, it’s a risk worth taking. If they get caught, the fine becomes a business cost.
The hurdles to overcome
- New, young designers seek to enter this business, and more and more specialized women’s clothing buyers arrive from other states and countries. There is an important need to refresh the LAX airport terminal and the downtown Fashion District.
The structure of the Los Angeles garment industry encourages a “race to the bottom” for wages and working conditions.
Money spent locally by better paid garment workers means reinvestment in the communities where they reside. Census data shows that garment workers are concentrated in the poorer areas of Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley. The influx of earnings and spending would bring needed economic stimulus to these communities.
- Our own export capabilities need to be enhanced, and cooperation between government and business is necessary to overcome barriers to exporting. One possibility is to create retail channels that focus on the “L.A.” brand.
Multinational companies are the major winners. Walmart, Nike, and Adidas freely import from countries all over the world for the lowest costs. Unrestrained quotas, has allowed the consolidation of manufacturing, contributing to the downward spiral of wages and working conditions.
- A hard look at how regulatory decisions are imposed on employers in the apparel and textile area is necessary. Reducing financial stress on small companies never falls out of fashion! Let us enhance entrepreneurial expansion—that’s the spirit of the West in a modern form!
Certain segments of apparel manufacturing are likely to remain in Los Angeles. Los Angels is a center of fashion design and marketing. Many industry officials speculate that local manufacturing will specialize in items requiring small production runs, rapid turnaround, or strict quality control. For example, the one occupation that is likely to stay is sample-making because it requires highly specialized skills. Unfortunately, these occupations constitute only a small fraction of the industry. The shops that do survive will encounter increasing downward pressure on wages, and the workers can expect conditions to deteriorate.
How to support the Industry
- Reforming immigration and work permit rules tops the list to expand the industry.
Many garment workers are immigrants and they should not be discriminated against based on this status, whether documented or undocumented, workers deserve justice, dignity, and liberty, including the full protections, rights, and responsibilities afforded by law to all members of the society.
- Costly hassles that emanate from a multi-tier regulatory structure are worth a second look. Water access for denim washing is critical. Reducing discouraging and complex regulatory snafus will mean less hassle and more excitement, which builds more industry.
The Levi’s plant outside El Paso, TX, uses 15% of the city’s water supply, to provide customers with cool looking distressed jeans.
How would Los Angeles in a draught year face this level of water use?
- Efforts to navigate red tape and successfully display and sell products in Asia could be worthwhile, since the paltry $50 million in apparel exports that left L.A.’s ports for China in 2012 is laughable.
American Apparel has opened stores in Asia, however this is not the solution. I believe it is essential to consume less, and to continue to develop markets for goods and services existing under fair conditions, we must as individuals and governments commit to sweat-free purchasing.