May 4, 2013

After tragedy, L.L. Bean to take closer look at overseas factories

With more than 500 dead in Bangladesh, the Freeport firm and other retailers re-examine their international suppliers.

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

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L.L. Bean, which sells clothes made by contractors around the world, says it is stepping up its monitoring and visits of overseas production sites in the wake of the Bangladesh tragedy.

Associated Press File Photo

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Kevin Hudson, store manager at Ten Thousand Villages on Exchange Street in Portland, sits near merchandise on display from Bangladesh along with a sign stating their support for family and friends of the victims of the factory collapse. Photographed on Thursday, May 2, 2013. The store is encouraging Fair Trade Retail and offering their support to Bangladesh in light of the recent factory collapse.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Consumers play a role in whether companies change their practices. News coverage of the Bangladesh factory disaster may help raise awareness of the situation, Hammond said, but change isn't easy, especially when it involves consumer spending habits.

"Consumers often pick the cheaper item," she said.

On Friday, shoppers in Freeport said they were aware of the factory disaster in Bangladesh but weren't sure whether it would make them change their buying habits.

Cathy Daszkiewicz of South Thomaston said she looks at labels and doesn't buy clothes from certain countries, such as China, because she feels that the quality of the clothes and the dyes used may not be as good as those made in the U.S.

"If you pay for quality, things last. I work hard for my dollar," said Daszkiewicz.

"I don't really look at labels. If I'm thinking about it, I like when I see when it is made in the U.S.," said Abigail Smith of Durham.

The factory collapse in Bangladesh may seem far away from Maine, but every purchase of an ethically made product is a responsible decision, said Kevin Hudson, manager of Ten Thousand Villages in Portland.

Ten Thousand Villages is part of a chain that forms relationships with artists in developing countries, buying their products through long-term, "fair income" relationships.

The chain, which sells products such as handmade silk paper lamps and pottery blessings bowls from Bangladesh, began in the 1940s in an effort to provide sustainable jobs and preserve traditions and cultures in villages around the world.

"Our mission is to provide stable and safe work environments so people don't have to work in conditions like those," Hudson said. "We have yearly trips to each area and have long-term ties to these artists to make sure things are done fairly. Fair trade is about providing an opportunity and not taking advantage."

At the same time, Pramod Shrestha, who owns Freak Street Imports in Portland, said he hasn't given the tragedy in Bangladesh much thought, since he imports his goods from Nepal and India. Nor has he seen customers who are concerned about where his goods originate.

"It's sad. A lot of countries like that don't have code enforcement. Everything works on bribes," Shrestha said. "But there are conditions worse (than the factory in Bangladesh) in a lot of countries."

L.L. Bean still operates a domestic facility that makes Bean boots, Maine hunting shoes, tote bags, dog beds and furniture cushions. And most of its furniture and many of its home furnishings are made in the U.S.

A limited amount of apparel is made domestically, L.L. Bean said.

"We continue to seek domestic sourcing opportunities for products that can be made at comparable cost and quality," Beem said. "We do know from our customers that there is a growing interest in having more domestic production, though most realize this does not happen overnight."


Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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