Factory collapse has St. John's shoppers pondering purchases

Consumers and retailers in St. John's are thinking about where to buy their clothing in light of the recent deaths of hundreds of sweatshop workers in south Asia.

But fair manufacturing often means higher consumer cost

Kim Winsor owns Johnny Ruth, a boutique which sells clothing made by fairly treated workers. (CBC )

Shoppers and retailers in St. John's are rethinking where they buy their clothing in light of the garment factory collapse that killed hundreds of workers in Bangladesh.

Many large companies use workers in developing countries where cheap wages and lax labour laws reduce their costs. That enables them to sell inexpensive clothing in Canada at places such as Joe Fresh, the clothing boutique in Dominion supermarkets in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

"Well, now I'm definitely going to think about it," said shopper Lisa Wilson. "Definitely."

Paying attention to conditions

The owners of Nonia, a St. John's store with a long history of selling hand-knit clothes, pride themselves on how they treat their suppliers, many of whom live in rural parts of the province. 

Shop workers at Nonia in St. John's put finishing touches on garments. (CBC )

"The ladies do the knitting in their homes and they get paid for it," said Nonia manager Judy Anderson. "They don't have to wait until it sells. They get paid for it right away."

Johnny Ruth, a clothing boutique in downtown St. John's, sells foreign-made products. But store owner Kim Winsor says they were made by workers who are treated fairly.

Comes at a cost

However, Winsor said that comes with a cost to the consumer.

"You can't really compare it to massive manufacturing where they are selling $19 jeans," she said. "We can't compete with that, but we can tell you where our fabric is from in the denim line, and where they are made."

Winsor said her customers don't ask many questions about where her clothing comes from, but she said she hopes the tragedy in Bangladesh will change how customers shop.

"I really hope it opens people's eyes just to ask questions," said Winsor. "And we are encouraging it more."