A few weeks ago, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how globalization and excess consumerism (i.e., my shopping habits) have impacted other nations and their people.
As someone raised in the U.S., I’m conscious of a divide in my mind between the legacy of unfair working conditions in the garment industry and the clothes I wear every day. To help myself bridge this gap I’ve been documenting where the clothes I wear every day were made.
Consumption and oppression
I never really understood how the clothing, shoes and other products that I bought could affect human beings living in other parts of the world. I remember hearing about Nike sweatshops in the 90’s, but I simultaneously saw commercials for Air Jordans and desperately wanted a pair.
My sense is that this is not a coincidence. Information on oppressive labor and environmental conditions are withheld from people on purpose so that we’re more inclined to buy.
Marketing vs. reality
When I’m shopping for clothes, stores are actively selling me romantic ideas of what my life could be like and how I might be perceived if I wear particular clothes.
I’m not being sold a manufacturing process, a chain of distribution, an industry of mass production, a set of wages, or inhuman treatment towards working class and poor people. Though in reality, that’s what my money is paying for.
Where my clothes were made
It’s been fascinating to see how far and wide these companies reach to save a few cents on manufacturing costs. I have clothes that were produced in every continent on the planet except for Antarctica and Australia.
Now I wonder what I should do with this information. Focusing my thinking on just one country doesn’t make sense since conditions like those in Bangladesh exist in other nations around the world. Changing my buying habits based on where things are manufactured could do more harm than good, as the garment industry in Bangladesh employs millions of people who depend on those jobs.
Moreover, the “made in” label can’t possibly tell the full story. A garment’s final assembly is just one step in a larger system of farming (cotton), livestock raising (wool), mining (metals), textile weaving (fabric) and plastic manufacturing (buttons, polyester).
There is an overwhelming amount of information that is unknown regarding what corporations do to produce our goods. How can we be assured all the stuff we buy was made with dignity and compassion towards workers and the environment?
Having awareness of where my clothes were manufactured is a start. I don’t yet know how I should let this information influence my choices. But it’s a start.
Where were the clothes you’re wearing right now made? Take a picture, and post it on Flickr with the tag “madein”.