Mercedes Cortes sewing Fashion Nova clothing in a garment factory in downtown Los Angeles.Credit...Jessica Pons for The New York Times
Continue reading the main story
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
By Natalie Kitroeff
Leer en español
LOS ANGELES — Fashion Nova has perfected fast fashion for the Instagram era.
The mostly online retailer leans on a vast network of celebrities, influencers, and random selfie takers who post about the brand relentlessly on social media. It is built to satisfy a very online clientele, mass-producing cheap clothes that look expensive.
“They need to buy a lot of different styles and probably only wear them a couple times so their Instagram feeds can stay fresh,” Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, said in an interview last year.
To enable that habit, he gives them a constant stream of new options that are priced to sell.
The days of $200 jeans are over, if you ask Mr. Saghian. Fashion Nova’s skintight denim goes for $24.99. And, he said, the company can get its clothes made “in less than two weeks,” often by manufacturers in Los Angeles, a short drive from the company’s headquarters.
That model hints at an ugly secret behind the brand’s runaway success: The federal Labor Department has found that many Fashion Nova garments are stitched together by a work force in the United States that is paid illegally low wages.
Los Angeles is filled with factories that pay workers off the books and as little as possible, battling overseas competitors that can pay even less. Many of the people behind the sewing machines are undocumented, and unlikely to challenge their bosses.
“It has all the advantages of a sweatshop system,” said David Weil, who led the United States Labor Department’s wage and hour division from 2014 to 2017.
Every year, the department investigates allegations of wage violations at sewing contractors in Los Angeles, showing up unannounced to review payroll data, interview employees and question the owners.
In investigations conducted from 2016 through this year, the department discovered Fashion Nova clothing being made in dozens of factories that owed $3.8 million in back wages to hundreds of workers, according to internal federal documents that summarized the findings and were reviewed by The New York Times.
Those factories, which are hired by middlemen to produce garments for fashion brands, paid their sewers as little as $2.77 an hour, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
The Labor Department declined to comment on the details of the investigations. In a statement, a spokeswoman said the department “continues to ensure employers receive compliance assistance with the overtime and minimum wage requirements, and the Wage and Hour Division is committed to enforcing the law.”
After repeated violations were found at factories making Fashion Nova clothes, federal officials met with company representatives. “We have already had a highly productive and positive meeting with the Department of Labor in which we discussed our ongoing commitment to ensuring that all workers involved with the Fashion Nova brand are appropriately compensated for the work they do,” Erica Meierhans, Fashion Nova’s general counsel, said in a statement to The Times. “Any suggestion that Fashion Nova is responsible for underpaying anyone working on our brand is categorically false.”
In 2018, Mr. Saghian said about 80 percent of the brand’s clothes were made in the United States. Fashion Nova’s supply chain has shifted since then, and now the brand says it makes less than half of its clothes in Los Angeles. It would not specify the overall percentage made in the United States.
The company does not deal directly with factories. Instead, it places bulk orders with companies that design the clothes and then ship fabric to separately owned sewing contractors, where workers stitch the clothes together and stick Fashion Nova’s label on them.
The brand’s clingy dresses and animal-print jumpsuits are often made by people like Mercedes Cortes, working in ramshackle buildings that smell like bathrooms.
More on Big Tech
- Meta Layoffs: The parent of Facebook said it was laying off more than 11,000 people, or about 13 percent of its work force, in what amounted to the company’s most significant job cuts.
- Seeking Alternatives:Since Elon Musk bought Twitter, some of its users have sought out other social media platforms. Here is a closer look at Mastodon, one of the most popular alternatives.
- An Empire in Danger: U.S. lawmakers’ objections to an obscure Chinese semiconductor company and tough Covid-19 restrictions are hurting Apple’s ability to make new iPhones in China.
- Big Tech’s Slowdown: Amid inflation and rising interest rates, Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies are signaling that tough days may be ahead. Some have already announced hiring freezes and job cuts.
Ms. Cortes, 56, sewed Fashion Nova clothes for several months at Coco Love, a dusty factory close to Fashion Nova’s offices in Vernon, Calif. “There were cockroaches. There were rats,” she said. “The conditions weren’t good.”
She worked every day of the week, but her pay varied depending on how quickly her fingers could move. Ms. Cortes was paid for each piece of a shirt she sewed together — about 4 cents to sew on each sleeve, 5 cents for each of the side seams, 8 cents for the seam on the neckline. On average, she earned $270 in a week, the equivalent of $4.66 an hour, she said.
In 2016, Ms. Cortes left Coco Love and later reached a settlement with the company for $5,000 in back wages. She continued to work in factories sewing Fashion Nova clothes, noticing the $12 price tags on the tops she had stitched together for cents. “The clothes are very expensive for what they pay us,” Ms. Cortes said.
“Consumers can say, ‘Well, of course that’s what it’s like in Bangladesh or Vietnam,’ but they are developing countries,” Mr. Weil said. “People just don’t want to believe it’s true in their own backyard.”
For all their seediness, these factories are still producing clothes for major American retailers. Under federal law, brands cannot be penalized for wage theft in factories if they can credibly claim that they did not know their clothes were made by workers paid illegally low wages. The Labor Department has collected millions in back wages and penalties from Los Angeles garment businesses in recent years, but has not fined a retailer.
This year, Fashion Nova’s labels were the ones found the most frequently by federal investigators looking into garment factories that pay egregiously low wages, according to a person familiar with the investigations.
In September, three officials from the department met with Fashion Nova’s lawyers to tell them that, over four years, the brand’s clothes had been found in 50 investigations of factories paying less than the federal minimum wage or failing to pay overtime.
The company’s lawyers told the officials that they had taken immediate action and had already updated the brand’s agreement with vendors. Now, if Fashion Nova learns that a factory has been charged with violating laws “governing the wages and hours of its employees, child labor, forced labor or unsafe working conditions,” the brand will put the middleman who hired that factory on a six-month “probation,” it said in a statement.
The working relationship would continue, unless workers file another complaint against the same factory or another one that the contractor hired during those six months. At that point, the brand will suspend the contractor until it passes a third-party audit.
While Fashion Nova has taken steps to address the Labor Department’s findings, Ms. Meierhans, the brand’s general counsel, noted that it works with hundreds of manufacturers and “is not responsible for how these vendors handle their payrolls.”
‘Everyone wants to have more followers’
Mr. Saghian opened the first Fashion Nova store in 2006, in a Los Angeles mall. Seven years and four storefronts later, he realized that he was losing customers to online outlets selling the same clothes.
A web developer talked him out of starting a website; it would get no traffic, because no one knew what Fashion Nova was. Mr. Saghian had a better shot on Instagram, where “there were some really basic boutiques that had 300,000 followers,” he said in the interview.
In 2013, Mr. Saghian opened an Instagram account and began posting photos of his clothing on mannequins and customers. He noticed that some of his stores’ regular visitors were influencers he had seen on Instagram, where they had hundreds of thousands of followers.
“I had rappers’ girlfriends, female rappers, models,” he said.
Mr. Saghian started giving them free clothing, and they posted photos of themselves draped in Fashion Nova garb. In turn, he reposted their photos and tagged their handles.
“Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone wants to have more followers,” Mr. Saghian said. “By tagging them, the influencer would grow their following.”
Gradually, the strategy brought Fashion Nova from the outskirts of the internet into the mainstream. The brand earned mentions on hip-hop tracks. In 2017, its sales grew by about 600 percent.
Cardi B, the Grammy-winning rap star, unveiled her first collection with the brand in an Instagram video in November last year.
“I wanted to do something that is like, ‘Wow, what is that? Is that Chanel? Is that YSL? Is that Gucci?’ No,” she said, adding an expletive, “it’s Fashion Nova.”
All 82 styles in Cardi B’s collection sold out hours after they became available. She posted another video the same night, promising a full restock “in two or three weeks.” (Cardi B’s line is made in Los Angeles, but the government has not found any of the clothes in factories where workers have alleged they were paid less than the minimum, Fashion Nova said.)
There were more searches for Fashion Nova last year than for Versace or Gucci, according to Google’s year in search data. It has 17 million followers on Instagram, and at any given moment there are enough people browsing clothes on its website to fill a basketball arena, Mr. Saghian said.
To keep them interested, Fashion Nova produces more than a thousand new styles every week, thanks in part to an army of local suppliers that can respond instantly to the brand’s requests.
“If there was a design concept that came to mind Sunday night, on a Monday afternoon I would have a sample,” he said.
‘The best possible price’
Many of the people vying for Mr. Saghian’s business occupy glass-walled storefronts jammed into the six frenetic blocks of the garment district in downtown Los Angeles.
These are the companies that design clothing samples and sell them in bulk to Fashion Nova and other retailers. Those businesses outsource the job of making clothes to nearby factories that work as subcontractors.
In November, The Times visited seven companies that got Fashion Nova clothes made in factories that underpaid workers, according to the Labor Department investigations. Some spoke freely about their work with the brand. Others refused to comment or talked on the condition of anonymity, fearing that they might lose the company as a client if they went on the record.
The five owners and employees who agreed to be interviewed said Fashion Nova would always push to pay the lowest price possible for each garment, and would demand a quick turnaround.
“They give me the best possible price they can give it to me, for that will allow them to still break a profit,” Mr. Saghian said.
The companies can negotiate with Fashion Nova, but their power is limited. A dwindling number of retailers are still doing business in Los Angeles, and a couple of big orders from Fashion Nova can keep a small garment shop afloat for another year. So they look for subcontractors who can sew clothes as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Amante Clothing, which occupies a stuffy storefront filled with racks of colorful samples, regularly works with Fashion Nova. The brand paid Amante $7.15 per top for a bulk order last year, according to a Labor Department investigation conducted last December. Amante then went to a sewing contractor called Karis Apparel, which made the tops.
Amante paid Karis $2.20 to sew each garment, the Labor Department found. Fashion Nova sold the top for $17.99.
“We don’t own the sewing contractor, so whatever the sewing contractor does, that’s his problem,” said a designer at Amante, who declined to be named for fear of losing her job. “We don’t know what they do to give us the lowest price. We assume they’re paying their employees the minimum.”
Karis, the factory that worked with Amante, went out of business in April. Another manufacturer ensnared in the investigations moved production to Mexico this year.
But many more factories have evaded punishment.
Same owners, different names
When Teresa Garcia started working at Sugar Sky, it was called Xela Fashion. It was 2014, and Xela Fashion, state records show, was owned by Demetria Sajche, a woman whom Ms. Garcia was told to call Angelina.
Several months later — Ms. Garcia does not remember how many — the name on her checks had changed, though she worked in the same grungy factory in the heart of downtown, a few blocks from a SoulCycle.
Now her employer was called Nena Fashion, a company that was founded by Leslie Sajche, a relative of Ms. Garcia’s boss, according to business records filed with California’s secretary of state. About a year after that, the name changed again, to GYA Fashion.
In 2017, the factory moved to an industrial stretch of Olympic Boulevard in East Los Angeles and began using a new new name: Sugar Sky. About a year later, Ms. Sajche stopped running the day-to-day operations and handed the job over to Eric Alfredo Ajitaz Puac, whom workers knew as her boyfriend.
Ms. Garcia said that she believed the point of all the name changes was to avoid being shut down by federal or state officials. Several workers, including Ms. Garcia, have filed claims against Xela, Nena, Gya and Sugar Sky for back wages with California’s labor commissioner, the state agency that handles such disputes.
In her claim, which is active, Ms. Garcia included checks showing she earned as little as $225 for 65 hours of work in a week, the equivalent of $3.46 an hour. She remembers the factory’s receiving orders from Fashion Nova for up to 5,000 pieces of clothing at a time.
“They needed it so fast, they couldn’t wait,” Ms. Garcia said of the brand. “We would need to turn it around within a week.”
Weeks of trying to reach Mr. Puac and Ms. Sajche were unsuccessful. A trip to Sugar Sky’s last known location just before Thanksgiving found a furniture store. Neighbors said the garment factory had packed up and moved out two months earlier.
Fernando Axjup, who was listed as an owner of one iteration of the factory, agreed to an interview. He was recently fired from the company and had filed his own claim for back wages.
“They keep changing their names so they don’t have to pay people,” Mr. Axjup said. “There was a lot of exploitation.” As a manager, he had access to payroll data and said Ms. Garcia rarely earned the minimum wage.
Mr. Axjup suggested that perhaps he had been fired for standing up for workers like Ms. Garcia. Ms. Garcia said she doubted that, given that Mr. Axjup was the one ordering her to hurry up.
He said he could never figure out why Fashion Nova did not visit the factory floor to check on how its clothes were being made for such low prices.
“Supposedly, the brand should supervise the people who give them work, to find out whether they are being paid well,” Mr. Axjup said. “But they never do. They never came to see.”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Continue reading the main story
12-16-21 – A Department of Labor investigation finds that Fashion Nova relies on a network of sweatshops in Los Angeles, California paying workers as little as $2.77 an hour. Workers are owed an estimated $3.8 million in stolen wages and overtime from sewing clothes for Fashion Nova.Does Shein use child labor? ›
Shein clarified on TikTok that it has nothing to do with the claims of abuse mentioned in this viral post. The company's statement ends by saying the company has a strict Supplier Code of Conduct and it does not tolerate non-compliance such as regarding its policies against child labor and forced labor.Does Los Angeles apparel use sweatshops? ›
We rarely subcontract and we never use any off-shoring.How much do garment factory workers get paid? ›
Research from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) shows garment workers' average wages have decreased over the past 12 months by over a fifth (21 percent) from an average of $187 per month to $147.How much do Gucci factory workers get paid? ›
|Annual Salary||Hourly Wage|
Shein has repeatedly come under fire for just about everything you can do wrong with a company, including poor working conditions, high levels of toxic chemicals in its clothing, copying independent designers' items, and mishandling customer data.Does Amazon use child labor? ›
Amazon does not tolerate the use of child labor.What is unethical about Shein? ›
Child Labor and Labor Practices
Fast fashion is notorious for using sweatshops—which subject workers to horrible conditions and long hours for meager pay—as well as child labor. In June 2022, videos went viral on social media claiming that Shein employees were hiding messages in the clothes they produced.
The estimated total pay for a Brand Ambassador at Fashion Nova is $3,703 per month.How much does the Fashion Nova CEO make? ›
Forbes recently reported that Saghian is worth an estimated US$1.4 billion, considering Fashion Nova rakes over US$1 billion in annual sales.
Many people assume that Cardi B owns Fashion Nova. As you already know, she does not. She does have a strong partnership with the brand, though. She even launched two of her own clothing lines under the Fashion Nova name.What clothing brands do not use child labor? ›
the best ethical clothing companies:
- tamga designs:
- armed angels:
- people tree:
- amour vert:
If you're looking for fabric stores in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Fashion District is home to the largest selection of textiles and notions in the United States.How much is the minimum wage for garment factory sectors for 2022? ›
“The mininum wage has been decided on at $200 for 2023. The meeting voted $198, and Samdech [Hun Sen] added $2, making it $200,” said Pav Sina, president of Collective union of movement of workers (CUMW) who participated in the voting. The minimum wage in 2022 was $194, also including $2 from Hun Sen.How much do Zara factory workers get paid? ›
Workers at the factory make around $3 per day. “Inditex must enforce decent and humane working conditions in the factories where they make their clothes.What percentage of garment workers are underpaid? ›
According to these brands´ research, only an estimated 2% of fashion workers around the world are paid a livable salary and with the initiative to publish their companies' lowest wages they are aiming to protect the people making their clothing, and encourage other brands to do the same.How much does Louis Vuitton pay their factory workers? ›
Average Louis Vuitton hourly pay ranges from approximately $15.00 per hour for Production Worker to $26.53 per hour for Seamstress. The average Louis Vuitton salary ranges from approximately $64,809 per year for Production Supervisor to $99,751 per year for Production Manager.How are Louis Vuitton employees paid? ›
Louis Vuitton pays an average salary of $39,829 per year or $19.15 per hour. Louis Vuitton pays those in the bottom 10 percent $22,000 a year, and the top 10 percent over $70,000. Salaries vary by department as well. Workers in the engineering department can earn an average of $92,897 per year.How much do Dior workers get? ›
The average Christian Dior salary ranges from approximately $27,768 per year for Sales Representative to $177,942 per year for Director. Average Christian Dior hourly pay ranges from approximately $10.00 per hour for Scanner Operator to $24.98 per hour for Client Advisor.How much do Shein workers get paid an hour? ›
Average SHEIN hourly pay ranges from approximately $11.00 per hour for Warehouse Associate to $17.32 per hour for Cashier/Sales. Salary information comes from 25 data points collected directly from employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 36 months.
SHEIN's products are produced in mass quantities at speedy rates, contributing to landfills and clothing waste. The site also does not detail the conditions that overseas workers are subjected to, making for a dubious image of sweatshop labor with little pay (all too common in the fast fashion industry already).Who is Shein owned by? ›
|Revenue||CN¥63.5 billion (US$10 billion) (2020)|
|Parent||Roadget Business Pte. Ltd|
There have been many complaints from employees at Amazon's fulfillment centers. Workers alleged that they are given back-breaking tasks in the warehouses. They also vent their dismay over intrusive surveillance technologies, including automated tracking systems and cameras that monitor their every move.Does Amazon mistreat its workers? ›
Amazon warehouse workers in the U.S. suffered serious injuries at twice the rate of rival companies in 2021, according to a new study. There were 6.8 serious injuries for every 100 Amazon warehouse workers.Does target use child labor? ›
Target does not knowingly buy or sell products that are made, in whole or in part, using forced or underage labor.What fast-fashion brands use child labor? ›
Uniqlo is a fast-fashion brand that used child labor in the past. They now use forced labor to manufacture their products in Asian developing countries. Factory workers making Uniqlo clothing are forced to work excessively long hours with very low wages, seven days a week.Why is Shein so controversial? ›
Shein frequently makes headlines for its controversies, like selling a $2.50 swastika necklace or copying the work of designers. (The company said it takes infringement claims seriously, requiring suppliers to certify their products don't infringe on third-party intellectual property.)Does Shein abuse animals? ›
It does not offer cruelty-free items and according to Good On You, it continues to use wool. However it does not use exotic animal hair or skin, fur, down, angora or leather.Who is the highest paid Instagrammer? ›
Cristiano Ronaldo is the world's top Instagram earner, making $85.22m in 2021 from sponsored posts. Rival soccer player Lionel Messi is in close second place, with $71.96m. Ellen DeGeneres is the top Instagram earner in the U.S., making $33.73m per year.How many IG followers do you need to make money? ›
The good news is, there's no strict minimum. Three influencers Insider interviewed — all with under 3,000 Instagram followers — said they got paid by brands to post to their small audiences.
Commission: In some cases, companies will pay ambassadors on commission rather than an hourly rate, so as to incentivize the distribution of promotional materials and the generation of leads by their brand ambassadors. The more leads an ambassador brings into the company, the more earning potential he or she will have.Who is the richest fashion CEO? ›
He is the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE, the world's largest luxury goods company. Arnault and his family had an estimated net worth of US$159 billion in October 2022 according to Forbes, making him the second richest person in the world and the richest in Europe.What is Richard Saghian net worth? › How many followers do you need to be a Fashion Nova influencer? ›
Via the Fashion Nova Website
You must have an active social media account with at least 10,000 followers to get paid.
Cardi B specifically has said she's received as much as $20,000 monthly to wear Fashion Nova.Does Jodie Joe still work for Fashion Nova? ›
If you've ever shopped on FashionNova, model Jodie Joe (real name Yodit Yemane) is a permanent fixture on the site – modeling the fast-fashion retailers most popular items.Do the Kardashians wear Fashion Nova? ›
The Kardashian and Jenner sisters work with legacy brands like Estée Lauder, Calvin Klein, and Adidas, but Kourtney, Khloé, and Kylie have all been paid to wear Fashion Nova, and Kim has said openly that she shops at Zara and H&M.Does Zara use forced labor? ›
Inditex released a statement which read “at Inditex we take a zero-tolerance approach toward forced labor of any kind and have stringent policies and actions in place to ensure that it does not take place anywhere in our apparel and textiles supply chain.” The statement stressed that “various of these types of reports ...Does Gucci do child labor? ›
Gucci mobilizes all our energy and vigilance to combat notably child labor, forced labor, human trafficking and the exploitation of the most vulnerable groups, in particular migrants, as well as to combat al l violence and discrimination, especially against women.Who are the top 5 countries using child Labour in the clothing industry? ›
In the textile industry, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Nepal are accused of using child labor, while North Korea reportedly uses forced labor. In the leather industry, only Bangladesh, India and Pakistan were mentioned for using children as workers.
Can I wear red and blue clothes in Los Angeles? You should better not wear clothes in red and blue colors. Although people in Los Angeles can also wear clothes with these colors. They just need to avoid having any interaction with the gangs or walk into these gangs' areas.Why is downtown LA called Skid Row? ›
These neighborhoods were considered seedy, dangerous and dirty. Because of the “skid roads” that were in the center of the neighborhoods, they became known as “Skid Rows.” Towards the end of 19th century the rail lines were built in Los Angeles to connect Southern California to the rest of the country.Does Skid Row still exist in LA? ›
Skid Row, Los Angeles.
|Skid Row Central City East|
New report finds luxury brands like Prada, Fendi and Dior rank among the worst retailers for protecting workers from exploitation. High-end fashion brands are more likely to rely on forced labor factories to manufacture their products that are then sold to consumers in the West, a new study has claimed.Does Disney use child labor? ›
While the Walt Disney Company human rights section states that, “we are committed to combating the exploitation of children and therefore prohibit any use of child labor in the manufacture of Disney-branded products,” ("Human Rights") there is a recorded interview of a Chinese worker in China that begged to differ.Do clothes factories usually pay their workers a lot of money? ›
Approximately 85% of garment workers do not earn the minimum wage and are instead paid a piece rate of between 2-6 cents per piece. Most garment workers work 60-70 hour weeks with a take home pay of about $300 dollars. Workers are not paid overtime and toil in unsafe, cramped, dirty, and poorly ventilated factories.How much does Shein pay their factory workers? ›
At one of the factories, workers received a base salary of 4,000 yuan ($555.83) a month to make a minimum of 500 garments a day, though the first month's wages were withheld from them, according to Channel 4. Many of them toiled late into the night to earn a commission of 0.14 yuan, or 2 cents, for every item.How much do people working in sweatshops get paid? ›
Research by the University of California, Berkeley found that women and girls from the most marginalised communities toiled for as little as 15 cents (11p) an hour in homes across India. Child labour and forced labour were rife and wages regularly suppressed.How much do people in sweatshops get paid per hour? ›
Sweatshop workers are extremely low-paid
Some people work for as little as 3 US cent per hour, often more than 100 hours per week in conditions of poor air quality and extreme heat.
“Because while more than two-thirds of consumers say that they want better living conditions for the workers, less than half of the same consumers are actually willing to pay more for their purchases.”
The estimated total pay for a Model at SHEIN is $23 per hour. This number represents the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from our proprietary Total Pay Estimate model and based on salaries collected from our users. The estimated base pay is $21 per hour. The estimated additional pay is $2 per hour.What percentage of garment workers are paid a living wage? ›
Workers in key garment- and footwear-producing countries are, on average, receiving just 55 percent of the pay they need to achieve a decent standard of living, according to data published Monday by The Industry We Want, a coalition of industry stakeholders calling for better working conditions and environmental ...Who is mostly employed in sweatshops? ›
Women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers and may be forced by employers to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing health benefits.Are sweatshop workers slaves? ›
Victims of unfair or low wages - like those in sweatshops - are not enslaved because they do not work under the threat of a penalty or without volunteering their employment. Their employment is a different form of exploitation, though related to the similar desire to generate a profit.How much do most factory workers make? ›
How much does a Factory Worker make? Factory workers make $29,343 per year on average, or $14.11 per hour, in the United States. Factory workers on the lower end of that spectrum, the bottom 10% to be exact, make roughly $22,000 a year, while the top 10% makes $38,000.Where are the most sweatshops in the world? ›
It's hard to believe, but many fashion brands are still using sweatshops. Child labor and modern slavery cases are still being reported, particularly in Asian developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and The Philippines.