Blog: Leonie BarrieObama’s billboard backlash

Leonie Barrie | 8 January 2010

The Weatherproof Garment Company has garnered huge amounts of free publicity after mounting a huge billboard on 7th Avenue in New York City's Times Square with a picture of the US president wearing one of its jackets. Underneath the advert is the slogan: “A Leader In Style.”

Not surprisingly, the White House isn’t amused, partly because the picture is used without its approval, but also because it flouts a ban on Presidential endorsement.

But of course Weatherproof isn’t complaining. In fact, it has already got so much free publicity for the so-called “Obama Jacket” that it’s looking to roll out the campaign to other locations too.

But of course not all publicity is good publicity...and the backlash has already begun.

And where better to hit an apparel brand than with allegations it could have been made by sweatshop workers.

The National Labor Committee (NLC) claims the Weatherproof jacket was sewn in Vietnam by “workers afforded few human and worker rights protections and paid just 27 cents an hour.”

It also alleges Weatherproof has in the past sourced its jackets from Burma, although most are now made in China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh where wages range from as little as 11.5 to 17 cents an hour in Bangladesh, to 86 to 94 cents an hour in factories near Shanghai.

The NLC has even taken the time to delve into shipping records, which it says show Weatherproof leather jackets made in China enter the US with a total production cost of $39.28 each. These then retail in Macy's for $395 to $450 – giving a mark-up anywhere from 900% to 1048%.

But for a firm that clearly doesn’t shy away from controversy, Weatherproof is surprisingly reticent when it comes to revealing exactly where its production sites are, and refuses to release the names and addresses of the offshore factories that make its garments.


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