"The sad part is that the price of individual garments would not have to go up much — 1 percent to 3 percent, various estimates say — to provide a living wage and safer conditions for all those cutting and stitching what we wear. The cycle could slow or even stop. But that 1 percent to 3 percent would have to wend all the way down that river of production — past the eddies and breakwaters of corporate boards and middlemen, subcontracting agents and compradors, to reach those who really need it.
It’s well past time for all of us to reflect on this cycle and how cheap it would be to break out of it if only there were enough public pressure on the apparel industry. The cost for us is minimal; the cost for others is great. Bargain-hunters at Wal-Mart and haute couture customers on Fifth Avenue alike should shame those companies that pass the savings on to us as they pass the suffering on to others we never see. This is not a remote or distant problem.
Take a look at the tag on your shirt. The problem is as close as your skin."
—M.T. Anderson, from "Clothed in Misery", a recent Opinion piece in the New York Times
"These fashion companies and the entire American economy have formed a corrosive and now deadly reliance on cheap consumer goods. Corporations have persuaded consumers that cheap prices are fair. And this paradigm has hollowed out the middle class and led to the exploitation of both people and planet.
I am an impassioned advocate for small-scale, locally produced fashion. But where are the large fashion companies willing to take a risk and reinvent their brands around ethical fashion production? It’s time to trust that the consumer, all things being equal, will buy an ethically made product. We’re ready. It’s up to the brands to figure out how to do this and communicate it in a compelling way."
—Elizabeth Cline (author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, reviewed by me here) on "The Case for Ethical Fashion" in The Nation
Recently, my mother called to tell me she had made a genealogy research breakthrough. She had finally managed to trace my great-great-great grandfather Thomas Marsh back to his childhood in England in a little town near Manchester...
...where the 1841 census shows him as a five-year old living in a textile factory workhouse with his 13-year-old sister. I imagine him something like the little children in the above photo—clambering up onto dangerous machinery, breathing in cotton fibers that scarred his growing lungs. (As a child growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts a "living monument to the dynamic story of the Industrial Revolution", such terrifying stories featured heavily in school field trips).
And then of course, there's the story of cotton in the American South. Tarantino's revenge fairytale spaghetti Western Django Unchained is full of vivid imagery, including close-ups of fluffy cotton bolls splattered in blood—it's a pretty apt visual metaphor, don't you think?
The story of the garment and fashion industries we often see and hear is a story about design, fun, creativity, innovation, genius designers, flashy runway shows and inspiring magazine spreads. But it is not often a story about ethics, respect for the rights, safety and livelihoods of garment workers, or environmental sustainability.
That story needs to be re-written. NOW. How do you think we can help?