The questionable origin of the majority of martial arts clothing
Moral arrangements we all make when facing this sad truth
As Budoka, most of us feel having moral values superior to those only practicing “sports”, we like to believe that we are better. Are you—as Budoka—more concerned by human conditions and human rights? Are you concerned with the origin of the products you buy and wear? Take your Dogi, your belt and have a look at the label. Pakistan? Bangladesh? China? Japan? Let us examine under what conditions your equipment is manufactured.
I had the idea of writing this article after watching the video below. I am concerned with this issue since I created BudoExport and Seido. Seido, our brand, offers ONLY 100% made in Japan products. As for BudoExport, this company offers products of various brands, including some products made in China, BUT absolutely NO product made in Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.
Usually we only publish pictures and videos we produce ourselves, but in this article, we exceptionally will take a number of external elements. Of course we indicate the sources, so you can go further on the subject if you choose to do so.
Japan, Europe, USA : Laws to Protect Workers
As westerners, you know that you, your family and your children are protected by laws. The working time is controlled, child labor is prohibited, and the working conditions are standardized. I am not saying that these working conditions are easy for everyone, but they are much more human than in other countries.
Prices are high, too high.
Unfortunately yes, the prices are high, too high for many of us. But there is a reason for it. And this reason is very directly related to the amount of your salary and your lifestyle. Everything is connected, and if you buy a product made in another country, you only partially participate in the economy of your own country, and only in the service sector. If you buy something “made in your country”, you participate in the economy in its entirety, including the industrial sector.
“Entirely made in your country” is, of course, not possible for many countries and products, but to some extent, especially when prices are significantly higher, buying “made in your country”, means to support the economy, support the whole, very complex mechanism, which affects the amount of tax, the amount of your salary, the health institutions, etc. And at the end of this article we will realize that sometimes, the prices are actually not that high after all!
The lack of martial arts equipment
Here is the problem, even if you want to equip yourself with products made in your country,for martial arts products it is impossible in most cases. Maybe there is a confidential manufacturing of wooden weapons, and some tailors who produce Hakama or lightweight Dogi, but the production is very limited. Should we start producing those products in our countries? I do not know, maybe that would be a solution, but buying “made in Japan” products is another one.
Everything Is About Balance
Buying a product made in Japan remains very viable for the economy as long as the balance between the importing (your) country and Japan is remaining. Unlike China, Pakistan or Bangladesh, countries that export far more than they import, Japan imports many products. If Japan imports about as much from your country as your country imports from Japan, it leads to reciprocal balance.
The special case of China
10 or 20 years ago, we could have put China in the same category as Pakistan or Bangladesh, but we have to recognize that things have changed. Of course, the situation is far from perfect, but working conditions as well as the quality of the manufactured goods have greatly improved. The majority of the worldwide production of martial arts equipment is now in China, resulting in products that are very bad to quite ok, and prices much more affordable for most people.
When buying “made in China”, a quick product quality control allows to realize the manufacturing conditions. The better the product, the better its manufacturing conditions.
So should we buy “made in China”?
If we go back to the question of balance I mentioned previously, the answer would rather be no. But if one comes back to more pragmatic and realistic considerations, the answer is obviously yes. If you do not have the means to buy “made in Japan” , then “made in China” is a viable solution that will get you a product of “ok” quality at a significantly lower price. (If the seller is honest, of course.)
Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka : inhuman conditions
This is where the tone of this article changes and darkens considerably. In these countries, working conditions are closer to slavery than work. Scandals occur one after another and the dead bodies of adults and children pile. The collapse of a textile building on April 24 in 2013 in Dakha, capital of Bangladesh, which caused over 1`000 deaths put the topic on the agenda for a while, just once, and way too short.
> See : The Guardian: “Bangladesh garment workers suffer poor conditions two years after reform vows”
You can check out the following documentary about working conditions in Bangladesh : Hidden Face of Globalization, by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.
This survey focuses on several internationally famous brands. However, it is the same for many other, less noted brands, that manufacture martial arts equipment - surely known by our readers.
In Bangladesh, the legal age to work 36 hours per week is 14, or 18 for a week of 60 working hours. But the law is very little respected, and it is normal to see children at the age of 12 or 13 working 70 to 75 hours a week. In Pakistan, it was reported that children of 4 or 5 years were weaving wool and cotton on the floor.
Manual work, combined with insalubrious conditions, and this particularly in the manufacture of martial arts equipment, where the bleaching process of the garment is extremely toxic, are causing malformation, growth problems and inevitably a life expectancy of no more than 35 years in some areas.
International Labour Organization Child Labour ILO
Less shocking, but also very worrying for the future of our planet, is the environmental impact of the textile production especially due to dyes and bleaching cotton, particularly regarding the fabrics of Martial Arts. There are many whitening techniques, more or less damaging to the environment, but the most common is as simple as to pass the cotton in baths of chlorinated derivatives (bleach). These products are extremely dangerous and toxic, particularly because of the acid vapors that are produced.
While many countries, including Japan, have relatively strict standards concerning the working conditions of the employees, ensuring the safety of workers and the quality of products, but also the reprocessing conditions of these chemicals, it is not the case in countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh. I have not seen it myself, but a colleague of mine, who works in the same industry sector, told me how children of 14 or 15 years spend their days filling and emptying the chemical baths in dilapidated factories. No protection, not even gloves. (The said colleague then immediately stopped all cooperation with Pakistan and refuses explicitly to import products manufactured in these conditions.)
These chlorinated baths are simply emptied outside, in or beside streams, that further downstream supply slums. The environmental impact of uncontrolled production of this type is probably directly or indirectly responsible for environmental and health disasters.
Brands/companies without ethics.
All of this is well known by the importers of Pakistani products. I cannot mention names, but I will give you some numbers that can help you form an opinion about the products available on the market.
- The average cost of a Judogi made in China (wholesale price) is about $40 net price* (leading to a minimum selling price of roughly USD100 after tax)
- The average cost of a Judogi made in Pakistan (wholesale price) is about $15 net price* (or a minimum selling price of roughly $40 after tax)
- The minimum cost of an entry-range light weight Judogi made in Japan (wholesale price) $70 net price* (leading to a minimum sale price of roughly $140 after tax)
* wholesale prices, excluding import costs
In short, a Judogi sold $40 net price cannot be made in China, but only made in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
- A Judogi made in China costs at least—with a relatively small margin—$80 to 100.
Also note that the shrinkage rate of about 15% is typical for products made in Pakistan. Products made in China are around 10%, and products made in Japan between 1% and 6%.
Margins of up to 85%
While the average margins on the “made in Japan” are around 35 to 45% depending on the brand, there are some brands in the west that will make margins of over 80% on products made in China or Pakistan
You think that you are the winner, because the product you buy is cheaper than the product made in Japan, but in reality, you are losing, because you pay 2 times the price you should pay for the quality you buy.
An old brand now extinct sold Aikido Hakama—presented as “high-end” product, but were actually made in China and traded via a Taiwanese exporter—for about $130 in a boutique in Paris. The same Hakama have been proposed to us (of course we refused) by the manufacturer for about $20 at the time. $130 after tax = $105 net price
Import costs of maximally $5 per Hakama (by boat from China) the calculation is as follows :
- Total cost : $25 net price
- Sales price : $105 net price
- Margin $80—so just a bit more than 80%.
So $130 after tax for the made in China product.
Well, I would like to invite you to have a look at the model: Aikido Tetron Hakama on SeidoShop. It costs about $120 excluding taxes, including shipping. Including taxes—depending on the country—you pay around altogether $140 .
Of course, you will probably tell me that you can find an Aikido Hakama for about $50. Undoubtedly a Hakama made in Pakistan. And you are right, we need the Hakama made in Japan to be three times more resistant over time to justify its price, which is perhaps not the case. (I personally believe it is, but I cannot guarantee it 100%, because I have never tested a product made in Pakistan.)
That said, how many hours do you practice each week? 2, 4, 8h?
Let us say 3 hours per week on average. Or more or less 2 movies a week at the theater for $10, $20 .. counting 45 weeks a year? Meaning a budget of about $900 per year for practice, if you consider it to be at least as important than the cinema. Up to you to decide! (There is nothing moralistic concerning what I just said, I would like to put things in perspective, I fully understand the difficulty for some—who by the way do not go to the movies—buying relatively expensive equipment. So is it better to buy made in Pakistan than nothing I honestly do not know.)
This is not the topic of this article, but do not forget that the vast majority of brands do not indicate the origin of their products in their catalog (online or paper), and many publicity ploys are used to suggest to the customer that the product's origin is healthy. This is the case for example of the famous words “Japanese Quality” found everywhere on the products marked as “Import Asia” which can mean “good made in China” but also “bad made in Pakistan”, depending on the honesty of the seller.
Not to mention those who create fake quality labels or change the “made in ...” labels for “Made in Japan”, this has already been seen everywhere!
And no real quality label
Let us be clear. Neither the Aikikai label or the IJF accreditation (for Judo equipment) nor ANY quality label for martial arts equipment guarantees the origin of the products. There are “made in Pakistan” IJF Judogi or Aikikai Aikidogi. These labels only aim to ensure a specific quality standard, a correct cut and acceptable resistance, nothing more, nothing less.
What to do
As a consumer, your only course of action is the boycott of products from these countries.
But it is up to you to make your choice. I have been practicing martial arts for more than 15 years. My practice has guided me throughout my life in different ways, while educating myself to certain values such as human rights and ecology. Without any value judgment, it is possible that your practice does not bring you that.
But if, as I hear it from a large majority of Budoka, you think that your art draws on moral values, values that you claim, then I can only urge you to act accordingly.
Finally, I want to clarify that this article is not a one-sided criticism of the martial arts equipment industry or the textile industry in general. There are good and bad, honest people and dishonest people in all sectors, and this will never change. I just hope this article will help at least some of you to ask questions and be more careful when you shop. Never forget that it is you with your money who has the leverage over the industry, it is not the other way around.