Going against the grain: business ethics

counterfeit japanese fabric

Isn’t this fabric adorable? Little cats prancing around Paris! I loved it the minute I saw it. It quickly sold out at my main fabric supplier so when I found a half yard online I grabbed it. This particular piece came from Taiwan. Can you imagine how I felt when it arrived and turned out to be counterfeit fabric. Is there even such a thing? Apparently yes, there is. Having seen the original Japanese-made fabric I knew right away that this was an inferior knock-off. I was shocked, angry and disappointed.

When is it ever right to copy somebody else’s original artwork? Never!

I could have used this fabric to make my little messenger bags for children. Most of my customers would not have sensed this fabric wasn’t real McCoy Japanese material. But in my business I have made a commitment to use only Japanese-manufactured fabrics, from reputable firms, that in turn show respect for the environment and human-rights in their production. With the fabric pictured above, not having been made by the original Japanese manufacturer, we have no way of knowing which toxic chemicals have been used. Not to mention the blatant copyright infringement.

Is it okay to pull the wool over your customer’s eyes? No!

When I founded Mee a Bee the news was full of sickening stories of food contamination, dangerously high levels of poisonous chemicals in children’s toys, and mis-labeling of everyday products designed for children. I decided that if I was going to make anything for kids then it would be as safe as possible. This has been my philosophy from day one.

Do you feel a moral obligation to run an ethical business? I do!

The laws in Japan are quite strict and most of the big fabric manufacturers have made great strides toward being eco-friendly and safe. They’re using sustainably grown hemp, which requires less pesticide and water in growing. Dying and printing is done with chemicals that have a lower impact on the environment than those used historically. Stringent testing is undertaken to make sure the chemicals are not toxic to babies and children. It’s also important to me to know that Japanese labor laws preserve minimum ages and wages for the work force.

 non-toxic strapping used in meeabee bags

Knowing that the human body is like a sponge and that skin readily absorbs many chemicals I was pleased to find a local supplier of strapping for the shoulder straps of my bags that is color-fast, washable and  formaldehyde-free. Yes, the embalming fluid! It’s also used as a setting agent for dyes and inks in fabrics. I do not want that in my kids’ bags.

Most of my customers are small children. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a toddler to put the strap in his/her mouth … for that reason I never use metal buckles or magnetic clasps in case of lead poisoning. If I do use a plastic buckle I avoid those that have used the toxic chemical to make plastic softer. Even the thread I use has Oeko-Tex certification, a European standard governing the use of certain chemicals in fabric manufacture. Everything I use is made here in Japan.

Parents: do these issues concern you? They should.

It’s become quite fashionable in recent years to go green. That’s a good thing. It would be easy for me claim to be doing all I can. My small business flies under the radar in a lot of respects. But ethically and morally I want to do the right thing. So I’m taking a greener approach. I don’t want toxic things in my home, after all I have kids myself. Nor do I want to support polluting the environment or using underpaid labor. Fabrics, buckles and other notions can all be purchased very inexpensively off-shore. But at what cost really?

safely made bags for children by mee a bee

I sleep well at night knowing that my bags are made from safe materials for children. And it doesn’t hurt that they are 100% cute!


  1. a says:

    that’s great, shortcuts cost a lot. This is very informative, i read about a place that does fabrics and i was trying to buy but there were unseeming people making illegal fabrics and it was on the news that the red dye lead to cancer. I mean really> is it worth it i guess to some people who are starving and desparate but the ends dont justify the means lets do this all the time not just when it effects us alone.

  2. Hazel says:

    I think it’s great that you’re so discerning about your materials 🙂

    One thing I’d like to know is, how do you find out about the manufacturing/chemical processes, and how do you verify them? I’m a vegan, so I have to make sure that nothing I use has animal products or by-products, but getting this information from the source can be a struggle! Any tips would be really appreciated 🙂

  3. Gabrielle says:

    Great post, Jacqui, so refreshing to read about a truly ethically-run business. I’m a designer in the UK and I will only use FSC and recycled paper, organic cotton and everything has to be produced in the UK. It makes life harder, takes more time and can be more expensive but I couldn’t do it any differently – if you have ethics and principles in your own life you can’t ditch them in your own business! Well done for sticking to your principles 🙂

  4. Jill says:

    I think it’s great that you’re so dedicated to using safe materials in your products. That’s something that I aspire to do. I have a few questions, if you don’t mind! If a fabric isn’t listed as being “organic” (or otherwise mentions its safety standards), is it safe to assume the the fabric is chock full of chemicals? I make purses to sell and my totes always have hardware. Can you suggest the best way of finding out whether metal notions have lead or not (if it’s not blatantly stated)? When I read your comment about buckles and the like being full of lead, my stomach dropped. I want to be sure that I’m not selling anything that’s unsafe to others.

  5. Thank you for your passionate and informative post. Environmentally safe processes (for the world and the health of our children) are so often overlooked for the sake of ‘lower price’.

    I continually try to convey this very same message when educating consumers about why my specific pure wool felt is a better choice than most felts on the market.

    I applaud you for your principles and I support you in your efforts.

  6. Moxie Lisa says:

    What a great article that shows you can really take a stand against all of these yucky chemicals with your business! I would much rather pay a slightly higher price for something that I KNOW is not going to harm my children…it seems kind of silly not to really!

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