Off Your Back Shirts is a company that wants
to make a real difference in the world.
Increasingly, people have come to care about both what products theyre buying and how those products are made. The story behind the product – and in our case, shirt – does matter to the majority of us.(1) We dont just want a nice shirt. We want to know that some kid in some far off country wasnt forced to work 12 hour days without a lunch break and no opportunity to go to school. We want to know that the woman who is working 50 hours week to help make the shirts we are wearing is making a living wage that can help provide for her family. We want to know that what we are buying doesnt have a negative effect on our planet. We want to shop without guilt.
Most of us, however, dont know how. We do our best to live out the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. We may look for organic clothing (although its hard to find) or try to buy clothes from companies that say they dont use sweatshops. Most of us want our purchases to do no harm, but its not so easy There are not many avenues for finding clothing thats made ethically AND looks good. So, in the end, most of us give up.
Thats where we come in.
Off Your Back Shirts mission is to be a socially conscious business that sells clothing people love.
There are lots of companies out there that are advertising their “community involvement” or the “green” aspects of their business. When we say socially conscious – what do we mean? Off Your Back Shirts commitment to you our customer is that we plan to have our values guide everything we do – from the initial idea of a new shirt to when it arrives in your hands. We will do our best to do business in a way that is respectful of people and our planet.
Specifically, we plan to sell primarily sweatshop free, fair trade, and organic apparel and give a portion of all sales (not including taxes or shipping/handling) to causes working in the areas of poverty, youth, and the environment. Soon, you will be able to choose from a list of organizations that receive 5% of your purchase.
Clothes people love. Weve launched our site with a small line of shirts with either fun or socially conscious themes. This is only the beginning. We will eventually have a full line of apparel including a designer line inspired by grassroots artists and designers. We hope that soon, whenever you think fair trade clothing, you will think Off Your Back Shirts.
Justice: We desire to interact with others – whether customers, manufacturers, or anyone else is a manner that is fair and ethical.
Mercy: We desire to act out of compassion towards others – part of which is shown in acts of philanthropy.
Humility: We desire to consider others in high regard – part of which is shown in respect for our shared earth.
To help make it easier for you, we use symbols from our logo to label all of our products. The earth symbolizes that a shirt is made out of organic cotton. The shirt symbol indicates that it is sweatshop free. The arrow symbol signifies that the shirt maintains some level of fair trade status (the factory that produced it is either certified fair trade by FLO or it is worker owned).
Off Your Back Shirts tries to be earth friendly in all its business practices. From recycling ink cartridges, to using 100% post consumer recycled paper, to using only organic cotton clothing, we try to incorporate business practices that take stewardship of our planet seriously.
Organic cotton: Until recently we were only mildly aware of the benefits of organic cotton. Now, were convinced that organic cotton is the way to go.
Did you know that:
Approximately 1/3 of a pound of pesticides are used in the production of just one cotton t-shirt.
Although cotton is regulated as a non-food agricultural product, in fact most of the cotton plant ends up in our food chain (as cottonseed oil and as feed for cattle). If it were regulated as a food product, many of the chemicals used currently would not be allowed.
Organic cotton is similar in quality to traditional cotton grown in the same area.(2)
Many of the pesticides used in cotton are known carcinogens.
In California, one of the top five cotton growing states, 200,000 pounds of Aldicarb is used each year despite being banned in some states for its danger to water sources.(3)
Endosulfan, a common pesticide used on cotton, washed off a cotton plantation into a waterway in 1995. “Within days 245,000 fish were killed over [a] 16 mile stretch. 142,000 pounds of Esolufan were used in California in 1994.”(4)
Whenever you see the earth symbol you can be assured that this product is certified organic.
Studies suggest that up to 80% of apparel sold in the United States was made in a sweatshop. On average, “labor costs are only 6 percent of the retail price of garments made in the United States – 60 cents for a $10 shirt.”(5) For most of us, a number that high seems hard to believe and even harder to do something about it.
To make it worse, a “made in the USA” label does not guarantee anything either. Its common now for companies to use factories in “U.S. territories” that have sweatshop practices and use the “made in the USA” label. Additionally, U.S. factories are often in violation of both U.S. and international labor laws. “In 2000 a U.S. Department of labor survey concluded that two out of every three garment shops in Southern California did not comply with Federal minimum wage and overtime laws.”(6) One group reports the average worker pay of $3.28 an hour and a 52-hour workweek.(7)
When we use and apply the sweatshop free label we are referring to labor conditions that are fair and humane.
Sweatshop free however does not take into account fully the issue of equitable wages. (See fair trade below for more about equitable/livable wages.)
- Overtime is not mandatory.
- Young children are not employed and when teens are employed they are still able to attend school.
- Working conditions are suitable and safe.
- There is no forced or bonded labor.
Whenever you see the T-shirt symbol on one of our shirts you can be assured that this shirt has some level of certification as sweatshop free. Where certification was not available (like on a few of our shirts) despite being told the factories were not sweatshops, we have not included this label.
Fair trade usually means sweatshop free, but also goes beyond that to indicate that employees and laborers are paid equitable and livable wages.
Fair trade usually covers issues specifically related to trade partnerships. Usually fair trade includes such things as pre-payment, long-term contracts, and assured price structuring. Over the years a variety of entities existed to provide labeling for fair trade products. Today, FLO (Fair trade Labeling Organizations International) provides international standards related to fair trade and provides labeling and certification standards.
In the apparel industry, fair trade labeling is just beginning. FLO has certification standards on cotton production and recently has begun to offer certification on clothing as well (this is so new that their website does not make mention of this yet).
Whenever you see the arrow symbol you can be assured that the product is fair trade. On some occasions we use this symbol for clothing that is not certified fair-trade such as is the case with one factory that is worker owned and the employees make 30% more on average than their local counterparts. In these circumstances, we believe the ethic of fair trade still exists even if certification is currently unavailable.
From the very first day the idea came for Off Your Back Shirts, we knew we wanted to give a portion of our sales away. Why? In part because weve worked and led non-profit programs that were making a real difference but always struggling to get enough money to support the work. But, also because we believe that to whom much is given, much is required. We believe that working towards healing and restoration for our world (people and for the planet) is what were called to. So, we give a portion of all sales to causes working in the areas of poverty, youth and the environment.
1. According to a Marymount University survey, 85% of consumers would pay more for a garment if they knew it was not made in a sweatshop.� From �U.S. Retailers: Responsible for the Global Sweatshop Crisis� at www.behindthelabel.org/pdf/retailindus.pdf.
2. From www.aboutorganiccotton.org and �Organic Cotton: Growing Together� from www.aboutorganiccotton.org.
5. Appelbaum, Richard & amp; Dreier, Peter. �Sweat X Closes Up Shop� in The Nation. Found at www.thenation.com/doc/20040719/appelbaum
6. Sweatshop Watch and Garment Worker Center. �Crisis or Opportunity? The Future of Los Angeles� Garment Workers, the Apparel Industry and the Local Economy� Nov. 2004. p.3.
7.Sweatshop Watch and Garment Worker Center. p.4.
For more information check these links out.