Went to the Contemporary Craft Fair today and listening to the Craftnet event Making Places: Branding a Craft Town where Ruth Potts talked about Clone Towns and the importance of local production and consumption. One of her positive examples was “Keep Louisville weird.”
Now, beside the fact that “Keep Louisville weird” is a “clone” of the original “Keep Austin weird” (now trademarked by Outhouse Designs and used to market tshirts, hats, mugs etc.) in his book “Weird City: Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas,” Joshua Long points out the commercial adoption of the phrase beside the relationship between place, urban economies, the environment, and culture.
Potts’ talk reminded me of the debates around “greenwashing” i.e. big corporation adopting semi-“green” principles to cash in on consumer preferences (see for instance the Body Shop). But also re the NYTimes article I posted recently For Ohio Pottery, a Small Revival … that is, Starbucks-turns-to-ohio-not-china-for-coffee-mugs. So, are mugs made in Ohio for Starbucks local? Are casted ceramics handmade? (another discussion we frequently have regarding e.g. Emma Bridgewater’s ceramics). What constitutes handmade? Industrial manufacturing that is stamped by hand?
And what is a craft town? A town where local manufacturing is revitalized because Starbucks ordered several thousand mugs? How does that scheme change our perception of global corporations and chain stores?
Moreover, the Etsy blog featured a real short excerpt of Elizabeth Cline’s book “Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion” today. Here, she praises the “fairness” of a Dominican versus Asian sweat shops who pay “three-and-a-half times the Dominican minimum wage, roughly $2.83 an hour or $500 a month. This type of pay structure is known as a ‘living wage.’ Instead of trapping garment workers in a hand- to-mouth existence, a living wage allows factory workers to achieve longer-term goals and invest in their children’s futures.” But $2.83/hour? Seriously? Is this our new “fair,” “living wage”?
Cline acknowledges that “Garment workers overseas are still only earning about 1 percent of the retail price of the clothing they produce. The Worker Rights Consortium has found that garment worker wages could be doubled or even tripled with little or no increase for American consumers. Clothing companies have enjoyed decades of cheap foreign labor and the resulting profits, but what exactly are the tangible benefits to us, the American consumer?”
Exactly, so what are the benefits of all these semi “fair” “local” and “handmade” schemes? One cannot resist wondering whether this is just yet another scheme to generate positive attention to an exploitative and profit based business practice.