There’s a High Price for That Low Price

I was going to write this month’s post on quite a different fashion-focused topic, when an article in the November 17, 2016 edition of the  Los Angeles Times caught my eye.

1116 LA Times garment makers 1 REV

This year, the U.S. Labor Department investigated 77 local Los Angeles garment companies that were supplying some of the biggest clothing stores in the nation, writes reporter Natalie Kitroeff, and found that many of these factories pay workers much less than the state minimum wage. “Investigators uncovered labor violations in 85% of the cases, the department said, and found that the companies cheated workers out of $1.1 million.” While even Nordstrom and Macy’s had ties to garment makers that did not pay minimum wage, “the retailers with ties to companies that had the most offenses were Ross Dress for Less, Forever 21 and TJ Maxx. Workers were paid as little as $4 an hour, and they got $7 an hour on average–$3 less than the state minimum wage. . . .”

Although the garment companies and some manufacturers that act as intermediaries between the factories and the retailers were ordered to pay $1.3 million in lost wages and damages to workers, the retailers “avoid any repercussions for hiring factories that violate labor laws. The Labor Department can only penalize companies that directly employ workers.” Keeping their distance from the factories by working with several layers of suppliers, the business model shields the retailers from liability.

Ruben Rosalez, a regional administrator with the Labor Department, said that the problem is “that retailers have not increased the rates they pay manufacturers in years. ‘The retailers are setting the prices. They’re saying, “Make this shirt for this amount,” but it’s the workers at the end of the chain that are getting screwed,’ Rosalez said.”

According to Rosalez, retailers “hire monitors to make sure their suppliers abroad are following the law but don’t do the same level of inspection in the U.S. . . . The stores ‘want to be able to meet demand on a quick basis. It’s cheaper to do it here as long as no one is looking,’ he said.”

Spokespersons for Ross Dress for Less and Forever 21 both responded to the reporter by email that they take these labor issues “very seriously” and are cooperating, as Ross puts it, “to make sure that suppliers understand the law.” Representatives of TJ Maxx did not return a request for comment. Kitroeff reports, “It is not clear whether the retailers are still doing business with clothes makers that underpay workers.”

Next time you consider buying that $18 jacket or $9 dress, consider how it’s possible for something new to be sold that cheaply. There’s a high price for that low price.

All is not lost. If you’re on a strict budget or enjoy scouting for bargains, shop online instead and head to eBay, where you can find all manner of brand new items with their original tags, purchases made that have never been used, from vendors all across the United States (yours truly included).

Judy Hornby silver pink dress 1

For instance, among the big trends of this season are 1980s styles, padded shoulders included, along with floral prints, ruffles and metallics. I have a vintage $1,215 Judy Hornby Couture pink and silver metallic silk dress with a ruffled hem, purchased at Marshall Field’s, brand new with tags, listed for under $200.

You can find the dress at http://www.ebay.com/itm/JUDY-HORNBY-COUTURE-1215-Pink-Silver-Foiled-Floral-Silk-Dress-80s-NWT-38-B-/171021327963?ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT

I would love for the dress to be worn and enjoyed this holiday season.

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Top-Handle Bags: Vintage Inspiration & Vintage Options

Mid-Century style is providing inspiration for designers this season in the return of ladylike accessories. The style influence of handbags dating to the 1950s and 1960s is particularly evident.

top handle bag trend 0913 HB REV

The September 2013 issue of Harper’s Bazaar identifies the top-handle bag as one of the 10  key pieces of the season.  Picturing an $1,895 bag from Balenciaga, a $2,455 bag from Giorgio Armani and a bag from Reed Krakoff (similar to other styles sold on the magazine’s retail web site for upwards of $800), the magazine reports: “The front-page news is that there’s no single defining model this season. All that matters is that your arm candy is discreet, elegant, and top-handled.”

Marc Jacobs patent leather vintage style bag REV

Designer Marc Jacobs was one of the early adapters of the vintage look, introducing in his spring 2013 collection the “Shiny Teds Camden” made of Spazzolato leather, with a high-shine look similar to that of patent leather, and a price tag of $1,295. An ad featuring the bag is pictured above.

Black patent Lucite handle bag 2

You can find similar 1950s-era handbags, such as the vintage black patent leather bag with a clear Lucite handle that sold on eBay in July 2013 for $39 – roughly three percent of the cost of the Marc Jacobs design.

Charlotte Olympia metal weave & plastic bag 0713 Elle REV

Designer Charlotte Olympia has created a handbag made of metal and Perspex (a type of plastic) that was featured as “one of the season’s freshest bags” in the July 2013 issue of Elle magazine, price on request. The handbag has a geometric shape; the metal is a pattern of woven strips; the top of the bag is flat plastic with a molded plastic handle. Charlotte Olympia bags tend to run over $1,000.

Metal woven basket purse 1

Here’s a similar woven metal 1950s-era handbag with a Lucite top that sold on eBay in June for $20.

At vintage clothing expos, you can expect to find Lucite and woven metal mid-Century bags for $100 – $300, and on eBay, a savvy shopper will do ever better.  Snag a fashion-forward top-handle bag in good to excellent condition at- a fraction of the cost of the new designer options, and ever so chic.