There’s more than a little hyperbole out there about changes to the Terms of Service by the print-on-demand merchandiser CafePress, and some of it is more than a bit hypocritical. Buzz Edition tweets, “Artists get shafted by @cafepress Slave labor was abolished…Right?” and Lavender Liberal blogs:
If you recoil at the idea of buying a T-shirt from Wal-Mart because you know some eight-year-old Guatemalan was paid three cents to make it during a twelve-hour shift, you’ll stop buying stuff from CafePress. Including our stuff.
Another way to put it: CafePress shopkeepers are now the unwilling, un-unionized meat packers Upton Sinclair wrote about in The Jungle — and CP doesn’t care a whit how many fingers we lose in the process.
Sweatshop? Slave labor? Meat packers? Losing fingers? Perspective, people: Buzz Edition and Lavender Liberal are currently earning $6 to $10 in profit per t-shirt they sell via CafePress. The big profit margins they demand are made possible because some of the t-shirt brands they sell on are made by overseas factory workers who are paid less than $100 a month for long hours of hard physical labor putting thousands of shirts together. These shopkeepers couldn’t be bothered to limit their shirt offerings at CafePress to those brands with a demonstrable commitment to garment workers, but now that they’ll be losing some of their $5-$10 a pop markups, they’re crying “losing fingers!” and “slave labor!” Oh, cry me a river!
Look, folks, when a print-on-demand retailer like CafePress raises prices for shoppers and lowers payments to designers, it is not like the Middle Passage or the Stonewall Riots or Bull Connor turning fire hoses and dogs on kids during segregation. It is a significant change in the terms of agreement between a corporation and the designers, a change to the detriment of designers and consumers of swag. The most productive reaction to this change is to get through the gnashing of teeth and cries of “injustice!” fairly quickly, moving on to the point of considering practical alternatives.
For ethical, artistic and economic reasons, I suggest you offer your designs through Skreened.
It is true that CafePress offers a good number of American Apparel shirts, printed here in the USA with wage and safety protections for workers. But some of the shirts CafePress offers have demonstrable ethical problems associated with their production. CafePress hides the sourcing of other shirts produced overseas for suspiciously low prices.
If you are upset that CafePress won’t be paying you as much money as it used to in compensation for your design work, then you should give some consideration to the working conditions of people who actually make the shirts your designs are printed on. As a matter of ethics, Skreened has decided to exclusively offer shirts printed by American Apparel. These are shirts of high fabric quality as well as high ethical quality, and Skreened offers dozens and dozens of combinations in color, in size and in model (including ringer tees, organic cotton, baby onesies, kids’ tees and more).
From an artistic point of view, Cafepress never really offered you much of a canvas to work with in the first place: a mere 10 inch by 10 inch square of fabric on a t-shirt. Here’s what V. Donaghue’s classic public domain WPA image, redesigned into an anti-McCain t-shirt, looks like on CafePress’ American Apparel Organic Men’s T-Shirt:
Skreened lets designers print on an area of up to 11×17 inches, and that makes a big difference. Here’s the same image on the exact same brand American Apparel Organic Men’s T-Shirt, sold through Skreened:
Isn’t that an incredible difference? The possibilities for you to express yourself through design are so much greater with the bigger canvas offered by Skreened.
Click through on each of those shirts and you’ll see that they’re being sold for different prices, even though the shirt itself is exactly the same. American Apparel sells its organic men’s fitted t-shirt wholesale for somewhere between $5-$7 a shirt. CafePress sets its “base price” for this organic shirt at $19.99. With a markup of $1.61, we retail the above shirt at CafePress for $21.60. Indications are that CafePress will hike the retail prices of shirts like this even higher come June 1, making the shirts more unaffordable to shoppers.
Skreened, on the other hand, sets its base price for the same shirt, with the same design, with a better print area, at $17.99. That’s $2 lower than CafePress, which lets us sell the shirt on Skreened for $20.99 — a cheaper price for shoppers — while we make a $3 commission on the shirt’s sale, nearly twice the profit per shirt.
Skreened is a better ethical choice, a better artistic choice, and a better economic choice than CafePress. On top of that, while CafePress is an impersonal corporation, Skreened is an intensely personal enterprise, a small business that is built on personal interaction and with personal attention to designers and customers alike. I don’t own any stock or share in Skreened, and nobody paid me to say all this. It’s just the honest truth as I see it.
The rhetoric suggesting that CafePress is running some kind of slave plantation is really overblown, but CafePress is souring the terms by which it treats designers. If you’re looking to move to a different POD t-shirt supplier, I strongly recommend that you give Skreened a look.