Sunday, May 9, 2004

T-shirt makers hope to boost sales among socially conscious

By Angela Watercutter
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - In an industry with a history of sweatshops, two garment companies think they can make money without underpaying or overworking employees.

American Apparel and SweatX, which specialize in T-shirts and other casual clothes, are marketing themselves as "sweatshop-free" to boost sales among young consumers. Being socially responsible isn't easy in a business like the garment trade, which has low profit margins and customers more interested in price than politics.

At American Apparel, the average pay among the 1,700 workers on the sewing floor is about $12.50 an hour, nearly twice the state minimum wage of $6.75.Workers also get paid vacation days and health benefits for $8 a week.

SweatX was founded by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in 2002 with $1.5 million from the Hot Fudge Social Venture Fund established by Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen. Workers at the Los Angeles-based firm make $10.60 an hour while getting medical coverage and two weeks of paid vacation a year.

To pay its wages, American Apparel must charge as much as $18 in its stores for a T-shirt, compared with about $10 charged elsewhere for a T-shirt made in sweatshops.

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