Monday, March 03, 2014

A Good Deal?

             Everyone loves a bargain, and we students are certainly no exception. However, this spring when you set out in search of the perfect crop top or printed leggings at Forever 21, I urge you to be mindful of the true cost of buying low-priced clothing and accessories. Most of the clothing worn in North America is made by underpaid workers in China. This shouldn't come as a surprise, but it begs the question: are we taking advantage of these poor Chinese workers? Or are we simply supporting their developing economy?

            Well, picture yourself as a young woman under the age of 25 (maybe you already are). Now, imagine you’re living in near Hong Kong, China. You are extremely eager to earn money right now as these are your few “freedom” years before marriage. You come across a job that offers low taxes and low rent. This sounds great to anyone, and in fact this is why the garment industry’s labour force increased from 30, 000 to 4.3 million within the past two decades.

            But what’s the catch? These young female workers in China often slave away for twelve hours a day, being paid on a piece-rate basis. This means that rather than being paid by the hour, like here in Canada, workers must produce a certain amount each day to reach their desired wages. This is especially trying when in some situations each garment they produce earns 12 cents. Some added perspective: it would take about 67 jeans an hour to earn $8 minimum wage. This is why companies can afford to sell such cheap clothes; and why we have the luxury of building almost disposable wardrobes. But according to labor expert Robert Ross of Clark University, "nobody in the world is making a living if a retailer is selling $10 jeans."

            In addition, cheap clothing retailers such as Forever 21 have been linked to child labour and “prison” labour charges. While most young women in North America are in high school or college, these young women in China are doing strenuous physical labour under strict management. Only to go home each day to their tiny, overcrowded, unventilated dormitories which are strictly managed by the employers.

            To make matters worse, management takes advantage of the workers who don’t know their rights. Some employees work overtime hours without proper overtime pay. Canadian international buyers aren’t any help, as they don’t apply the same codes of conduct to worker conditions there as they would for employees here.

            If these women (and girls) were paid better they wouldn’t have to work such long hours. They would be able to afford better housing and could spend more time with their families, doing the things they want to do in these precious few youthful years.

            Inadequate working conditions aside, the trade deficit between the U.S. and China is currently over $230 billion per year. It would make more sense for us to buy from developed nations like countries in Europe or Asia who actually buy North American products (cars, etc.) This way our dollars will return to us. Another resolution is for Chinese leaders to create more ways to have citizens spend more of their incomes and save less. This will help grow their domestic demand and have the country rely less on exports.

            Buying overseas can also have a small negative impact on our economy. With more products being made overseas, we lose the ability to make them in North America. Trade through globalization is good, but we should retain the ability to manufacture significant goods. states, “We can’t even make a flat-screen in North America!”

            However, buying from China does have some benefits. In doing so, we are supporting their developing economy allowing China to maintain its rapid growth in the coming decade. Sales are expected to triple by the end of 2020. With a rise in sales, we can expect a rise in wages, allowing for less demand for such harsh jobs.

            In addition, as the population ages, low wages will gradually become unappealing and cause a slight decline in low wage positions as younger generations are less willing to take such positions.

            Although China’s labour cost will likely never catch up U.S. and European countries any time soon, an increase in labour cost is definite. However, will it be enough to justify such inhumane working conditions? I don’t think so.

            In conclusion, I hope that next time you are shopping at Forever 21, or a similar store, and you find a “great deal” you will contemplate if that $3 shirt is really worth the millions of workers subjected to such cruel working conditions.

E-commerce: Growth or a New Beginning?

E-commerce: Growth or a New Beginning?

The Internet has become an increasingly powerful tool and resource throughout the years. According to, over 2.4 billion people use or have access to the Internet. Naturally, this creates a marketplace for companies to advertise and sell their products by the masses, all over the world.

According to, women’s apparel is considered the best selling Internet product, with other apparel items not too far behind at number five. So, what does this mean for the brick-and-mortar stores, that we have been so used to all these years? In this writers opinion; absolutely nothing, right now anyways.

There are many positive aspects to the online marketplace, research can be done rapidly, comparison-shopping can be done, broader selections may be available, the overall convenience and so forth. However, when shoppers get down to the nitty-gritty of it all, brick-and-mortar stores are still dominant in so many ways.

People often browse online to retain information for purchases they will make at a later date, and a large fraction of these purchase are made in-store. In general, the Internet makes the shopping easier… or harder, depends on what you’re looking for. In fact, the e-commerce industry can be seen as a supporting the retail marketplace, not replacing it. One of the main things online shopping brings is convenience. Even though a shopper becomes aware of new products online, only a few will make a decision to purchase because of the associated risk with buying from the Internet.

Now, e-commerce is a great tool and for many confident shoppers, a way to make there lives a little more convenient. However, brick-and-mortar stores have many aspects and attributes that will allow them to stay operational for a while, or at least until we are all solely confined in our houses, with our laptops, fearing the outside world. Until then, we can still look forward to the joys of leaving the house and entering a store.
Receiving immediate gratification is a big reason why shoppers choose to shop at a physical store. Why wait for something you’ve already paid for? If you’re like me, you want things now! Unless there is a particularly large discount involved, I have no problem going into a store and picking up an item I want, as well as being able to wear it the same day. Even so, shipping charges or a minimum purchase requirement usually does not make the transaction cheaper. The sensory aspect of a physical store is an important aspect of the shopping experience. How a new garment feels, looks and fits can only be done surely determined while physically having the product in your hands. Online purchases however, can be beneficial for those who are making repurchase or have seen the product, maybe by a family member or friend.
Finally, brick-and-mortar stores can be seen as a social experience. From purchasing a bathing suit or a wedding gown, there is something about the presence and opinions of others that will either make you confident about a purchase or prevent you from making a terrible mistake. The assistance from friends and family members, as well as the expertise of sales associates are pluses for any shopping trip.

We won’t be waving goodbye to the good old brick-and-mortar stores anytime soon; however, the e-commerce sector is definitely growing. It should be seen as a support system for the physical stores, not a replacement. Either way, today’s world is continuously making our lives a little bit easier, and as it seems, with the help of the Internet, this will not be seen as a negative thing for businesses.
Moving Forward
            As we move forward in our careers as young entrepreneurs in the fashion industry we come to a roadblock of sorts and must choose the correct path. Much of our industry, if not most of it, are based on consumers purchasing cheap clothes and accessories from developing countries. We need to ask ourselves the questions of are we supporting a developing country by purchasing or are we taking advantage of underpaid workers. Is there an ethical line to be drawn? And even if we are being unethical, will supporting these developing countries economies have to be conducted in order for their survival? How can we change this or better the situation as we make our voices heard?

What are sweatshops?
Sweatshops are the factories where apparel companies such as Nike, H & M, Joe Fresh, The Gap and so on, make contracts with developing countries to produce their apparel at low prices. Cheap consumer goods are made in these sweatshops for other countries to purchase and sell on a global scale. These products are outsourced to developing countries because the labor is cheap. The conditions are so poor that no one should be working in them. This can be seen with the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 and has grabbed the attention of everyone on a worldwide scale. In the case of Rana Plaza, the 8-story factory building collapsed and killed over 1000 workers.

Why do we support cheap clothing?
According to GOOD Magazine The Quarterly, we are addicted to cheap fashion. We want stuff for budget prices, and we don’t want to think about the conditions that our clothes are made in. The clothing that we as consumers purchase may not be made well, and yet we continually purchase it while those who are making it, is barley making enough to survive. We are taking advantage of cheap labor in this sense and turning a blind eye to the road it takes for the clothing to get to us. Consumers are ignoring the fact that cheap labor involves a sweatshop employee working for 10 hours a day, does menial, repetitive tasks, works in generally poor conditions and gets paid less than 5 dollars per day says, an online humor magazine. Many of these workers are put at risk of harm through these long hours and horrible wages. According to the University of Edinburgh, from Just World Institute online blog, one way to describe this phenomenon is to say that workers are exploited: what they receive from employers does not constitute a fair exchange for their labour.

What’s the response to cheap labor?
If we as consumers are continually purchasing cheap clothing and exploiting workers in developing countries should we not see that this is a completely unethical situation? Should we not be looking to how we are getting cheap clothing, understanding exploitation and put an end to it all? The response to cheap labor and supporting exploitation is to refuse to buy clothes from those countries. In the case of the Rana Plaza collapse, we could refuse to buy clothes from them, or these apparel companies can refuse to get their garments made in Bangladesh. According to the University of Edinburgh, from the Just World Institute online blog, to avoid the wrong of exploitation altogether one must avoid buying the clothes. The alternative is to buy local or produce clothing locally. But the problem there is for local production costs to make the garments would sky rocket and so too would the retail price, which consumers would not be happy with.

Are we instead supporting a developing country? Can we have one without the other?
Even though we can see that there is exploitation and unfair wages, we must look at the bigger picture and understand that by outsourcing to developing countries we are providing them with continual income for the country as a whole. If we the consumers, and the apparel companies choose not to manufacture clothing in these developing countries this will cause concern and unrest as the country will the not be generating business anymore. Many developing countries rely on the mass production of apparel from developed countries, not only to provide income for the country but also as one of the best sources of income for individuals. Many would argue that workers would be worse off in other jobs if it weren’t for sweatshops. According to the Library of Economics Liberty, Art Carden says that their next best opportunities (agriculture or prostitution) are usually worse than sweatshop labour. It seems as though it is a double-edged sword. On one hand we are accepting exploitation, harmful conditions and unfair wages to get our orders filled and on the other hand without sweatshops, this would leave developing countries without profit and jobs. According to the University of Edinburgh from Just World Institute, it is particularly important that we do not leave developing country workers worse off. It seems as though in order for developing countries to benefit from production of apparel, they have to suffer.  

What can we do to change the situation?
We can conclude that we will not be able to completely rid the world of exploitation, unfair wages and poor working conditions, as that will ultimately make them worse off. What can we do then? The best approach is to see what can be done to improve conditions for workers. According to the University of Edinburgh from the Just World Institute, it seems the best approach is to support campaigns for better wages and conditions despite the slow, incremental progress they make. The University also says, it is best to avoid boycotting and pressure these companies to sign up for better working conditions, help create worker unions and providing opportunities for their voices to be heard. The biggest change that we can encourage, support and run campaigns for is for better pay. The second is campaigning for better working conditions, where unlike Rana Plaza, we can levy for more safety inspections. According to WGSN Newsteam on February 17, 2014, a total of 150 global brands and retailers have joined the Bangladesh Accord’s Building and Fire Safety initiative aimed at making the Bangladeshi garment industry safe and sustainable. As well, because of the recent tragedies in Bangladesh, Andrew Jobling, WGSN, December 2013, has noted that Bangladesh has agreed to a minimum wage rise for workers in its garment industry. There has been a 77% agreed upon increase on wages. It is important that we as newcomers to the fashion industry take action by endorsing these campaigns, make sure that we are knowledgeable and educate people on where the clothes come from, who makes them and what conditions they are being made in. We must continually advocate for fair wages, safety and know that the inequality is worth fighting for. It should not take a major tragedy to see that changes need to be made.

Social Flux

Social Media: Boon or Bane?

I remember being in Grade 10 when I heard about Facebook; all my friends were making accounts and told me I should too. Why? No one could really express what it was or why it was cool, other than that you could write on people's walls, whatever that meant. What's an awkward 15 year old to do? I hopped on the bandwagon.

Today, Facebook is better understood as a part of the ever amassing social media; in a nutshell, it’s electronic interaction and sharing of information over the internet. It's a way to interact in new and exciting ways, both speeding and increasing the volume of interaction.

Similarly to the creation of my Facebook, my friends had previously influenced me to create an MSN messenger account, something I used pretty much everyday once I got it. Online chat was an easy, intimate way to quickly talk to people, especially for kids like me that didn't get a cell phone until near the end – or even after – high school. Sites like Pinterest and Tumblr provide different services, but all of them create new and varied ways to interact with others.

Despite the extra contact social media creates, it seems to be a bottomless addiction. I remember a friend of mine once told me how good she felt posting a picture of herself (partially nude) and the instant self-esteem boost she got from 194 strangers double-tapping it on Instagram. Besides creating new experiences like these, the electronic social experience has begun to take over more organic ones as well; I've found myself in odd situations where friends feel it's very necessary to take time away from what they're doing to document it on social media for strangers and acquaintances, while I sit in hope that the food will still be warm after the photoshoot is over.

Besides my dinner, there are plenty of other instances where social media has had a negative effect, like instances we've all heard about where a kid gets bullied at school then later at home via text message and social media, effectively trapping them in an inescapable net of oppression in what used to be a safe space. Or what about those career-destroying, life-wrecking, nude pics that always end up online? More on that later.

Most of what I'm saying may seem fairly obvious to users, hence my bigger question: where does social media fit into the big picture? It helps us connect, feel special, and feel that we belong, though at times it can clearly do the opposite. Where does the future lie? What are the larger social implications? And how do the negatives ethically weigh up with the positives?

In an interview with Jeff Bercovici for Playboy, Nick Denton – owner of Gawker Media – said he believes that social media has made the world more transparent, forcing people to out their secrets, which is better in the end, for everyone. He makes the example of posting pictures of drunk and promiscuous nights online and how most people thought our generation would destroy their job prospects.

"What actually happened was that institutions and organizations changed, and frankly any organization that didn’t change was going to handicap itself because everyone, every normal person, gets drunk in college. There are stupid pictures or sex pictures of pretty much everybody. "

Due to social media, issues such as calling out the talking heads on FOX when they make a mistake to shattering exposés like the Snowden leak are happening faster and more effectively than ever. Maybe it's not such a big deal that your ex posted that picture she was supposed to delete on that porn site. Nick Denton would approve, let's just hope your family doesn't see it.

In 2006, Google bought out Youtube for an easy billion dollars, a third of their net value at the time, something economists laughed at because who buys something for that much money when it has no revenue? Today, Google is the one laughing as the economy moves and thrives with social media and their company is worth over $280 billion. Similarly, Facebook acquired Whatsapp a few months ago for about $19 billion and many people are seeing this the way they saw the Youtube acquisition: naive and stupid.

Marc Zuckerberg's ideas for the future are perhaps less noble and grandiose than Nick Denton's, though: he said at the Mobile World Congress in February that he wants to take Facebook to the third world, via cheap cell phones and data plans. That's right. If you don't have access to clean water you'll at least be able to make a witty complaint about it in a Facebook status and maybe get a few likes from the cool kids in your village.

The internet and globalization have made this planet feel a lot smaller and important issues hit millions of eyes every day, via social media. However, there's definitely a growing feeling of complacency, where issues are being shoved in our faces so much they become so much white noise and less shocking. We’re creating a lot of armchair activists, people who feel like they're part of something greater because they shared a video of pink goop that (allegedly) shows where McNuggets come from, or sent excessive texts when a phone carrier had a special charity day. I don't want to downplay the importance of such initiatives, but they do make the idea of social reform seem as easy as a click and people forget that it takes more than a Facebook like to fix the world.

Selena Larson, a journalist for, wrote an article outlining why she thinks Facebook may be the last great social network. Maybe she's right. Like the internet that is it's domain, social media is fluid and diverging along different paths. Maybe the next big thing won't look anything like the social networks of the past. Social media has definitely made a great change on society and I'm excited to see where it takes us in the future, in the meantime, I’ll be trolling kids on Buzzfeed.



The Middle East has always been a subject of interest in the world.  Whether it concerns politics, wars, cultural differences or tourism, the Middle East seems to draw attention to itself.  But now, could this developing region be home to the world’s next fashion capital?
The Middle East is divided into two types of countries: oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait and non-oil-producing countries which include Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan to name a few.  Not surprisingly, according to a pole done in June 2013 of the top 10 richest countries in the world using gross domestic product (GDP) per capita provided by the International Monetary Fund’s April 2013 World Economic Outlook Database as well as CIA World Factbook, one of them was a Middle Eastern oil-producing country.  The United Arab Emirates came in 6th, proving that oil-producing countries can support a high-fashion industry.
This is a country were Dubai and luxury are one and the same, where one can find the tallest tower in the world, where man-made islands are shaped to look like palm trees and the only country where luxury cars are synonymous with police cars.  Where else will you find a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a $2.5 million Bugatti Veyron part of a police fleet?
With a desire to elevate the city’s glamour and luxury as well as their economy, Dubai looks to include other industries that would complement those they already focus on.  This is the primary reason for Dubai’s pursuit of the multi-billion dollar fashion industry.  And though the U.S., Europe and Japan are the leaders of this industry, Dubai is the force to contend with in the Middle East, as this city accounts for nearly half of the region’s market share with regards to retail spending.
Dubai has been ranked the second-most important destination for international retailers after London by real estate services firm CBRE as the majority of all leading international retailers have opened stores in Dubai and the consulting firm Bain and Company has determined that a third of all luxury spending (clothing, accessories, cars) in the Middle East occurs in this fast developing city.
Unfortunately, this does not satisfy the city’s officials, as they want to develop Dubai’s creativity by making it the place to be for the Middle East’s best designers.
Construction for the Dubai Design District, or D3 has begun.  This giant project will be solely dedicated to the development of the fashion industry in Dubai and will house design studios, and boutiques, as well as hotels, high-end departments, and of course, shopping.  According to the CEO of Tecom Investments, Amina Al Rustamani, who is developing D3, the first phase of construction will measure approximately 18 million square foot and will cost $1 billion.
The goal is to create a space that caters to everyone living in Dubai, as the majority of the population, around 90% of its population are foreigners.  This strong multinational presence is great for Dubai designers because they see it as a means to get noticed by the world.  The concepts and ideas for D3 will make it uniquely its own, separating it from Milan and Paris.
Bain and Company stated that nearly a third of the $7.6 billion spent on fashion in the Middle East in 2012 was spent in Dubai.  This can be explained by a fashion driven region.
In the Middle East, fashion is part of the culture.  ‘Fashion is not merely a luxury, but a necessity in this part of the world’, says Lebanese designer Zayan Ghandour.  With this in mind, many believe that in the Middle East women dress relatively conservatively, though locals disagree.  Underneath the traditional long black robes over clothing and scarves over their hair and faces, they are ‘dressed to the nines’, with their high fashion clothing, flawless makeup without a single hair out of place.  Women love to flaunt themselves and their beauty, whether in public or during private gatherings.  In the Middle East, fashion means culture.
And in Dubai it also means business.  In Dubai, shopping is tax free, and with 40 malls in the UAE, it isn’t surprising that the Oxford Business Group announced that a third of Dubai’s economy comes from their retail industry. And with over 75 million visitors last year, it’s no wonder why the Dubai Mall is looking to expand its retail space.
The Mall of Emirates is looking to increase their sales substantially and plans to invest $1 billion over the next 5 years in order to introduce new stores as well as restaurants to their 466 stores currently available to visitors.
These expansions will contribute to the planned increase in tourism in order to prepare for the World Expo in 2020, which Dubai will be hosting.  Officials expect 17.5 million foreign visitors to attend the 6-monthlong World Expo.
According to the fashion market analyst of Bain and Company, Cyrille Fabre, tourism and fashion go hand in hand in the UAE as shopping is the third largest reason for tourists to visit Dubai.
He said that ‘fashion is a big tourist attraction and as the fashion industry grows, tourism grows and vice versa’.

So is Dubai the next fashion capital of the world? Evidently, the city has the financial backing to fund the necessary requirements as well as being a very important Middle Eastern tourist destination.  Could it be enough?