Mindful Consumer: Where do my clothes come from?

“Where do your clothes come from?”

“Is it made of cotton from a farm, wool from a sheep, or silk from silkworm?”

“Have you dug deeper into that?”

You may have never imagined that before coming to your hands, your clothes have passed through the hands of many people from all around the world: ones that you have never even met or known. At the beginning of the last century, most of our clothes were made in the United States. However, by the early nineties, apparel manufacturing moved to Latin America and Asia. Looking at your clothes’ tags, you will probably see “Made in China”, “Made in Vietnam”, or “Made in Bangladesh.” [1]

Because labor and production costs are so cheap in these countries, clothing stores like H&M and Old Navy can sell incredibly cheap outfits. Clothes nowadays are far cheaper than they were in the past. We have seasonal fashion lines for a few months, and then a whole new inventory is out the next season. It is hard to deny the temptation to buy a $5 T-shirt, or $15 jeans, when something new is out. The average American buys 64 items of clothing a year and 7 pairs of shoes [1]. The effect of fast fashion has not crossed their minds. Somewhere along the lines of production, something has to make up for the low cost. As Mathew Green points out in this article, “There is no way the fast fashion model could exist without the army of extremely low-paid workers to quickly turn massive orders around.” [2]

Labor and production cost between Bangladesh versus the U.S. (Source)

The more you buy, the more you create the demand on those workers, and indirectly push them into the endless cycle of selling their lives on the sewing machines. UNICEF found that, “There are about a million children aged 10 to 14 working as child laborers in Bangladesh, but the number is far higher when the age band is expanded” [3]. These employees do not have time to go to school. They sleep, eat, and wash in these sweatshops.  However, what they get is only around 68 USD a month, roughly 2-3 dollars a day, not to mention their working conditions [3].

Monthly minimum wage of Asian countries in garment industry (Source)

Worker rights are few, rules are harsh, and most importantly, the machines and buildings are unsafe. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 is the worst accident ever in the garment industry. It killed over 1,100 people, and left thousands more injured. Although it brought awareness about the safety condition of labors, the accidents in the workplace did not end here.

Elizabeth L. Cline also mentions in her book “Over-dressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion” that cheap fashion does harm to charity thrift shops and textile recyclers where our masses of clothing castoffs end up. If you can buy a new T-shirt with $5, then why would you go to the Clark Thrift Store to purchase a used one? There are some benefits when you buy clothes at the thrift store: you buy inexpensive things, and you protect the environment by reusing things in a way so they are not being wasted. You cannot get rid of your clothes just by not wearing it, or putting to the dumpster. Your clothes are not going to disappear, but they are going to be turned into something else that can be harmful to the environment. Your big junk is still somewhere. So think next time before you decide to buy something. Will you need the item or you can still use your old one? You are not only helping the environment, but also doing good for the human rights so people are not selling their labor for a low price.



[1] Franzese Heather. Changing how you think about clothes. 20 Oct 2011. Tedx Talks. 18 March 2016. (Link)

[2] Green Matthew. Who Made Your T-Shirt? The Hidden Cost of Cheap Fashion. 17 May 2013. News Article. 18 March 2016. (Link)

 [3] Hunter Isabel. Crammed into squalid factories to produce clothes for the West on just 20p a day, the children forced to work in horrific unregulated workshops of Bangladesh. 30 November 2015. News Article.  18 March 2016. (Link

(Cover image source) 


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