mrwednesday


quality posts: 12 Private Messages mrwednesday

I wanted to post this on its own because the main changeover thread really has about 4 consecutive discussions going on and it isn't really conducive to any kind of real discourse. I'll try to keep things short, but it's a complex issue so bear with me. Skip to the bottom if you want the short version.

Why it's important to support American made goods

This is something that a lot of people here care about. It's also something that a lot of people have pushed aside as a minor issue. Unfortunately, much of the discourse has centered on the straw man of "dey took ur jerbs!!!"

For me it really isn't about job loss or where the jobs are. It's about the quality of the job that is being supported. Following is a list of things that I think a lot of people are taking completely for granted in no particular order:

1) Minumum wage
2) Protected break and lunch time
3) 8 hour standard work day + overtime for any hours worked over 8 a day or 40 a week
4) Healthcare
5) Workman's comp/disability
6) Unemployment
7) Osha

There are a lot more I haven't listed, but the bottom line is that an American worker costs a lot more than just hourly wage and that isn't necessarily true in outsourced factory. In fact, that is the primary reason for outsourcing because you get cheap labor that you can work unreasonable hours without providing any kind of benefits or services.

There are other costs to manufacturing in the US including fairly strict regulations on energy use, waste management and pollution that don't exist in countries where factories are outsourced. You also have to think about the impact these decision have on our environment and our planet.

Now I'd like to break down what things I've been able to find about both companies and I'll start with AA.

American Apparel

I've not been able to find any articles that would suggest American Apparel is circumventing any labor laws. They pride themselves on running sweatshop free conditions, and from what I have been able to find that appears to be true. There are two major issues with AA that have been brought up: undocumented workers and unions.

Unions
AA factory workers are not unionized. Management actively tried to block the establishment of a union in 2003. Though the article gement linked is a bit more editorial than journalism, I have no reason to believe any of the facts reported are wrong.

There is subtlety to the story. From what I gather an outside Union agency approached workers at AA to inquire about worker's desire to form a union. It was not initiated in house. Also, despite complaints by the union AA was not found to have done anything actionable legally. It is still very unclear whether a union would have had the support needed to establish itself.

That being said, AA played their hand and it was anti-union in every respect. They even refused to allow neutral site talks between the union agency and workers so that they could talk without fear of reprisal. This is a definitive negative for AA.

Undocumented workers

I really don't want to get into the politics of this too deeply so I will only cover the major points. In 2009 AA was forced to fire 1,500 workers that could not provide sufficient documentation (1/4 of its workforce). Some see this as a victory, but along with some other including AA I see it as a complete failure and here's why.

The workers fired were being paid an average hourly wage of $12 (the average for the entire factory workforce). The article I linked interviewed one who had been promoted from a sewing machine operator to a job coordinating manager. However you feel about undocumented workers, if they are going to be hired at all they should be paid a normal wage and receive benefits and they were. Unlikely the union case, I am in full support of AA in this area.

This bring me to the final wrinkle.....

Dov Charney

Dov Charney is a sexist, paternalist pig. There's really no other conclusion that can be reached. I have very little doubt that the anti-union sentiments derive directly from him. It's also pretty clear that the instability is directly related to his poor management. Here is a thread from last year when AA's financial instability was coming out. There are a few articles, one at the top and two at the very bottom and some other thoughts from people (those missing Adder can relive the glory). Basically, AA drove its business into the ground by overextending itself into retail. In every analysis I have seen the bulk business is not only good, but it is the reason AA isn't bankrupt already.

Dov jeopardized the successful bulk business for ill conceived retail expansion and it nearly cost them. They have since been rescued by a Canadian investment firm and for the past 4 quarters sales are up. I believe they are still seeing a net loss just much smaller than previous.

The major point is that there is little relationship between Dov and the product. Dov is scum, but it is curious to me that the scumbag is the about the only who who cares about manufacturing in the US. I don't know what it says about the other companies, but it certainly isn't good.

Instability at AA is due to Dov's idiocy and the loss of 1,500 skilled workers almost overnight. Unfortunately, it appears Dov isn't going anywhere (though it some things I have read suggest he might be at least keeping his nose clean). The loss of workers is something they expect to recover from and I don't see why they wouldn't as new people are trained.

Conclusion

I can't in any way defend Dov or the anti-union activities. But what I can say is that their products are made in a country where there are strong protections not only for worker wage but for benefits and conditions. There are also much stronger restrictions on environmental impact. No company is perfect, but I have more good feelings about AA than negative.

Anvil

So the information we have to start with is that Anvil is 77% unionized and that their factories are WRAP certified. And I will fully admit this doesn't mean any more to me than it probably does to you. So I read through the corporate responsibility website and looked up some things on my own based on stuff posted in the previous thread. And here's what I've found.

This is an excellent blog everyone should read. The author is asking the exact same question we all are, "People are moving from AA because of stability concerns, but where should we go and is Anvil the answer?" You'll be able to tell quite quickly their answer is no and it certainly gives me pause.

Restructuring

What is clear is that Anvil has gone through a major restructuring recently in large part to rehab their image and hopefully to actually do what they say. I'll break down the major things from the blog I just posted. In which there are several reports from the Worker Rights Consortium which detail abuses at Anvil's factory including (but not necessarily limited to) physical abuse, sexual harrassment of female workers, restrictions in bathroom use, and forced overtime. For what? For attempting to unionize.....

The same report details the firing of 55 workers for attempting to unionize which is illegal under Honduran law. After outside pressure from the WRC and other workers rights organizations the workers were reinstated, but it is unclear that they ever received lost pay that they are also due by law.

In another case their Hugger factory was closed without notifying workers who appeared for work only to find themselves locked outside with signs informing them the factory was closed. This is also illegal in Honduras and the workers were owed over 2 million lost wages. I have been able to find no articles that it was or wasn't eventually paid.

WRAP

These reports were from 2007 to 2009 while Anvil was WRAP certified. What does that mean? Apparently it is an internal certification that is then checked by an outside investigator paid by Anvil. It is neither independent nor is it public. The blogger attempted to get a copy and received nothing but a checklist that said things were "OK."

It seems dubious at best though there was an interesting tidbit in the social responsibility page. Anvil's factories are powered by bunker oil. If you don't know, bunker oil is the sludge left over from the oil refining process after the higher octane fuels have been taken off. It is full of impurities and irregularities and when burned it looks like this.

Conclusion

So what do I think. There's a lot of really nice boilerplate language about sustainability and environmental protection on Anvil's website. They are among the leading consumers of organic cotton (not in the shirts woot is buying though). They have a largely unionized workforce and have at least measured their environmental impact.

However, I have every reason to believe the only reasons their workforce is unionized is because they were forced to allow it not because they wanted it or care. They went well beyond the measures taken by AA to stop the unions. Given that they only unionized in 2010 and these reports are from 2007 at the earliest that suggest a very long bitter fight and I have very little confidence Anvil did so humanely.

Additionally, they are still burning bunker oil which is a horrible pollutant. I haven't been able to find much else on the environmental impacts of their factories, but the restrictions are not the same as the US and I do not feel hopeful that waste is handled any better.

What does it all mean?

I have not found anything that leads me to believe that worker conditions in Honduras are as good or even close to the quality in Los Angeles. I have not found a single article that says anything about the unionization at Anvil either, so I have no way to gauge what benefits or protections they have, but I also doubt they compare to the basic rights afforded to workers in the US.

So yes, Anvil has a lot of language that is good. They have a lot of statements that are good, but I haven't seen anything that would lead me to think things actually are good. In fact the evidence is quite the opposite. I would like to believe that they are true, but I don't go much by faith. AA is not perfect (it would be a whole lot closer without Dov), but there are a lot of things about it I can support. I don't see any I know I can support with Anvil....

tl;dr version:

I cannot in good conscience support the change to Anvil. Everything I have read and seen suggests that worker conditions and compensation is worse than AA up to and including true abuses of worker's rights.


I welcome any thoughts, criticisms, additions, or corrections, but I care very little for statements. We have a lot of statements from woot and Anvil all of which have nothing behind them to convince me to take their word for it. Whatever perspective you would like to take, please bring evidence. I hope at least this might be enlightening for some as to why I have taken the stance I have.

thumperchick


quality posts: 234 Private Messages thumperchick

Thank you for your thoughts and research. It's obvious that in an apples to apples comparison - Anvil does NOT live up to the standard set by AA.

Narfcake


quality posts: 279 Private Messages Narfcake
mrwednesday wrote:I wanted to post this ...


Thanks for summing up my perspective. It's extremely rare that we're on the same page, but I agree with this 100%.

unsweetener


quality posts: 1 Private Messages unsweetener

This was so helpful and informative. Thanks for taking the time to report on all of that!

zosai


quality posts: 1 Private Messages zosai

hey thanks for doing this...I agree except that I am deeply disturbed by Dov Charney's hostile/dehumanizing probably illegal workplace on the retail and fashion side, and his contribution to the hypersexualization of young girls, etc. Of course, I imagine that most of the fashion industry is that way as well. Before this woot fiasco, I knew that AA's advertising was wretched, but I didn't realize the depth of the problem. It's making me reconsider my wholesale relationship with them, but I'll only switch to another American supplier. We only sell a tiny amount of shirts (especially compared with woot, a good day for them is a good YEAR for me), but do what we can.

I agree that it is odd that he's so terrible but almost the only major manufacturer who actually cares about factory conditions and paying a living wage. What a trade-off though.

This idea that companies can manufacture in foreign countries and self-certify but actually tell no one what's going on is bizarre. How can you take Anvil seriously? How can woot post those links and think people will just believe them?

We KNOW conditions are worse, or the shirts would cost more. You get what you pay for, or don't.

I hope this post gets as much attention as the threads of people trying to figure out sizing. This is way more important, and well thought-out/researched.

Narfcake


quality posts: 279 Private Messages Narfcake
zosai wrote:... but I'll only switch to another American supplier.


Look into Royal Apparel.
RA 5051 = AA 2001
RA 5001 = AA 2102

zosai


quality posts: 1 Private Messages zosai
Narfcake wrote:Look into Royal Apparel.
RA 5051 = AA 2001
RA 5001 = AA 2102



We looked at them when we started up, and tested them a bit, but they weren't as nice and the shirts shrank a full size after washing. I'll certainly take another look. Thanks for the comparable style numbers.

ETA: those were their organic shirts

mrwednesday


quality posts: 12 Private Messages mrwednesday
zosai wrote:I hope this post gets as much attention as the threads of people trying to figure out sizing. This is way more important, and well thought-out/researched.



I have very little doubt that it won't get as much attention. I didn't write it because I thought it would sway the conversation. Maybe I hoped it might, but woot already got check mate by sending out blanks. I don't kid myself into thinking that most people actually care about these issues. They just want their shirts. Most people don't even care about derby rules. Woot has cultivated a profound selfishness at all of its sites and they are reaping the benefits.

But the bigger concern is that the change is nearly invisible for casual buyers who don't read the forums. The tiny banner at the bottom that no one reads or cares about? Great job woot......real responsible. But woot has been sacrificing values for sales since the very beginning so I'm not surprised and no one else should be. I just hope it might be possible to have a real discussion of the issues. That doesn't depend on anyone buying or not buying shirts.

jagendorf


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jagendorf

I really like the colors of the Royal Apparel shirts that Narfcake linked to. That pool color is really nice, and there are even unique colors for women. The sizing is the same according to their specs, so I would support a change to Royal Apparel. USA!

Bilyum it up all day long!

endangeredomega


quality posts: 37 Private Messages endangeredomega

Adding my thanks for doing the legwork/research on this. I've already curtailed my shirt buying habit considerably over the last couple of years due to space/budget, but I'll definitely be keeping this information in mind next time a design that appeals to me comes up. As much as I want to continue to support the artists here, tbh, it's probably the bunker oil issue that will prove the tipping point for me - definitely not a practice I intend to support, especially at $12/pop.

j5


quality posts: 63 Private Messages j5

Thanks for doing the research, MrWednesday. This is very important information for those who care where their money goes.
The way I see this whole situation, I expect the shirt staff were given a budget directive that they couldn't meet with a US supplier, so they compromised as best they could. It's good they told us, so that those who care can make an informed purchasing decision. They could have easily made the switch on the sly (for the men's sizes anyway) and just dealt with the backlash when Narfcake noticed and posted, but the end result would have been the same from a business perspective.

I also don't think the distibution of free blanks was intended as anything but goodwill on the part of shirt staff.

Again, thanks for doing the research. This is good info to have, so I'll be sure to help bump this thread as needed.

move along

mukimuki


quality posts: 4 Private Messages mukimuki
zosai wrote:We looked at them when we started up, and tested them a bit, but they weren't as nice and the shirts shrank a full size after washing. I'll certainly take another look. Thanks for the comparable style numbers.

ETA: those were their organic shirts



FYI: I just looked at their sample packs, one of the three available packs said, "MADE IN: USA & Import". So it looks like at least one of their shirts styles are made elsewhere (or is of imported fabric).

https://www.royalapparel.net/rbcroyal/hcatalog.aspx?,1,M-SAMPLEPACK,Product,1,SMPPKAD11,,

killerorca


quality posts: 4 Private Messages killerorca

I too appreciate the work gone into this post. A lot of factors converged to make me a big Potty Emergency! woot fan and I'll admit that shirt origin was not the biggest.

However, a price change plus a supplier switch to what appear to be lower quality shirts does not bode well for my future purchases. I will be most interested in people's reactions to the new shirts.

gement


quality posts: 7 Private Messages gement

Thanks for digging into this, MrWednesday. I appreciate having the details laid out, and taking the discussion past "jerbs."

oddlyjen


quality posts: 25 Private Messages oddlyjen

Thank you for posting this, mrwednesday. I appreciate it.

juniperlee


quality posts: 0 Private Messages juniperlee

I can't support the switch to Anvil. I can't support bunker oil. It's unfortunate for all the artists that are being printed after the switch. Thank you MrWednesday for putting this out here. It's important and we appreciate it!

dcroe05


quality posts: 12 Private Messages dcroe05

How can one tell whether a shirt is an AA blank or an Anvil blank? I have about 35 Woot shirts, and the only one that has an AA label is Shhhhhhhhh!

I just received 1971, and while the label looks just like it always has, it seems to be a bigger shirt.

carpeamentum


quality posts: 2 Private Messages carpeamentum
dcroe05 wrote:How can one tell whether a shirt is an AA blank or an Anvil blank? I have about 35 Woot shirts, and the only one that has an AA label is Shhhhhhhhh!

I just received 1971, and while the label looks just like it always has, it seems to be a bigger shirt.



check the "made in _____" text on the tag

j5


quality posts: 63 Private Messages j5
dcroe05 wrote:How can one tell whether a shirt is an AA blank or an Anvil blank? I have about 35 Woot shirts, and the only one that has an AA label is Shhhhhhhhh!

The Anvils will have a size tag, and a blue Woot logo tag. Dark blue for gents, light blue for ladies.

move along

dcroe05


quality posts: 12 Private Messages dcroe05
carpeamentum wrote:check the "made in _____" text on the tag



j5 wrote:The Anvils will have a size tag, and a blue Woot logo tag. Dark blue for gents, light blue for ladies.



Thanks. It is an AA but it seems roomier than my other XLs. Maybe this one will get 1 wash in Hot...

ThugNatty


quality posts: 1 Private Messages ThugNatty

The 77% union membership that Anvil states is probably a misrepresentation of their Solidarismo program. This may not be the case, but given the fact that this is Honduras we're talking about, it's either this or they just outright lied.

Now, the Solidarista movement began, as far as I know, in Costa Rica as a means to minimize labor disputes amongst fruit company laborers. It is not a standardized system, but rather a socio-economic theory -- much like trick-down economics -- that is heavily biased towards corporate interests -- much like trickle-down economics. Most implementations cannot be considered unions because they unilaterally strip members of their collective bargaining rights. Although referred to as a "union of employer and employee", employees are contractually forbidden from going on strike. It's really about as anti-union as you can get.

The incentive for workers is that membership dues are collected and matched by business owners. The business owners decide how this money is invested. In the best cases, much of the money is invested in the surrounding public infrastructure. However, there is no true standard for Solidarismo programs.

This is also the same system through which severance packages are regulated. Another key tenet of the Solidarista Movement is to avoid loss by preventing employees from fraudulently collecting these payments. Consequently this places a heavy burden of proof on the worker, and any claim of theft or misconduct will immediately invalidate their claim. But it's not always a big deal, since employees are often still transferred between facilities before benefits can accrue -- most commonly at around 6 months, which is when companies would be required to begin paying health benefits.

When it works, it works. When it doesn't, it doesn't. But NEVER is it empowering to workers. Most workers just accept it, because they really don't have an alternative

JJrodny


quality posts: 0 Private Messages JJrodny
mrwednesday wrote:I wanted to post this...



I agree. Thanks for posting what a large portion of Woot customer's sentiments are.

ThugNatty


quality posts: 1 Private Messages ThugNatty
carpeamentum wrote:check the "made in _____" text on the tag



blukat44


quality posts: 1 Private Messages blukat44

This was a lot of interesting information. But I have to say, I have had random shirts on Anvil throughout my life, and I just hate them. They are boxy and are not complimentary. I do also agree that I'm not really inclined to buy woot shirts with the $2 increase if my shirt will be printed on Anvil blanks.

Thank you for doing the reasearch.

LarryLars


quality posts: 65 Private Messages LarryLars

A belated thanks (and a bump) for the above. Well done, Mr. Wednesday!

...(those missing Adder can relive the glory).

Long live Adder!


!

Have you checked your Private Messages lately?

bravowooter


quality posts: 0 Private Messages bravowooter

Please consider looking and signing the petition to have woot switch back.

starastarb


quality posts: 0 Private Messages starastarb

Thanks for doing the research on this. Just stumbled over the change today when my first shirt on Anvil showed up and I went looking to complain about the fit.

I'm sad that the change means, due to both fit and (per your post) issues of conscience, I just can't do Woot shirts whilst they use Anvil. But I appreciate that you saved me the effort of researching AA vs Anvil on the issues of conscience.

turtlesprague


quality posts: 0 Private Messages turtlesprague

What I don't get is this - when the price was increased people complained... then it was stated that there would be a switch to a different shirt brand - and people complained...

Something to consider - obviously the bottom line is The bottom line (and it should be, otherwise there's no company)... AA keeps raising it's prices (I am a small scale printer - I have to charge double to print on AA compared to a Gildan or a Tultex)... SO if Woot stays with AA then prices have to go up, again... and people will complain...

I understand some might be willing to pay more to wear their conscience - and that's great... but don't ask to go back, watch the price go up and then complain about it...

Price wise - Woot still beats everyone, especially considering the shipping isn't extra - yet another rising cost, speaking of which - if AA goes union expect their prices to go up, again.

Something else to consider - I know cotton is constantly going up, causing the prices to go up - most of the cotton comes from other countries - does AA get all their cotton/fabric from usa sources? Or is all that is important that they are sewn in the usa?

Narfcake


quality posts: 279 Private Messages Narfcake
turtlesprague wrote:What I don't get is this - when the price was increased people complained... then it was stated that there would be a switch to a different shirt brand - and people complained...


It's two different groups that are complaining.

I had no qualms with the price increase, as I regularly buy them at the $15 price point anyways. However, to say that the price increase because of material cost increase, then a month later switch to blanks that cost $2-3 less ... that just leaves a bad taste.

Something to consider - obviously the bottom line is The bottom line (and it should be, otherwise there's no company)... AA keeps raising it's prices (I am a small scale printer - I have to charge double to print on AA compared to a Gildan or a Tultex)... SO if Woot stays with AA then prices have to go up, again... and people will complain...


Among the major suppliers and for this style of blanks, Tultex 0202 and Anvil 980 sell for the least, with the Gildan 64000 a bit more than those two.

... Something else to consider - I know cotton is constantly going up, causing the prices to go up - most of the cotton comes from other countries - does AA get all their cotton/fabric from usa sources? Or is all that is important that they are sewn in the usa?


Except for the organics, AA uses cotton that's USA grown.

ckandes1


quality posts: 0 Private Messages ckandes1

I've gotten anvil shirts many times through organizations and student clubs on my college campus, and even from my place of employment. They tend to deteriorate quickly. AA is much better

Mavyn


quality posts: 22 Private Messages Mavyn

As a point regarding longevity, I have a MXL long sleeve Anvil tee that I bought more than a decade ago. It was for work, and so was worn frequently. It's still in great shape, no problems with the print, no problems with shrinkage or weird seams. It's not as soft as many, but it wasn't one of the 'soft' styles available at the time.

My speech is not parsing. I am speaking in ellipsis.

viviankb


quality posts: 0 Private Messages viviankb
dcroe05 wrote:How can one tell whether a shirt is an AA blank or an Anvil blank? I have about 35 Woot shirts, and the only one that has an AA label is Shhhhhhhhh!

I just received 1971, and while the label looks just like it always has, it seems to be a bigger shirt.




Just FYI, I found that my women's medium AA 1971 shirt also ran a bit larger than usual.