April 13, 2007

Click here to read this email regarding OBEY Clothing’s ethics. Shepard’s response is below.

My assistant forwarded me your email. Who is your Aunt? Please tell her hello. As far as your question goes, yes, some Obey clothing is made in China. 95% of the tee shirts are made and printed in the U.S. Many of the items like jackets, jeans, hats, etc.. are made in Asia. There are several reasons for this. First off though, I want to explain that my first inclination was to try to get all my goods produced in the US. both because I’d like jobs to stay in the U.S. and because I thought the quality of the goods would be higher. I also, ignorantly assumed that all Asian labor was “sweatshops”. Clothing is an extremely competitive and low profit business. I won’t bore you with all the details, but my main reason for making clothes is that I saw it as an affordable, utilitarian way to share my art. Much of my interest in art and graphics came from punk and skateboard t-shirts and I wanted to pass along my inspiration in the same way. I only want to make clothing if it is reasonably priced. Making some items in Asia is to save YOU money. When Obey was smaller we could not meet the minimums needed to produce our “cut and sew” items (an industry term for clothing built from the ground up) in Asia. Therefore we produced cut and sew here in the U.S. at very high prices, taking a loss or break even, and surprisingly the work was inferior quality. The U.S. prices are very high, and the quality is low. The actual workers are paid a low, often minimum wage as well. Many U.S. factories are “sweatshops”. If you look at the price to quality ratio of Japanese versus American cars you get the picture. Unfortunately, people are used to paying relatively low prices for clothing and their assumption if I were charging 140 bucks for a pair of jeans or 120 for a sweatshirt would be that I was greedy and pocketing that money, not that the U.S. labor was double the cost and being passed to the consumer. Companies like Gap/ Old Navy that own their own factories and retail stores cut out the middle men and have a much higher profit margin. My decision was that the best solution was to research factories with good reputations for ethical working standards and use them. Now I can give the consumers the best quality product at the best price without moral compromise. If U.S. labor was only slightly more expensive, or slightly lower quality, I would produce the goods here to support the U.S. economy. However, that is not the case and I actually think that in some regards it is irresponsible to support U.S. businesses with an inferior work ethic and quality standard but higher prices. Americans want cheap goods, but they don’t want jobs to leave the U.S. Unfortunately, it is one or the other. A company like Wal-Mart certainly has no better ethical standards compared to the cost of living than many Chinese businesses. The statement that all factories in Asia are sweatshops is incorrect and ignorant along the same lines as blanket statements like all Germans are Nazis, or Italians are perverts. Lastly, Obey clothing has created jobs in the U.S. for at least 20 awesome people who seem very happy doing what they are doing. We are all doing it for the creativity, not the money. I along with everyone at Obey clothing appreciate the support that has allowed us to live creatively. If money is your goal, a clothing business is dumb strategy. Affordable art is what I’m trying to provide.

-Shepard Fairey