TS Designs President Eric Henry is not shy about advocating for living wages. In 2020, he had the opportunity to participate on a panel discussion at the Industrial Hemp Summit. The discussion on the demand for domestic hemp fiber turned to the importance of seeing value beyond price, a necessary perspective for making a shift to living wages.

Henry says, “Cheap food has its problems. Cheap apparel has its problems. [The solution] starts with us looking beyond that price. We’re getting fooled by cheap prices, and then our neighbor doesn’t have a job. Another neighbor doesn’t have health care.”

Bringing manufacturing to North Carolina again doesn’t mean we’ll make the least expensive t-shirts on the market. We won’t. But we’ll pay our employees living wages, and the growers, cutters, spinners, and others in our supply chain will get what their products are worth. 

Minimum Wage vs. Living Wage

It takes almost $54,000 per year for a NC family of four to pay their bills and live comfortably. That means even when North Carolinians have two earners in the family, if both incomes come at minimum-wage jobs, they cannot possibly reach that level. 

In 2020, 29 states had minimum wage incomes beyond the federal standard of $7.25. NC has remained at $7.25 even though the US cost of living has continued rising. 

Global Challenges and Living Wages

When we’re faced with pandemics like the coronavirus scare and other global challenges, we can easily see why manufacturing locally and paying living wages are so significant. 

“We’re in a community that used to make all our clothes. We won’t get all of that [manufacturing] back, but we can get some of it back. It starts with us. Let’s start here. Let’s start now,” says Henry.