CafePress responds to Fair Trade concerns with form letter, maintains holding pattern

Last week I wrote about CafePress and their plan to discontinue a tee shirt made by American Apparel, a manufacturer known for its fair labor practices–and substitute a T-shirt made by an unknown source.

In a letter I wrote to them, I pointed out that I offer only sweatshop-free T-shirts. If I can’t determine the source of a shirt, I can’t offer it for sale. I also pointed out that the market for free trade coffee has grown by 75% in the last year. There is no reason the fair trade t-shirt market can’t grow as well.

Monday I received a reply from Director of Merchandise Cindy Clarke. Ms. Clarke writes:


I understand your concerns.  CafePress shopkeepers require a broad
spectrum of product choices to build their product assortments.  Since
our objective is to cover as many of those shopkeeper requirements as
possible, some of the items that we source are domestic and some are
sourced internationally.  Likewise, our product assortment covers both
branded and CafePress Exclusive Label items to meet the broad demand.
We leave it up to Shopkeepers to determine which products are
appropriate for their shops.  CafePress services as many Shopkeepers as
possible both legally and ethically.  

We have had several requests like yours for specific and detailed
information about our vendors and we are currently investigating how
when we can provide specific information about individual vendors.
more detailed information is available we will communicate out to the
CafePress community. 

Best wishes,

Cindy Clarke
Director of Merchandise

Well, that’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that CafePress can have something manufactured on the cheap in a sweatshop and hide it behind their “exclusive store label.” The good news is that they are “investigating how and when“, not if, they can provide information about vendors. That would give some real alternatives to those of us who don’t want to sell or wear a t-shirt, however cheap, made possible by inhumane working conditions and child labor.CafePress needs to hear from more people who buy or sell t-shirts. If you have not yet written to CafePress, can you take a couple minutes to drop them an email? If you have a blog, you might consider blogging about it as well.


Related posts:
Make a difference on World Fair Trade Day–contact CafePress
Is hiding sweatshops?


6 Responses to “CafePress responds to Fair Trade concerns with form letter, maintains holding pattern”

  1. Kellee Says:

    Did you find another cafepress like resource for Fair Trade made T-shirts?

    I cannot buy American Apparel – they may be sweatshop free when it comes to wages and hours worked, but they are missing one of the 6 principals of Fair Trade for sure – gender equality. The Charney has a reputation for harassment of women.

    If you have found a Fair Trade source – I would be grateful for their contact information.

  2. Nijma Says:

    Charney is gone. The lawsuits against him and American Apparel have been resolved–unless you have some new info that I haven’t heard about.

    I don’t think any company can guarantee they will never have a problem with sexual predators. Once they know about a problem, though, they must move to resolve it, as American Apparel has done. also offers American Apparel tees–but not black.

  3. Linkin Says:

    Recently CafePress began competing with the artists for whom it acts as printer and shipper.

    CafePress rents web shops to its artists. The artist creates a website page and manually loads the desired blank products. The artist imports his image onto each product, arranges the products on the page, describes the products, titles the products and tags the images.

    Initially, the artist would set a markup and received the markup for each product sold.

    However, recently CafePress began competing with its artists, using the artists’ own images. CafePress created a marketplace where a customer can search a keyword. That search brings up artist products. When the customer buys from the marketplace CafePress pays the artist 10% of the price CafePress set. Both the customer and the artist lose money. If the artist’s shop sells a t-shirt for $21, the artist makes $3.01. If the marketplace sells the same shirt for $25, the artist gets $2.50. The customer pays $4 more, and the artist gets $0.51 less.

    CafePress tells artists to “promote your own shop,” but CafePress buys Google adwords using the very image tags the artist provided.

    CafePress justifies this bait and switch of service terms by telling artists they can opt out if they don’t like the new terms; however, many have spent as much as 7 or 8 years creating as much as 88000 images.

    In spite of their sweat-equity, many shopkeepers (content providers) are building shops at other print-on-demand companies and then closing their CafePress shops due to the broken faith and trust, the financial hardship CafePress has delivered into so many lives, and the huge amount of time and dedicated effort all lost in the momentum of their own businesses. Would you keep your AMOCO station franchise if AMOCO built a company store across the street from you?

    • Nijma Says:

      It’s worse than that. Shopkeepers can opt out of “marketplace” and promote their own items, but when they do they are still charged by the “marketplace” scheme.

      Check out this guy’s story:

      The real problem is that a huge chunk of the on-demand sales are driven by the election cycle. Now that the election is over, they are looking for some way to hang onto some profit. Instead they may find that when the next election cycle comes they will have alienated the sellers who would have been designing more new products for the new candidates and issues.

  4. Linkin Says:

    Thanks, Nijma, I saw that well documented article before, and appreciate your referring others to it.

  5. Nijma Says:

    Here’s what I think of selling online: it’s chasing the very long tail of the supply-demand curve. Anyone who does it has more time than money. I started selling books online when I was between jobs, but after finding a job, it just wasn’t worth the time. I probably made a lot less than $3 an hour doing it, but of course as you pointed out, it doesn’t really start to pay at all until you have added more and more designs (or more books) every week for quite some time. I know someone who does ebay and several book services on top of a regular job, and claims to be making money online, but still can’t pay the rent out of it. CafePress is squeezing people who are already squeezed to the max. They will end up with just the people who are doing it for fun. And once you figure it out, it’s not particularly fun, it’s boring.

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