Fast Company


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Moving the Needle | Les Lunes

"Fashion Foreword"

by Liz Segran 
Staff Writer, Fast Company
The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that the Chinese laborers who sew Ivanka Trump's clothing line work more than 60 hours a week, earning only $62 a week-- a violation of international labor standards. Stories like this are common, making it easy to assume that all Chinese factories are equally horrendous. But as I've discovered through my reporting over the last few weeks, they are not all alike.

It can take years to fully understand the manufacturing landscape in China. Anna Lecat began learning Mandarin as a teenager at university in Budapest, then spent seventeen years connecting U.S. companies to Chinese factories. "If you heard me speaking on the phone, you wouldn't know I wasn't Chinese," Lecat tells me. "Learning Mandarin was my ticket out of Hungary."

She explains that for three decades, the Chinese government has invested heavily in transforming the southern city of Shenzhen into a manufacturing hub. It incentivized factories to set high targets and encouraged laborers from the countryside to take industrial jobs. Many of these factories ended up churning out high volumes of clothes for American and European fast fashion brands, gaining a reputation for rock-bottom prices, poor quality, and bad working conditions. But in other parts of the country, like Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Dongguan, the story was quite different. Many factory owners there continued to focus on craftsmanship, particularly in traditional Chinese fabrics like silk and cashmere. They had to pay good salaries to retain the best workers. 

Five years ago, Lecat struck out on her own to launch a fashion label, Les Lunes, that creates elegant garments out of soft, durable bamboo fabric. It made sense to make the clothes in China, since bamboo is sourced from the region. She choose to partner with a Shanghai factory. "There's a little playroom for workers' children," Lecat tells me. "In the afternoon, the seamstresses eat their lunch in a pleasant, sunny room. They're highly skilled, and earn good wages. It's a real mistake to think you can't make clothing ethically in China."