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A Love Affair Ends . . .

For a handful of years, I have bought sweaters from Eileen Fisher. She has a variety of thin cotton sweaters that are perfect for Florida, they fit me, the company is privately-owned by Eileen Fisher and offers yoga and massage to its employees (while on the clock), and she has a socially-responsible ESOP (employee stock option plan). Oh, and she offers grants for the community, for women-owned businesses, and for women and girls. She even has a Director of Social Consciousness. I've loved the company for years.

Maybe because I wasn't paying attention.

I would purchase my sweaters at the local mall, usually at Bloomingdale's, and though I don't have a lot of clothing (my husband has the "women's closet" in our house), Eileen Fisher is the brand that takes up the largest percentage of my small closet. Recently, an Eileen Fisher store opened at the same local mall. Actually it's not so recent, it's just that I go shopping at the mall about three times a year so it was new to me. I was delighted.

Until I started shopping.

Everything I looked at was "Made in China." (I can no longer read the labels of the sweaters I currently own, so I don't know where they were made.)

The saleswomen thought they'd certainly be able to help my vegan self because their clothing is all "natural." That's as opposed to faux clothing, I guess. Natural meant non-synthetic, I think. Cotton, silk, wool and cashmere. The cashmere is called "Natural Cashmere." I'm not sure I've ever seen synthetic cashmere, but I guess it's out there somewhere. Then there's the "Earth Conscious Leather," which I thought maybe wasn't leather at all, but I was wrong. It's "processed with vegetable-based and low-impact ingredients and crafted by a family-owned factory in New York City." What is it about the breeding, raising and slaughtering of cow's is "Earth Conscious" I wonder?

The saleswomen were surprised to learn I don't wear silk or wool, as they are "natural." I responded: "So is fecal matter."

Just kidding.

I was the only one in the store so I did a mini-seminar on silk, wool, cashmere and alpaca (the new cashmere, I suppose). They clearly had no training about materials from the company, and no personal experience pondering the origin of silk and were a bit disturbed by what they heard.

I felt bad for the poor, fiftysomething women who had theretofore never considered that someone might get hurt for their clothing so I changed the subject.

"I've always heard so much about how socially-responsible this company is. But everything I've looked at so far was Made in China" (and yet is over $150, which is a bionic rip-off). "What's up with that?"

"Well that's all about to change."

What a relief, I thought. They're coming to the great US of A for their production.

"China's getting too expensive."


So the woman basically just told me that Eileen Fisher is moving her production to someplace cheaper than China, thereby increasing her profit margin even more, and possibly using workers who, let's say, aren't offered yoga on company time.

According to Wikipedia, which I think I've used twice before:

As of 2003, 35% of Eileen Fisher clothing was manufactured in the United States while the rest was made in China in compliance with Social Accountability International's SA8000.

I'm going to give Eileen Fisher the benefit of the doubt and assume that she's going to move her production from China to the US (I'll call/write and ask for a confirmation), as she's interested in creating jobs and helping our sorry economy. (Highly improbable, but we'll see.) When you look at the litany of animal abuses in China, not to mention all of the human ones, it's a wee bit odd to feature China in your production, no matter what organization your producers are in compliance with. If you're doing it so you can sell your product for a slim margin at Kmart or Target, that's one thing (not an acceptable thing, just a different rationalization). But when you do it and then sell a sweater for $498, I've got a big problem with that.

The greenwashing and the illusion that something really fantastic is going on is so well orchestrated that if you're not paying attention, you might feel proud to pay so much for your clothing (and yes, I'm aware you could pay a lot more). But then you realize that regardless of how Earth Conscious leather is, it's still leather. And "natural" cashmere and alpaca and silk and wool are still products of exploitation, torture and slaughter. And China is still China.

The marketing and the branding are brilliant, you can deny it.

Time to find a new sweater supplier.

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