Target: A Bull’s Eye View From a Former Fan

The Target REDcard

“Carta Roja!”, I heard the manager chant in conspicuous fashion as she passed by my checkout line. Seriously? Did she just tell the cashier to push the Target REDcard onto an unsuspecting customer…in Spanish? Little did she know that my Latino ears picked up on the cheap shot and though I wanted to quip back with an “Alo? Don’t you see that I’m standing right here?”. I let the moment pass and instead told the embarrassed cashier that her manager should have used more discretion in front of customers. I then unsuccessfully tried to corner her into confessing whatever incentives she received for peddling off REDcards but she wouldn’t squeal. Certainly they get some kind reward because why else would these cashiers be so pushy? I’m pretty burnt out on the “Would you like to save some money today by signing up for our Target Debit card? “ If you politely decline, they proceed with their canned spiel about how it’s not a credit card and you get 5% discount and free shipping. It sounds great, but what’s the catch? Their typical response implies that Target hopes to attain customer loyalty by having customers tap into their credit line. Excuse me? I don’t need a card to prove my fidelity to these people. I drop at least $100 per week at Target (at least that’s all I’m confessing!). They have my loyalty. Or they did….

Please understand that for me, the red bull’s eye logo used to be a beacon of all that was right in the world. I know many of you get what I’m talking about. On the way to a party and you need a new top? No problem, just step through those sliding doors and take a sharp left or right, depending on floor plan, and voila! Need to replace your worn out doormat AND you’re low on organic milk? Target run! Your kids are stir-crazy and need an air-conditioned outing? Popcorn and ICEE’S at Target, everyone! I literally have felt the calming effects of serotonin flow through my body when traveling down the highway and catching the famous bull’s eye sign from a distance. Imagine my euphoria when right next to the bull’s eye stands the twin-tailed Starbuck’s siren. I often use Target as a pit stop on road trips as alternatives to convenience stores and fast-food joints. Hello, my perfect cup of double-tall, half-caff, one-Splenda latte and hello my little oasis of dollar store awesomeness. Just ask any Target-lover about the magical corner of goodies right next to the Starbucks. Yes! You know exactly what I’m talking about. This is consumerism glory at its finest.

But over the last year or so, my shopper’s buzz has steadily declined to the point where I no longer step foot in the fun sections of the store. Believe it or not, I actually go in to buy groceries and cleaning products and diapers…wah, wah, boring. But it’s not just the cashier’s incessant call to take up the REDcard or the fact that it bothers me that it really isn’t a bad deal if you choose to go with the debit card. There are no hidden fees and you really do save 5% with every purchase. However, look a little deeper and you find that Target is quick to share your information with both affiliates and non-affiliates, which makes you the perfect bull’s eye for pinpoint marketing.

What really bothers me, and this is where you may start to turn on me, is the un traceability of the “fun stuff” at Target and all other stores, for that matter. I’d like to know if apparel manufacturers are using ethical practices when outsourcing their labor. Who are the people making my clothes and my pretty handbags and scarves?

Why does trying to find manufacturer information have to be so complicated?
A few of my Mossimo garments.

I began a casual online search for Mossimo, a Target-exclusive brand in the U.S market. Here is what I found: Mossimo is actually owned by the Iconix Brand Group who has sold exclusive rights to Target for U.S sales. This “California Global” brand is a multi-billion dollar business and is one of the largest global apparel brands in the U.S. Neither the Mossimo or Iconix Brand Group sites listed any information on where the garments were manufactured. It seems to me that the origin of production may be of interest to people wanting to know more about a brand, but I guess I’m asking too much. So I dove into my closet for further research. I pulled out Mossimo shirts that were made in Vietnam, China, and Guatemala. After plugging in all sorts of word searches to try to find brick and mortar locations for where these clothes were made, it occurred to me that Target might have this information on their corporate page.

Bingo! I admit I was impressed that they have a published and updated Global Factory List and give them kudos for demonstrating this level of transparency. However, there are hundreds upon hundreds of factories published and woe to the soul who dares to embark on finding answers. I also didn’t like some of their wording in their Vendor-Conduct Guide. Their policies state that they “will not knowingly” work with vendors who use forced labor or that they “will not knowingly” work with vendors whose factories utilize physical or mental punishment against employees.

This seems too easy. I will not knowingly eat cow butt in my hot dog but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. I love hot dogs. If I wanted to know what was in them, I would scrutinize the ingredient list but I don’t so I eat in ignorant bliss. A company as big and resourceful as Target can “knowingly assure that human violations are not occurring. They can take measures to ensure that factory workers are getting paid a livable wage. They can put protocols in place to eliminate child labor and even go as far as to provide a decent health care plan for employees in developing countries, but I won’t go there today. A typical third-world garment worker hopes to make $1 to 2$ a day and that is if the factory that they work for comply with local labor laws. I know that in Haiti, many companies fail to enforce minimum wage requirements of $5.71 per day. Many apparel workers there end up making enough to cover their lunch and possibly their transportation for the day.

So while this big-box store’s Vendor-Conduct Guide looks good on paper, it could be that it is easier to look the other way. That is the reason for the mile-long list of suppliers. It’s easier to outsource production to middlemen whose job it is to get it done at the lowest price possible. I’m not just blaming the garment industry for this, we all choose to wear these blinders because if we don’t then we are forced to make hard decisions that may lead to a modicum of moderation on our part. Would it be terrible if our closets were a little less full because we paid more in order for clothes to be made in dignified fashion?

What if we went back to a four-season fashion calendar rather than new lines being introduced every couple of weeks? Everyone is a fashionista when you can literally wear a cheap blouse a couple of times and throw it away when next month’s trend takes the stage. Think I’m exaggerating? Talk to the swarms of teenagers veering away from the logo-heavy lures of Abercrombie and Fitch and GAP toward the eclectic and ever-changing racks of Fast Fashion stores such as H&M and Forever 21. They have hit the fashion jackpot because now they can flaunt affordable fashion without having to sacrifice on quantity.

I say “they” and not “I” because I’m not cool enough to be considered among the fashion gurus but on a few occasions, I have fallen prey to the trendy web of fast fashion. Although I have always lacked the shopping prowess of many of my friends, I do get excited when I see stores named “Madewell” and “Free People” because I think I can practice a little worry-free indulgence. However, I start asking questions when I get there and find out things like the name, “Free People” is more about a state of mind and less about the people making the clothes. Every item I picked up at the MadeWell store was made in China which doesn’t mean an automatic disapproval but China-made products is not a monster that I’m willing to take on at this juncture in my life.

For me it’s more than the clothes being made well but about the entire process being done well.

Many companies are aware of this growing concern so they try to pacify the crowds by implementing corporate social responsibility programs or donating a percentage of their sales toward a noble cause. I guess this is a step in the right direction, but to me, it sounds like they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. What good is to donate toward one group of people or cause when you are neglecting the very laborers who are the backbone of your amassed wealth? It appears that Target is doing their part with an outstanding corporate responsibility program and with their new line of Made to Matter Collection. But if you notice, not one of the items in this collection is apparel-related.

The joys of casual shopping have turned into more of a chore for me; kind of like eating when you have a nose-plugging cold that keeps you from enjoying the flavors of your food. So while my loyalty to Target isn’t entirely compromised as I still make my weekly runs to buy household items, it’s become more of a strained friendship that one tries to maintain but the chumminess has long since faded. That is what shopping is for me now.

However, there are industrial changes on the horizon as more and more people begin to ask where and how their clothes are being made. Didn’t the organic food movement kick into high gear when consumers started asking similar questions? We wizened up to tricky labeling and learned that seven-syllable ingredients probably meant that the food we were buying was far from being real.

I don’t claim to champion this cause because it is a self-condemning one. I am a complicit collaborator in this system we’ve created and I’m not sure how to extricate myself from it. I certainly don’t want to drape myself in the homemade, “Little House on the Prairie” look and buying resale doesn’t really address the issues at hand. Some of the Fair Trade companies out there, while selling guilt-free garments, have very limited selections and it’s difficult to pay top dollar for something that I’m not crazy about wearing. I’m trying to be a conscious shopper but I want to love what I am wearing, too. Is it possible to strike a happy accord?

I want to look good but I’m done with not taking responsibility for people suffering because of my desire to look good.

What to do…what to do. Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel and while it takes a little research, below are some shops whose stuff I actually want to buy and while none of them claim to have this system down pat — they are moving in the right direction. I don’t know about you, but I want fashion that feels good from start to finish.

Threads for Thought
American Apparel
Mata Traders
Synergy Clothing

Do you know of any other ethical fashion stores who aren’t afraid to talk about where and by whom their clothes are made? Let me know!