Recently, my roommate went home to Holyshitisthisplacepoor, WV, to visit his mother and help her take care of some business. After that was settled, they went to the mall, where they encountered a store he’d never seen before that seemed to have something to do with Sarah Jessica Parker and sold insanely cheap clothing. While Sarah (or SJP, for those in the know) blithered on from every television screen about your inalienable right to fashion, my roommate purchased 3 shirts for less than $10 apiece during what he assumed was some kind of clearance sale. He came home and showed them to me, they were OK shirts, nothing special, and told me a) about the crazy low prices and b) god damn, is Sarah Jessica Parker obnoxious. Since Roommate is frequently on a spandex-tight budget, and his current clothes are largely falling to pieces, we agreed that that seemed like a pretty good deal.
Then he washed the clothes, and they shrank literally a third. In one wash. He’d have to lose 40 pounds to get back into the shirts, which he never wore outside the house. He could have just stayed home and set fire to $30. To lose all three shirts would have made sense if they were the same style or brand, then you can just say, whoops, no wonder this one was on clearance. But to have three completely different styles and makes of shirts all shrink by the same drastic amount? WTF, right?
So I poked around the interwebs a bit, and found that SJP’s line (which is only women’s wear, so he wasn’t actually buying SJP clothes, as he believed) is sold exclusively from a store called Steve and Barry’s. Being a person who pays no attention whatsoever to celebrity clothing lines and steps in a mall maybe once a year, I was blissfully unaware of this place until now. The prices Roommate thought were clearance prices were actually S & B’s everyday low price, which the business press always helpfully points out “undercuts WalMart”. How do they do it? Well, they strongarm malls into paying them more for store set-up costs than it actually costs to set up a store, apparantly are staffed up to the corporate level by newbs who don’t yet care how much their pay sucks, the store’s owners can pwn the tariff/import game like nobody’s business, and probably most surprisingly,
That’s why it buys more from factories in Africa and less from China than many rivals — most African countries face neither U.S. quotas nor duties.
And so now I know about the African Growth and Opportunity Act that’s designed to encourage Africa to get in on the supplying-US-market game. This leads me to two questions, one of which is relevant to the poor people making the clothes and the other about the poor people buying the clothes:
1) How long until Sarah Jessica Parker, Steve & Barry’s, and African-country-TBD become the updated Kathie Lee Gifford, WalMart and Honduras?
The President may designate Sub-Saharan African countries as eligible to receive the benefits of the Act if they are making progress in such areas as: establishment of market-based economies; development of political pluralism and the rule of law; elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment; protection of intellectual property; efforts to combat corruption; policies to reduce poverty, increase availability of health care and educational opportunities; protection of human rights and worker rights, and elimination of certain practices of child labor. Progress in each area is not a requirement for AGOA eligibility.
2) Does it really do struggling families any good to give them a $7 sweatshirt if they have to buy a new one almost every time they wash it? If I were that poor, I’d prefer my shitty clothing fall apart in a manner I could more easily mend. Split seams and tears seem preferable to outright drastic fabric shrinkage.