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The cost of ‘Made in USA’ for LA’s garment workers

Garment worker making clothing.
Garment worker making clothing.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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As we're out shopping, it's easy to forget where our clothes come from.

But for a large portion of “Made in the U.S.A.” items, they're really made in L.A. More than 40,000 people, largely immigrant women, work in clothing factories south and east of Downtown L.A.

According to a recent U.S. Labor Department study, many of those workers are being paid less than what they're legally entitled to receive. The government claims long hours often don't net worker overtime, and per-piece payments to sewing machine operators often fail to reach minimum wage. Some of the biggest names in retail clothing are supplied by these factories, including Ross, TJ Maxx, and Forever 21. A recent op-ed in the L.A. Times argues the problem is rampant in garment factories across Southern California and that the industry has done little about it.

The fashion industry has pushed back on the study, saying it snapshots the small portion of the industry that does operate underground and that it is not a fair portrayal of the industry as a whole, which operates by the books. They say the state and federal government aren’t doing enough to educate people coming into the garment industry on the laws and regulations for workers.


Jessie Kornberg, CEO, Bet Tzedek, a public interest law firm which provides legal aid to garment workers in Los Angeles

Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, a group advocating for workers, manufacturers, and suppliers in the garment industry