Where were your clothes made? Sarah Ditty explores why we need to change our relationship with clothes.
Last week another major fire blazed through a garment factory in Bangladesh. Thankfully only four people were injured, as some 6,000 employees hadn’t yet arrived that day for work. There are myriad reasons why this fire happened. These span from very basic reasons – it was a tragic accident, to be more specific – it lacked proper safety and structural standards, to be political – the Bangladeshi government should better ensure workers’ safety, to systemic – the factory’s clients H&M and J.C. Penney should have caught these hazards in their factory checks. All of these are true.
However, there is also something cultural, psychological and behavioural we need to address: our relationship with what we wear.
With food we know that corn is farmed, bananas are picked and meat is slaughtered, ususally by human hands. Food nourishes us and fuels our bodies. Many of us take care to know where our food comes from, what’s in it and therefore what we’re putting inside ourselves. We don’t have the same relationship with clothing even though we wear it everyday. We wear it on our skin, our largest organ. Our skin holds our bodies together and shields us from the outside world. It fights diseases and rids us of harmful toxins. Yet most of us don’t think about where our clothing comes from, what it’s made of, how it was made and who makes the things we wear.
Almost everything we wear is handmade
Fashion is big business: some 80 billion items of clothing are delivered out of factories worldwide each year. While the fashion and textiles industry is hugely mechanised and technological, most things still require human hands. Look at your top. Notice its wavy seams, and where the loose ends of the threads have been cut off. These are all traces of the work done by the people who made your clothes. Millions and millions of people make the clothes we wear every day and we know virtually nothing about them.
The next time you purchase clothing stop for a moment and look at the label. It should tell you in which country your clothing was made – so you’ll know that the people who stitched it together live in Bangladesh, Cambodia or Romania, for example. The label will also tell you what materials have been used, such as cotton or polyester.
But your label won’t tell you where in the world the cotton was farmed, where the fibre was spun into a yarn, where the yarn was woven into a fabric, where it was dyed and printed. It won’t tell you where the thread, zips, buttons, beading or other features came from.
So ask yourself where did those materials come from? How were they made? Where were they made? What’s it like to work there? What kind of people are involved? What are their lives like? Being interested in the answers to these kinds of questions is the best first step towards changing our relationship with what we wear. It is the first step in changing the story of the people who make our clothes.
Join Fashion Revolution in asking #whomademyclothes on 24th April 2016. See more at: http://fashionrevolution.org/
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Photo Credit: James Dean from Flickr.