What’s in a label? Snowsuits, globalization, and my slight inferiority complex

“Made in Bangladesh”. That’s what was stitched onto the back of a $25 adult snowsuit I bought last week at Modell’s. I buy clothes made in Bangladesh all the time – seems like half the clothes at H&M are made from the mothaland. But this time (snowpants made in Bangladesh?) the label made me (I’m embarrassed to say this) not trust it.

snowsuitI mean, what do people in Bangladesh know about cold weather? And even less, snow?  The country lies on the freakin’ equator. When the weather would drop to 50F in Dhaka and Kolkata, my mashis and pishis would say, “Amar sheeth korey” and wrap on a shawl. When in Bangladesh last December, I noticed people riding on motorcycles in earmuffs, large woolen shawls, scarves, heavy-knit sweaters and winter hats even though the Fahrenheit was in the mid-50’s.

Decisions decisions. On one hand the suit might be cheap crap, but on the other hand, if it keeps me warm and dry, it is a steal for $25. The tag had a picture of skiers on it, but no waterproof guarantee. I bought the snowsuit even though I was suspicious. We were planning for a snowboarding trip in Lake Tahoe and I needed warm and waterproof clothes.

But then a few nights ago I started thinking,

“What if I am stuck on top of a snowy mountain with no stores nearby (or highly-overpriced ones for tourists) and these Bangladesh-made snowpants suck?”

“What if they end up not being waterproof and I get hypothermia?”

So in the last minute I caved and walked into the overpriced, but well-reputed North Face Store and asked the sales lady to point me to the snowboarding pants. She brought me over a few styles and I tried them all on in the fitting room. These $180 snow pants felt just as warm and were equally as unattractive and made my paacha look as huge as the $25 ones. But the one difference was that the tags said, “Waterproof, Durable and Breathable 100% guaranteed.” Oh, and it had the North Face label, which I have to say, after owning a few of their other products, I trust completely. Again, out of curiosity I checked the manufacturing label . . . and again, it said “Made in Bangladesh.” But this time I did not feel suspicion, I felt – proud. Globalization can make the world feel so small. I always associated “Made in Bangladesh” labels with cheaper, and cheap-quality clothes made of thin cotton and sold at Walmart, Old Navy, Marshalls, H&M, and stores like that. Clothing that you wear for fashion, not function. But to see clothes made in Bangladesh, and especially winter clothes, sold at a nice sporting goods store whose mission statement is “Never Stop Exploring” made me realize how much the garment industry in Bangladesh has come. Yes, I know about the abuse and political corruption that occurs around the factories. But the truth is, garment factories are not all sweat shops like the American news media sometimes paint them to be. They provide thousands and thousands of people with jobs. Yes, some of them are children. But if it weren’t for these jobs, many of these kids would be begging on the streets. Its not like they are working at these factories instead of going to school. School is not even an option for them. Many Americans don’t realize that not every country has free and compulsory education. So the garment factories provide a chance for upward mobility for workers and their families.

Back in the North Face store, as I stared back and forth to the “Made in Bangladesh” label, juxtaposed against the $180 price tag I thought about all of this. My hope is that with Bangladesh-made clothing becoming more expensive, the workers in those factories are receiving at least some of the added profit and not just the corporations that do business with them.

I couldn’t give up the waterproof guarantee so I handed the nice sales lady my credit card and left the North Face store $180 poorer. When I hit the slopes in Lake Tahoe, California today, I’ll have to see for myself which “Made in Bangladesh” snowpant is better, the $25 Climate Control brand or the $180 North Face brand. Follow-up post will be coming soon.