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Garment Printing with a Conscience

(October 2004) posted on Fri Nov 12, 2004

Making social and environmental issues a priority in your daily operations may not seem practical when turnaround times and finances are tight. But if you follow the lead of garment printers who have researched the effects of sweatshop labor, chemically treated cotton, and ecologically unfriendly inks, you may just change your mind.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

What do you do when the economy is shaky and competition is on the rise? If you're like most, you focus on cutting costs. This approach is especially prevalent in the garment-printing industry, where the market is crowded to the point that many buyers consider T-shirt decoration a commodity. If customers perceive one company to be so similar to the next, what can garment screen printers do to attract customers and maintain profitability? Many opt to play the price game: produce garments as quickly and inexpensively as possible in trying to out-do the shop around the corner.

Basing business practices on the mindset that sales usually go to the company that offers the lowest price creates a race to the bottom -- meaning the first one to finish as the cheapest wins. Unfortunately, there are numerous consequences associated with conducting business in this fashion, many of which garments screen printers may not even be aware. The impact of this race-to-the-bottom mentality affects screen shops, their suppliers, and the end customers for decorated apparel.

Making price your sole consideration for sales has the obvious drawback of reduced quality in your products, but it also can inadvertently lead to labor abuses, damaging consequences for the environment and worker health, and a negative impact on the domestic economy. This article will focus on three major issues often overlooked by garment shops: the use of pesticides in cotton agriculture, the presence of sweatshop labor in the textile industry, and the effects of using plastisol (PVC-based) inks in garment screen printing. You'll also get information about alternatives and find out how some screen printers have made their operations more environmentally and socially sustainable.


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