Apparel advocate: Bring clothing manufacturing back to U.S.

(CBS News) The death toll rose again Saturday in Bangladesh, eleven days after the collapse of a garment factory in a suburb near the capital. About 551 bodies have now been removed from the ruins of the eight-story building where 30 foreign companies had clothes produced. More than 140 people are still missing.

There was a time when clothes worn by Americans were also made here. By 2011, more than 97 percent of the clothes sold in the U.S. was made overseas. Fashion designer turned apparel advocate Bob Bland explains why in an interview with "CBS Evening News" Saturday anchor Jim Axelrod. She's behind Manufacture New York, a new initiative to bring clothes manufacturing jobs back home. A transcript of that conversation follows.

Bob Bland: When something overseas happens like this [in Bangladesh], especially in an apparel factory, I think about, "What if this was a factory here that collapsed, [if] 500 people in my community were dead?" I would be completely devastated. So how is it different just because it's another country far away?

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Jim Axelrod: Maybe it's easier in the minds of many Americans to keep it at arms length precisely because it is so far away.

Bland: Those people who died were making clothes for us here in America. And that's important because we owe it to them not to let this happen again.

I would like to see Americans take a look at when they are buying that $5 T-shirt, they need to think about that and know that there is a cost. Fashion should never kill.

Axelrod: So your solution to all of this is to bring most if not all of this manufacturing back to the U.S. Tell me about Manufacture New York?

Bland: Over 100 designers have participated so far. And what we plan to do is mentor, train and provide production resources for this generation of designers and for major labels who want to bring their productions back to the U.S.

Axelrod: If we were taking two identical garments, what's the cost difference between getting it produced in Bangladesh and getting it produced in Manhattan?

Bland: In Bangladesh, you would pay someone 14 cents an hour, or on average $38 a month, versus here in New York City, where a skilled person working in the garment industry will make at least $12 an hour.

Axelrod: But you're asking for a shift in mindset because Americans are a lot of things, but they love a good deal.

Bland: And I love a good deal too, really. But the thing is, it's not a good deal if the true cost is someone dying in the process? That's what happened in Bangladesh.

Manufacture New York expects to open its doors on a 20,000-square foot manufacturing and design facility in Brooklyn, New York, in July.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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