Review: Where Am I Wearing?
Kelsey Timmerman was curious about where his clothes were made, so he decided to try to find and visit the factories where his t-shirt, boxers, jeans and flip flops were made. He traveled to Bangladesh, Cambodia and China. He also visited a factory in the US. He discovered that clothing companies used to run their own factories, but that is no longer true. Now they design a product and hire a factory to make it, so the same factory makes many styles and brands of clothing.
He discovered that 76% of Bangladesh’s exports are from the garment industry, which employs two million people there. When he visited a factory, he found the conditions to be tolerable. Later, he met some of the workers on a personal basis and some of their stories are heartbreaking. They work long hours, live in crowded conditions and barely make enough to survive. He learned that many of the young men of Bangladesh are forced to go to Saudi Arabia to work to help support their families.
In Cambodia, Kelsey found a country that is still struggling to overcome the Vietnam War. The fields are filled with mines and many people have been maimed by them. He found streets full of beggars and dumps full of scavengers. The garment industry there seems to be sweatshop free, but it still has it’s problems. Unions are allowed, but they don’t work well together and there is corruption. Still, the life of a garment worker in Cambodia is better than that of a lot of it’s citizens.
The factory in China would not allow Kelsey to enter. He was able to visit with some of the workers, though. He found that they often had to work 16 hour days, 6 days a week and were forced to work without pay at times or risk losing their jobs. Many of the workers have moved from rural areas to urban areas to work at the factories and send money home to support their families. They live in conditions that we would find intolerable, yet claim to be happy. He said,
It doesn’t seem fair that Dewan and Zhu Chun have to work so hard for so little and I, who serve little function, work so little for so much.
Kelsey’s last stop was at a factory in the US. A former Converse factory, it was converted to American Classic Outfitters when Converse closed. The factory specializes in jerseys for athletic teams. The atmosphere and attitudes of the employees were very different from those in developing countries. He stresses that the factory had to find an area to specialize in, in order to survive, though.
I try to be a conscientious consumer, so I really enjoyed Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman. This book is filled with facts, but it doesn’t read like non-fiction. Actually reading about the workers’ daily lives was fascinating and was a gentle reminder that people everywhere want the same things we do, but unfortunately many of them don’t have the opportunity to get it. Since Carl works for a company that manufactures products (not garments) in the US, I try to buy American when I can and have been known to spend more on a product simply because it was made in this country. I know I will be reading the tags before I buy clothing in the future. One last item from the book worth thinking about when you shop – Kelsey was talking about a lecture he heard in college when he wrote,
. . . Our professor introduced us to the concept of the race to the bottom. Companies would go wherever labor was the cheapest and often that was wherever the people were the most desperate. He told us that China was winning the race as evidenced by the majority of our stuff being made there, and, as trade became freer, it would continue to lead the race to the bottom.
So, what do you think? Every time you shop for clothing, you vote with your wallet. You decide whether you want to protest the salaries and living conditions of garment workers or if you want to support the garment industry in developing countries.
Review copy provided by John Wiley & Sons.