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Mercedes Cortés charged a little more than $4 an hour sewing labels worth $12. How many likes does that have? Via LA Times
Mercedes Cortés charged a little more than $4 an hour sewing labels worth $12. How many likes does that have? Via LA Times

Prête-à-porter slavery: The sad reality behind the clothes worn by most instagrammers

The Department of Labor investigates hundreds of cases of labor exploitation in Los Angeles factories, where the fashion you wear is created.

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Have you ever wondered how a pair of jeans can cost $24? 

In less than two weeks, factories that work for companies that dress fashion influencers on the Internet, create jeans, dresses, and coats that appear to cost hundreds of dollars at a discount price. A caress for your wallet, yes, but a hammer blow to the hands of those who thread the needles. Most of them are undocumented people who work in slavery-like conditions.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has reported hundreds of cases regarding the affordable fashion company built on the backs of vulnerable people.

"Los Angeles [wrote investigative journalist Kitty Bennett in NYT] is full of factories that pay their workers illegally and as little as possible, fighting foreign competitors, who can pay even less, and thus feeds a system of sweatshops."

From 2016 to the present year, the DOL discovered that Fashion Nova's clothing was manufactured in factories that owed $3.8 million in back wages to hundreds of employees, according to federal documents reviewed by the NYT. 

Under the aggravating circumstances, these factories, hired by vendors, to produce what you put on twice and then keep in the closet pay around $2.77 per hour — almost the tip you would give the kid who mows your lawn after school. 

Fashion Nova has just informed this newspaper that "Fashion Nova has always paid its employees in compliance with the law" and it was the vendors who hired factories that abused their employees without the company's knowledge. 

Who washes the dirty laundry?

Mercedes Cortés (56), a former worker at Coco Love, a ramshackle factory near Fashion Nova's offices in California, used to make about $270 per week — the equivalent of $4.66 per hour. She worked every day without rest and was paid according to how fast she could produce — four cents per shirt sleeve and about five cents for the side seams. 

"There were cockroaches. There were rats," she explained to Bennett. "The conditions were not good."

When Cortés left Coco Love in 2016 and reached an agreement with the company for $5,000 in back pay. The labels she sewed were worth $12 — more than double her hourly wage. 

It was at those same garment factories hired by vendors that work for Fashion Nova, where federal investigators found evidence of worker abuse, the NYT reported.

"In September, three department officials met with Fashion Nova attorneys to tell them that, for four years, the brand name clothing had been found in 50 factory investigations that paid less than the federal minimum wage or did not pay overtime," the reporter wrote.

From 2016 to the present year, Labor discovered that Fashion Nova clothing was manufactured in factories that owed $3.8 million in back wages.

However, under federal law, brands cannot be penalized if they can prove they were unaware of the abuses. Today, the NYT says, no retailer has been fined in Los Angeles for hiring the services of these sweatshops. 

The company, in statements to The Times, assured that all its workers would be duly compensated and that "any suggestion that Fashion Nova is responsible for badly paying anyone who works on our brand is categorically false."

Meanwhile, the chain of precariousness continues. While fashion influencers keep wearing clothes that look expensive, those who sew and rivet their dresses cannot take a single selfie in which they appear smiling.

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