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Garment Printing with a Conscience

(October 2004) posted on Fri Nov 12, 2004

Making social and environmental issues a priority in your daily operations may not seem practical when turnaround times and finances are tight. But if you follow the lead of garment printers who have researched the effects of sweatshop labor, chemically treated cotton, and ecologically unfriendly inks, you may just change your mind.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

Eric Henry, president of the garment-printing company T.S. Designs in Burlington, NC, says, "The challenge we have in our what I call the Wal-Mart effect--driven to the lowest price. When you go outside of your market to purchase a product or service your market could give, that's not sustainable because you're putting people who are within the domestic chain out of a job. If they're out of a job...well, those are the people you want to buy your product. If they don't have jobs, then they don't really care how cheap the T-shirt is."

The demand for socially conscious goods and services is on the rise, particularly when it comes to sweatshop labor. "Big college merchandisers and non-profits are all concerned about this," Roth says. "They're getting pressure from their members and boards of directors to not buy stuff that's from sweatshops. If you get 5% of people who were buying your product suddenly not buying it because of sweatshop issues, that could be your profit."

Plastisol inks are a mainstay in garment screen printing. There are benefits to using these inks--ease of use, ability to print wet on wet, for example--but there are drawbacks as well.

Plastisol inks are based on polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is a type of plastic. PVC production involves the use of chlorine, which Greenpeace cites as the foundation of many sources of toxicity. Some examples are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which destroy the ozone layer, as well as dioxins, which are created when chlorine-based chemicals are produced, used, or burned. There are numerous types of dioxins, and some have been deemed known human carcinogens by the EPA, International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization), and the U.S. National Toxicology program.


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