Supporting local families and individuals is one of our core values at Naked Clothing. Why? Because during our time on earth, Jeff and I are finding it rewarding to be a part of vibrant community and help encourage it, rather than the default of many communities today, which is to stay isolated from your neighbors and not even know who they are, let alone understand how to support them. I feel this isolation is one of the things that causes depression and anxiety. Literally it can be a little scary to be surrounded by people you do not know, and could not turn to and trust if there was, say, an environmental disaster. It isn't always all peaches and cream, but we try to foster ongoing relationships with all of our nearest neighbors.
It is simply more fun to know the designers and families who we support with our store. One of my favorite stories is of a jewelry designer who came to collect her check with her husband, who cuts trees for a living. "Whoopee!" He screeched when seeing the amount. "Now I can cut down one less tree." The real impact of that payment to their family and even to the trees in our community hit home with me. It is moments like this which make my job rewarding.
The default method of retail stores in the States is to attend trade shows and then order products mass-made overseas, usually poorly made and by some variant of slave labor, and then exploit those communities by selling it here for a high profit. The whole practice puts a bad taste in my mouth, but it has become such a normal way of business that I do believe most people do not even question how they can get something for so cheap. When I was traveling in Bali, Indonesia, I visited a small island that promised a view of "local" culture. What I saw there was a strip of small motels and pricey restaurants along a pretty beach. The locals worked each day on the South end of the beach, dragging out and picking through seaweed. I then found out they were processing this seaweed for a high-end and internationally renown cosmetic company. These people lived in shacks with dirt floors. It didn't take much imagination to understand that for what the cosmetic company was charging, these people were being outrageously exploited.
Besides supporting local families, another intention of ours is to get as many people as possible into organic clothing. We believe the breathable and delicious quality fabric makes for happier, healthier lives. In the last twenty years our country has seen a significant decline in the quality of clothing available. Moving production overseas, where labor is vastly cheaper, has driven down prices and quality. Additionally, the usage of polyester (plastics) in clothing has become so normal that one is hard-pressed to find even basic cottons at their Fred Meyer or even locally-owned boutiques. Who suffers the most? One could argue women, who absolutely suffer when going through the hot flashes of menopause while also wearing unbreathable, plastic clothing. They are some of our biggest fans.
To meet these two intentions of supporting local artisans while also getting people of all economic brackets into organic clothing, we strike a balance here at Naked. 100% of our clothing and other products are fair trade. That means no one is being exploited, to our knowledge. If it is sewn overseas the people are being paid usually 2x the average local wage, and have excellent, clean working conditions. There are some beautiful community projects going on with these small companies, that we are happy to support. 95% of our non-clothing items are crafted in Whatcom, Skagit and other Pacific NW counties. The remaining 5% are crafted in Africa by AIDS widows and refugees.
Things sewn in the U.S. cost more, because you are paying wages for a U.S. worker, not a Chinese or Balinese one. Many customers are happy to pay this price, but others simply could not, for various reasons economic or psychological reasons. That is why in addition to several lines of U.S.-sewn clothing, we also offer lower-cost yet still high quality items made overseas, fair trade. In this case about 70% of that clothing is still designed within a 2-hour driving radius.
I have seen more than a few "fair trade" stores try and fail at business. My sense of this is that they focus more on knickknacks (there are many in the fair trade world) than on truly meeting a need. Here at Naked we're highly focused on helping people get access to fashionable clothing which fits so much better than what you'd usually find, which is also fair trade and organic. Some people do not care that our offerings are fair trade/organic, and that's okay with us because the bottom line is more people are getting into these breathable and amazing fibers, and more local designers and fair trade companies are being supported.
We're not idealists, and sometimes it can feel this world is doomed so why even put in the effort to do it differently? Again I return to the selfish factor of fun. It is more fun running a business that connects me to local families, to nurture them in my own way, and to also be connected to these overseas communities which are providing at the very least more money and healthier conditions to their workers, which I hope leads to better education and opportunities for them.
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