Tuesday 22 October 2013

Who pays for your clothes?

For nearly 30 years it has been my habit and pleasure to read the Sydney Morning Herald every weekend.  This weekend I was saddened to read the item “Darkness behind white walls” by Ben Doherty in the news review section.

Doherty outlined the situation of exploitation many young Indian girls get drawn into by the clothing manufacturing industry. From ages as young as 11 they become sweat shop slaves indentured for 3 or more years living inside locked compounds working 7 days a week for the promise of a meagre “dowry” reward. The illegal dowry they eventually become entitled to after thousands of hours of labour is equivalent to about AUS$85
Don’t be deluded that that $5 tee shirt from K-Mart is a bargain. It is costing somebody - elsewhere – a great deal. At the beginning of this year many people in the first world were horrified by the disastrous collapse of a six storey building in Bangladesh which contained a clothing manufacturing business. More than 600 people died. There was a brief flurry of concern to examine the ethical sourcing of clothes by the big retailers here…which soon petered out…

The truth is the clothing manufacturing industry is one of the most resource wasting industries on our planet. The vast quantity of clothes being produced every day requires enormous amounts of labour and energy.
People in the first world are the ones generating the demand for this constant choice of new attire, through our na├»ve participation in the intellectual construct “Fashion”. The western clothing and advertising industry has created the idea that we need to constantly update and acquire new clothes several times a year to remain in conformity with what is being deemed as currently “fashionable” or risk being denigrated as dowdy, dated or outside the peer group.

So it might seem rather strange that as a person who makes and designs clothes – and wants to sell them to you! – and ultimately make a living from this endeavour;  that I write a critique severely criticising the clothing industry.  I like to think of myself as a person who examines choices and tries to live a life, as far as realistically possible, guided by moral and ethical principles. It is guided by those beliefs that I never shop at the big retailers for clothes, that most of my clothes are recycled second hand from charity shops, made by myself or bought from local boutiques and chosen from their range of small Australian designer labels.
I have been making and designing clothes to sell since my early 20s and the joy of creating something to wear that is arty, quirky, unique and different from “fashion” is still motivates me to keep doing it.

There are still a lot more things I could reflect on, and might say, another time. But there are no pictures in this blog and don’t want it to become a great big, boring looking piece of text…

I have actually been working hard ….in my personally chosen, solitarily womanned “sweat shop” … and have 5 new creations to show you in the next few days.

However, reading that piece in the Sydney Morning Herald gave me cause to think about my own place in this industry and how so many women in our culture unknowing participate in this system which is exploitative of third world cheap labour and young women in particular, damaging to the environment and benefitting very few financially except for the capitalist owners of large retail chains.

I would be really interested to hear the comments and thoughts of readers!

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