Sweatshop T-shirts Are One Of Punk Rock’s Biggest Hypocrisies
Posted on May 7, 2015
May 7, 2015 | by John Gentile
Okay, this time I have to get on a soapbox. Sorry, but it needs to be done… *Screech, screech, screech… clomp, clomp*
I think it’s fair to say that a pretty big part of punk rock is the concept of treating people fairly and trying to improve the world as a whole. Especially as of late, bands have made it their focus to create safe spaces for fans, to speak out for the disenfranchised, and to bring focus to many of the world’s (and America’s) misdoings.
But the problem is that many of these bands pay for their gas and other expenses via the direct abuse of the downtrodden. I’m talkin’ t-shirts, baby! Go ahead and pull out your favorite band shirts and check out those tags: Made in Pakistan, Made in China, Made in Bangladesh, Made in Honduras, you get the point. And I’m willing to bet five-to-one that within those countries, those shirts were made in sweatshops.
I don’t need to tell you, but sweatshops are not nice places to work and they clearly exploit people who have few other options for income: Throughout the world, an estimated 250 million children aged 5-14 work in sweatshops. In Bangladesh, for example, workers make on average, about $68 a month. In China, it’s common for sweatshops to work “employees” seven days a week, and on average, pay them about $228 a month.
It sucks and we need to acknowledge it. Band t-shirts rule. They are how you express yourself, show off cool art, and even speak a secret language to each other… a sort of pre-cell phone Tinder, if you will.
But, a band preaching goodwill to fellow human beings that sells t-shirts made from these countries quite simply is not putting their money with their mouth is. The cold hard truth is that it’s hypocritical because these shirts are the direct product of horrible mistreatment of other humans.
Yet, fans are as much the reason for this as bands, if not more. (Actually, fans are probably more to blame). We all need to realize that the age of the $10-$12 shirt is over. I looked at the calendar. It’s not 1986 anymore. You know what? Twenty bucks for a t-shirt is reasonable. Don’t give me that hooey that you “Can’t afford a $20 shirt.” First, if you can’t afford a $20 shirt, then a $10 shirt made by a twelve year old who just lost his fingers is a pretty lousy alternative. Second, I’ve seen you all at the show. I saw *YOU* buying a $4 beer (plus one dollar tip!). If you can afford a band shirt, you can afford a $20 shirt. (I also point out that metal bands routinely sell their shirts for $25 or more. So, the $10-$12 price point is merely a fictitious one, created by the misapplication of something Ian MacKaye said when Repeater came out.)
I use a twenty-dollar price point because I know it’s possible. I’m admittedly NOT an expert, so my numbers are guestimations, though I do have limited experience. A few months ago I printed up a mere 15 shirts on Bayside brand in six color ink., oversized image. The price? $14 each for such a small run with a many-color design. Most band shirts are one or two colors and are usually printed in runs of 100 or more. That means bands could print shirts for much cheaper… Let’s say the band prints them for $10 each, which I think might even be high. They sell them, for say, $18—that’s eight bucks per profit. That $12 sweatshop shirt printed for $5 doesn’t look so attractive anymore.
(As a side note, when printing on American-made t-shirts, people often opt for American Apparel. I think they do this because the name recognition is larger and AA shirts are generally regarded as higher quality. Personally, I like Bayside better. AA have that thin, formless shape to them while Bayside have that old-school thickness, which I think looks better and also makes the shirt last longer.)
Here’s another example. All, or almost all of Alternative Tentacles t-shirts are made in the USA. Right now, they’re selling their shirts for $15 dollars each—made in good ol’ USA. (AND they look hella cool). An ethical, profitable, affordable t-shirt can be done.
And the best part is, everyone can sleep easier at night. Bands get paid. Local printing shops get paid. You get a really nice (and frankly, better quality) t-shirt made via fair working conditions. No kids lose their fingers because you just have to have the new Plastic Frankensteins gear. (I made that band up).
Now, the point of this isn’t to point fingers at bands and say, “You guys are HYPOCRITES!” The point is quite the opposite. The point is that we as fans need to understand that bands are driven by our dollars. We need to say to our favorite bands, “Boy, I’d love to buy some merch. Do you have any t-shirts made in America? I’ll pay a few dollars extra for some of those.” Eventually, bands will see what sells and start printing shirts in America, realizing that people don’t want shoddy, unethical Hanes t-shirts.
If the majority of us did that, we would pretty much wipe out one of punk rock’s unspoken, and most severe, shames. And you know what, it only costs a few dollars more. I call that a bargain.
… *clomp clomp* okay, next time I’ll talk about the Cro-mags or Billy Joel or something again…