If there’s one thing shoppers love, it’s a good deal. Anyone disagree? Didn’t think so. A prime place to snag designer names on sale in America today is good ole’ TJ Maxx, a child of the parent company TJX that also owns Home Goods and Marshalls. The question we should be asking ourselves as responsible consumers is “What is it costing someone else for me to save?” The reality is, there always is a cost. If a good is cheaper, it was produced cheaper and the workers were most likely paid less. This doesn’t mark unethicality, but it is something to be wary of when hunting for deals.

TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, and Marshalls are a bit of a tricky situation, here. The companies exist to attempt to provide consumers with name brands with a 20%-60% price drop on average. But how do they do this? The widely accepted rumor, as with many discount and factory stores, is that stores such as TJ Maxx are getting last season, over-produced, slightly messed-up/mistake products that were throw in a bit and somehow made it onto the rack. But, according to TJX CEO Carol Meyrowitz, this is not the case.

Meyrowitz, in a rare interview with USA Today, made it a point to say that 85% of TJX’s merchandise is bought directly from the suppliers from the current season’s production. This makes TJX’s supply chain, if you can even call it that, a bit murky. They source from over 18,000 vendors, and own none of them. Though they do select vendors and then set in place a code of conduct to protect workers’ rights, the rest remains a mystery.

Because the clothing industry only grows and grows, suppliers these days aren’t over-producing as they used to. This excess used to be the stock TJX bought from at a lower price, because the suppliers needed to get it off their hands in order to avoid suffering a loss. So, TJX now works with suppliers and fits their orders into their yearly production quota. They aren’t getting the mistakes, the extra, the lesser of a manufacturers production any longer. TJX also says that if prices from manufacturers are too high, they will have products re-deigned to fit their price range.

This is what is troubling. TJX doesn’t release any information about their supply chain, which is basically its network of suppliers, besides the code of conduct they have to comply with and a vague statement about how many factories they buy from. So, knowing the plethora of brands TJX sells, and knowing the intense drop in prices, what gives? How are they able to sell at low prices, how much are they buying them for originally, and how are the suppliers able to afford selling the same goods at a lower price to TJX?

Many experts in off-pricing markets say that the possibility of such a relationship is a mystery, or as chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen says “a secret recipe.” That’s where the issue in all this lies. The individual brands and suppliers may not be unethical, but the lack of information and gap in the price of exchange of goods suggests that the process is missing a few key strands to be able to consider TJX a good company to buy from with a mindset of ethical consumerism.The secret recipe may indeed be wholly ethical, but the fact that it’s a secret is something to be wary of when looking for a good deal. Many ethical clothing companies still do have sales and sell at reasonable prices. However, if we are doing anything to buy cheaper, someone or something else is most definetly paying for our savings.

Written by: Madeleine