William from Texas asks: Thank you for your superb documentary. In the film, the organizers make a huge impact on the lives of the workers and in their battle against Forever 21. I wanted to know how we, as citizens, can get organized to defend other exploited immigrants in this age of anti-immigrant sentiment.
Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar: Thank you for your comment. We also feel that it is important to voice your opinions, to speak out about injustices in your community and to help defend immigrants (or any workers) who are being exploited. There are a number of immigrant rights organizations that are working to address the issues in the film, and you can find links to some of them at in the links and books section on the POV website for Made in L.A. It is very likely that there are local groups in your area that are working to defend immigrant rights where you could volunteer or donate skills. It’s also important to be informed about current immigration reform initiatives, and to let your representative or senator know what you think and how you’d like her or him to vote. You can look up your representative at www.house.gov and your senator at www.senate.gov. Additionally, since some state and local governments are also taking on immigration-related legislation, it’s also important to stay abreast of local legislation. Finally, don’t forget about the power of the internet: blog, write and express your views!
Budget Babe from Conneticut asks: I write a blog on budget fashion whose goal is to help average women on average incomes look stylish for less money. Forever 21 frequently factors into the picture on my blog. However, I certainly do not wish to support an unethical company with destructive, unfair business practices. What would you say to people such as myself and all my readers who live on very limited budgets, yet seek out fashion as a means of personal expression? Would you advise us not to shop at Forever 21? Where should we shop?? Thank you for illuminating this subject for us!
Carracedo and Bahar: We have read your blog posting about the film, and thank you for your thoughtful comments and for your questions here. We, too, are faced with the difficult question of how to look nice while shopping both ethically and inexpensively. Sadly, we haven’t found a great answer yet. But we do know that a first step is knowledge, and part of why we created Made in L.A. was to help people understand — on a personal level — who is making their clothes. Now when I look at a seam and I see that it’s crooked, I can imagine a garment worker, here or abroad, falling asleep at the machine.
We don’t know what the current situation is with Forever 21, and we certainly hope that the settlement portrayed in the film was effective in improving working conditions in Los Angeles. The bigger issue is that many retailers are able to offer cheap prices because the workers at the bottom are not being paid a livable salary. These pressures extend to the factory owners and manufacturers, who must frequently conform to prices set by retailers. And of course, retailers’ prices relate directly to consumers’ needs and desires, which brings us back to your question. I, for one, would be willing to pay a few more dollars for a blouse if that meant better pay for the workers who sew it.
Some organizations like Sweatfree Communities have lists on their websites of companies that are trying to do the right thing. Thrift stores are sometimes an ingenious place to find up-to-the minute fashion statements and are also helpful to the environment because they help to stem the tide of quickly disposed of clothing. (Read an interesting article on the environmental impact of clothing from Environmental Health Perspectives.)
But if what you want is to be able to buy clothes from the stores that you already like, and to ensure that they are ethically made, you may have to speak out! Many corporations, including some clothing companies, have instituted “Codes of Conduct” as a response to consumer pressure. We’ve seen the effects of consumer pressures in other industries; for example, major coffee companies have begun to carry fair trade coffee as a result of consumer requests. The important thing is not to remain silent! If all the young people who buy clothing at these stores send emails and letters to each company’s headquarters, saying that they really want to continue shopping there, but they want a guarantee that clothes are made under ethical conditions, I’m sure they’d listen!
We thank you for stopping to think about these issues in your search for fashion! Hope this helps.
Martha from Wisconsin asks: This film is a powerful tool. Has this film made an impact outside of the state of California?
Carracedo and Bahar: Yes, in fact, Made in L.A. premiered last June at the Silverdocs Documentary Festival, just outside Washington D.C. The audience response at those first screenings was extremely emotional, and we are very lucky that that experience was extended to the entire country as a result of our national broadcast on PBS’ POV series. No matter where we’ve screened the film, we’ve heard from people whose families have struggled as a result of immigration issues, and also from people who want to make good consumer choices to help protect workers in the global economy. We are getting ready to start an outreach campaign to bring the film to organizations, unions and institutions across the country, and we hope to soon be working with an educational distributor to get the film into universities, colleges, schools and libraries. Made in L.A. is also about to premiere in Mexico and in Spain, among other countries. If you want to stay updated, visit us at www.madeinla.com.
Agnes from Washington asks: How can consumers who want to do the right thing tell if the retailers we patronize treat their workers fairly?
Carracedo and Bahar: This is a very difficult and a very important question. Unfortunately there is not yet a “labeling system” (like with ingredients in food) where consumers can learn about the conditions where their garments were made. (We would endorse such a campaign!) Some organizations like Sweatfree Communities have lists on their websites of companies that are trying to do the right thing. On our website, www.madeinla.com, we are working on a special “Get involved” section to let people know about the latest campaigns and/or boycotts, and about other ways that they can get involved and help improve conditions for workers. Hope to have that information up soon!