Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Missing Sock: Would You Pay More?

Recently, a friend and I had a conversation about socks. Not where most of mine were, although I’d love to know, but how much people were willing to pay for them. It started when I mentioned my concern over where my children’s clothes were manufactured.

I may have had good intentions, my friend acknowledged, but most people don’t follow through on them.


The socks she mentioned were part of a 2006 study, “Consumers with a Conscience: will they pay more?” Quentin Fottrell summed up the study well in a Wall Street Journal MarketWatch article last month (Would you pay more for fair-trade socks? Why shoppers don’t care about Bangladesh).

Given the choice between socks, one pair identified as being made in Good Working Conditions-no child labor or sweat shop conditions—and those with no description of working conditions at all, only fifty percent of consumers would buy the GWC socks even when the prices were identical. When the price of these socks went up, even fewer.

Fottrell’s article describes one reason why this might be the case, quoting a co-author of the original sock study, professor Ian Robinson. “Most people are conditional co-operators,” he says. “If other people pay more for ethical products, they will. If other people don’t, they won’t.”

We’ve certainly seen a swell of popularity for Toms shoes, it seems possible that “peer pressure” can be effective in creating a brand that is desirable and ethical. But as a parent dealing with laundry, as well as a conscience, there are a few things I’d add to the sock dilemma.

First, buying more expensive and ethically made clothing means buying less. If close to 80% of clothes bought this year eventually ends up in a landfill, according to a story on NPR this morning, it seems many of us are buying more than we need.

Second, the quality of what we do buy, not only the conditions in which it’s made, needs to be high.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Am I the only mother who has found that the clothes I bought for my oldest child—ones that have weathered years of washing and are now hand-me-downs for my youngest—are better made than the ones I might buy new right now from the same stores? I’m not talking about traditional “fast-clothing stores”, either.

My husband’s shirts—again, the same brand he’s used for nearly two decades, now develop rips on the elbows after a year. Our dry-cleaner said the fabric is cheaper these days. Her advice: my husband should stop using his elbows so much.

When it comes to children’s clothing, would I be part of the 1/3 of consumers who would follow through on good intentions and pay more for clothing made in good working conditions? I’d like to try. I don’t think I’d be perfect.

A cursory search on the Internet to find information about retailers did not yield the most easy-to-follow guidance: A t-shirt here, a pair of shoes there—clearing house of ratings with pop-up adds for stores I already use.

Recently, I ordered two shirts for my oldest from a company that uses organic cotton. Of the factories, I know nothing, however.

The purple shirt arrived in a week. The label said, “Made in China.” According to a chart in the New York Times, garment workers in China may make $500 a month compared with $37 in Bangladesh.

The green shirt arrived a few weeks later. Except for the color, it was identical to the purple one. Then I looked at the label. “Made in the USA.”

As confusing as a missing sock.



This week on The Educated Mom, we follow up our post on Summer Reading with a look at Math.







3 comments:

Lunch Box Mom said...

Recently, a friend and I had a conversation about socks. Not where most of mine were, although I’d love to know, but how much people were willing to pay for them. It started when I mentioned my concern over where my children’s clothes were manufactured.

Victorina said...

This is cool!

Chantal said...

Awesome!