What Really Lies Beneath The Coat?

The People Who Manufacture Aeropostale Clothing in Sri Lanka

Map of Country

Figure 1:Map of Sri Lanka


Front View of Aeropostale Coat   Rear View of Aeropostale Coat

Figure 2:

Front View of Aeropostale Coat

Source: Geoffrey Vollmer

Firgure 3:

Rear View of Aeropostale Coat

Source: Geoffrey Vollmer



According to Aeropostale.com, “Aeropostale, Inc. is a fast-growing, mall-based specialty retailer of casual apparel and accessories that targets both young women and young men aged 11 to 20. We provide our customers with a focused selection of high-quality, active-oriented, fashion basic merchandise at compelling values in a high-energy, entertaining store environment.” (Aeropostale Website) Most Americans have heard of Aeropostale and have seen or bought clothing from their stores in malls. What they do not always realize is that these products are made in distant countries by the citizens of Sri Lanka. They do not know anything about the living conditions, wages, or the many other facets of the factory worker's life. While looking at all of the clothing in my closet, I realized that most of it was produced outside of the United States. In this paper I will describe the geographic area, living conditions, and working conditions of the factory worker employees producing Aeropostale clothing in Sri Lanka.


Context of Sri Lanka

Many people of the United States and the world have only recently heard of the country of Sri Lanka because of the December 2004 Tsunami disaster.  Sri Lanka is an island country located on the southeast coast of the country of India (Figure 1). The exact latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of Sri Lanka are 7 00 North and 81 00 E East.  (CIA-The World Fact Book website) The country of Sri Lanka is 65,610 square kilometers in area which makes it roughly a little larger than the state of West Virginia. (CIA-The World Fact Book website) As with every other country of the world, Sri Lanka has a distinct geography. The country is “mostly low, flat to rolling plain; (with) mountains in (the) south-central interior” (CIA-The World Fact Book website) Sri Lanka has a tropical monsoon climate, but this monsoon climate takes place during different times of the year in different regions of the country. It has a northwest monsoon from December to March and a southwest monsoon from June to October. (CIA-The World Fact Book website) The natural resources of Sri Lanka include “limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, (and) hydropower.” (CIA-The World Fact Book website)

  The Sinhalese from northern India moved to Sri Lanka in the later half of the 6th century B.C. (CIA-The World Fact Book website) “Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from circa 200 B.C. to circa A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). (CIA-The World Fact Book website) Next in Sri Lanka 's history was a time when the country was controlled by foreign empires who were seeking to extend their empires into more areas. The first to seize power were the Tamil's of Southern India in the 14th century A.D. followed by the Portuguese and Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively. Sri Lanka was eventually ceded to the British Empire in 1776 with colonization by Great Britain in 1802. (CIA-The World Fact Book website) After thirteen years as a colony, Sri Lanka became part of Great Britain in 1815 and then was under British rule until 1948 when Ceylon (name for Sri Lanka at the time) became an independent country. (CIA-The World Fact Book website) Before 1972 Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, but that all changed in 1972 when the country's name was officially changed to Sri Lanka. (CIA-The World Fact Book website) Every country has different racial and ethnic groups and Sri Lanka is no different. Sometimes those different groups do not get along and the CIA-The World Fact Book website describes this conflict: “Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in an ethnic conflict that continues to fester. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam formalized a cease-fire in February 2002, with Norway brokering peace negotiations.” As American Indians have a social problem with drugs and alcohol so the people of Sri Lanka. (5, Otchet)  "As much as 60% of the adult population (over the age of 18) drinks and smokes. Kids usually start around the age of 14” (5, Otchet) Again , Sri Lanka has been in the news recently, but not for fighting. They were right in the middle of one of the worst natural disaster to ever take place, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and unfortunately thousands of Sri Lankan lives were lost.

Although Sri Lanka has become an industrialized country, there is still an indigenous population that lives in the country. They are called the Wanniyala-Aetto ("forest beings") and have had to survive the 2,500 years of settlement of the country they first called home. (Global Vision website, author unknown). As the American Indians were forced off their land and have had many treaties with them broken or ignored, so have the Wanniyala-Aetto, who have been forced out of their ancestral forest by the Sri Lankan government. (Global Vision website, author unknown) Before the troubles with the government, the indigenous people of Sri Lanka lived in harmony with their tropical surroundings as hunter gatherers. Today the Wanniyala-Aetto are becoming an extinct people with only 2,000 Veddahs, as they are called in the Sri Lankan language, out of a population of 20 million people who live in the country of Sri Lanka. (Global Vision website, author unknown)


Brand: Aeropostale

Most teenagers in today's society want to look cool so they buy popular brands of clothing such as Abercrombie and Fitch or American Eagle. However, many teenaged people are starting to wear more of other brands such Aeropostale, which are cheaper in price but still fashionable. Alex Biesada in his description of Aeropostale tells us how the company got started. He says, “The Aeropostale name originated from a 1920's airmail firm, Compagnie Generale Aeropostale. The brand was created by R.H. Macy & Co. in the 1980's and later made into a specialty store concept.” ( Hoover 's website, Alex Biesada). In 1998 Macy's current parent company, Federated Department Stores, sold Aeropostale to its current owners, Aeropostale Management and Bear Stearns Merchant Bank. ( Hoover 's website, Alex Biesada) The company headquarters for Aeropostale is located in New York City , New York. ( Hoover 's website, Alex Biesada) In order to keep up with the ever-changing fashion world, “Aeropostale designs and sources its own merchandise.” ( Hoover 's website, Alex Biesada) The name Aeropostale has become a common household term in the teenage fashion world because they have around 560 stores with 6,068 employees which are based mostly in shopping malls spread across 43 states of the United States. (Hoover 's website, Alex Biesada) Consumers can also visit their internet website and purchase the latest Aeropostale clothing. Aeropostale is still a company that is continuing to grow as, they sold $734.9 million in clothing during the 2004 fiscal year. (Hoover 's website, Alex Biesada)



All industries need many things to survive; however, one of the single most important entities that companies need to survive is cheap labor. Research that I found that support the claim that companies use cheap labor is, “EPZs [Export Processing Zones] are industrial agglomerations located primarily in developing countries, mainly due to the availability of cheap, efficient and docile labour for producing various consumer goods for the global market.” (154, Attanapola) That is why many of the top brands of clothing such as Aeropostale, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, and many other top name brand companies have their factories in countries like Sri Lanka. This section of the paper is devoted to the people who worked to make the product that is seen at the top of the website(Figures 2&3). However, because Aeropostale has been uncooperative in releasing information about their plants in Sri Lanka, the focus of this section will be the overall living and working conditions of the workers of Sri Lanka and the problems that go along with working in the factories of Sri Lanka.

There are three main industries in Sri Lanka, services (45%), agriculture (38%), and industry (17%). (CIA-The World Fact Book website, no author) The major exports of Sri Lanka include textiles/apparels, tea, diamonds, coconut products, and petroleum products. (TIE-Asia website, no author) Although industry is the smallest percentage of the make up the industries of Sri Lanka, it is the one focused on in this paper because that is where the Aeropostale coat was produced. A major part of the industry sector of Sri Lanka is the garment industry and “has grown rapidly over the past 10-15 years” (225, Knutsen). “Exports of garments accounted for 50% of the total exports from Sri Lanka in 1999” ( 225, Knutsen) The United States is the largest exporter of garments with 60% of total exports of Sri Lankan garment industry products. (225, Knutsen) People in Sri Lanka earn about 2500 Sri Lankan Rupees per month which is the equivalent to thirty-two American dollars.  (TIE-Asia website, no author, Oxford Reference Online, no author) Since the monthly wages are so small, there is little money to support a large family so the family sizes are very small with the most important family structure being the nuclear family. (About.com website, no author) Kottak states that the nuclear family is a kinship group consisting of parents and children. (159, Kottak) The main work forces of Sri Lanka's garment industry are single women (about 80%) between the ages of 20 and 29 years old. (Somo website, no author)

There are four religious faiths that are endemic to Sri Lanka. (TIE-Asia website) They include Buddhism (70%), Hinduism (15%), Christianity (8%), and Islam (7%). (TIE-Asia website, no author) A normal workday would consist of nine hours, Monday through Friday with an hour for lunch .  Onweekends workers are required to work six and a half hours on Saturday , also including a one hour lunch break. (Somo website, no author) However , after the Somo website states the work times and the amount of time allotted for lunch , the article then states, “In most factories workers only receive 30 minutes for their lunch break, this is not enough time for workers to eat their lunch due to a lack of facilities for eating meals and going to the toilet.” (Somo website, no author)

Even though the e-mail from Aeropostale said that they inspect every factory for human rights and child labor needs, I tend to believe contrary to what they say base d on the working condition reports that I have found in my research. Free Trade Zones (FTZ's) are where most foreign companies have their factories operating. Some examples of poor working conditions that the Somo website includes are :


Table 1 (Somo website, no author ), Sentences taken from website and put into a table

  • Being forced to work long hours to reach unrealistically high production targets
  • Long hours of work and forced overtime (well outside of labour regulations)
  • Legal entitlements that are frequently denied, with leave being extremely difficult to take
  • Excessive fines and penalties ranging from being late, sick, not reaching production targets and not doing compulsory overtime. Bonus, fines and penalties are complex and workers frequently can not calculate how much they will earn each month.
  • The right to organize collectively or form a union, though legal, is openly repressed
  • Occupational Health and Safety practices are either poor or non existent
  • Sexual harassment is frequent and inhumane restrictions are often imposed such as a time limit per week for going to the toilet
  • Lack of transportation, especially after late night shifts
  • Misrepresentation by the BOI (Board of Investment) of labour law and frequent attempts to circumvent the law or to make it more flexible for employers


Since women are the highest percentage of the work force in Sri Lanka, there is a lot of attention by world labor rights groups on their working conditions. Through my research I have found some startling evidence of what the women endure as workers in factories.  One example is that in 2002 the Sri Lankan government made laws that forced women to work more overtime, up to 60 hours. (World Socialist Web Site, Saman Gunadasa). They are also forced to use the restroom by using “restroom tokens.”  Another example is that the government does not spend money on housing so women are forced to live in slum communal houses with other women factory workers. (Asian Labour Update, the Dabindu Collective) The women that work in factories also have a stereotype put on them by wealthier Sri Lankans; they are seen as a dirty which causes them to be discriminated against. (Asian Labour Update, the Dabindu Collective)



Overall this project has been a difficult endeavor because of many factors. The Aeropostale Company has not been of any help in the process of finding out information about the location, working conditions, or people where their products are made. For example, after one e-mail, this is the response that I received. “Every factory in which our product is made is inspected and certified for complying with child labor and human rights needs. Every manufacturer we deal with signs a letter indicating that they are in compliance with each of these issues. We do not publicly disclose the factories in which our products are made.” This was not very helpful in my research on this project , and for all I know, this could be a false statement and is a standard response for anyone who asks about their Aeropostale factories in any country. I believe that if they make a statement as the one in the e-mail response I receive , then they should provide undisputable visual evidence of what they claim. After all, if they claim that they comply with child labor and human rights needs, why are they so afraid to tell me the locations of their factories? It's not like I have the means to fly over to Sri Lanka and find out if they are actually telling the truth or not. I feel that since Aeropostale, Inc. is a publicly traded company, (Hoover's website, Alex Biesada) then they should have to show proof to their investors of what their overseas plants actually look like and what the working conditions of those employees of that plant really are like . If I were to buy Aeropostale clothing, I would want to know the kind of information that this assignment is asking for.

The process of finding out information about the people who work in the textile factories of Sri Lanka, for the most part, has been fairly difficult. My biggest challenge has been finding out the actual locations of the factories Aeropostale has in Sri Lanka . The best sources of information have been human rights groups who report on the conditions of textile factory workers such as the ones in Sri Lanka . Another good source that I found was the Miami University Library website because it gave me useful tools such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR to find information in peer-reviewed writings. The most useful strategy that I found was using internet searches and typing in various keywords to find the information I needed. Overall I enjoyed the research part the project because it allowed me to become a detective of sorts. I had to ask question upon question to get to the information that I was looking for.



Sri Lanka is a country full of rich history and culture. With any nation stat, it has land, water, indigenous people and many aspects that make it a unique country. This research has been difficult because companies do not like to disclose the type information I am seeking. My research has shown me that a company can tell you one thing and the research another. For example , Aeropostale told me in an e-mail that their plants are up to human rights standards, but when I did my research , I found that the working conditions for women are poor. The country of Sri Lanka is a major place for the production of western goods, including Aeropostale. I have tried to show how the people of Sri Lanka live and the working conditions that they have to endure on a daily basis.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • People
  • A.O.
    Mala Salgado: Stripping away the glamour. UNESCO Sources, Mar97 Issue 88, p5, 3/8p
  • Attanapola, Chamila T.
    Sept. 2003 Multiple voices, multiple realities: female industrial workers' health in Sri Lanka. Norwegian Journal of Geography, Vol. 57 Issue 3, p154, 10p
  • Knutsen, Hege M
    2003 Globalisation and the Garment Industry in Sri Lanka. Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p225, 26p
  • Kottak, C. P.
    2005 Mirror for Humanity A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. 8:159-161


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