It's the 21st century, and the world is at our fingertips. Anything is possible - and available. Everything is true. More than ever, it has become our personal responsibility to filter what we allow in - knowing that everything we expose ourselves to becomes a part of our consciousness.
Because it's all one thing. Our big-picture values emerge through each daily decision. Refinement requires us to witness any dissonance between potential and reality, and then work on bridging the gap.
A gap that appears to be growing with our access to global commerce is in our relationship to goods. We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our goods. Currently, around 97% of our clothes - and our textile waste - are made overseas. We cannot blame China. They are supplying a demand for cheap, unethical labor - a demand which we perpetuate at an alarming rate. There are around 40 million garment workers in the world, 85% which are women, with a pay range from $.33/hr to $4/hr - some of the lowest paid workers in the world. What labor laws exist in China, like minimum wage and overtime, are ignored.
We can't assume things work elsewhere like they do in the U.S. - we have no context for the working conditions of these people in developing countries who are working a lifetime of 13 hour days in sweatshops and sleeping in dirty dormitories. Whether we want to look at it or not, the truth is that the majority of our clothes are made in exploitation and violation of basic human rights.
An examination of the human cost of foreign production may be enough for any empathetic consumer to think twice about anonymous product purchasing, but there are many other reasons to shop closer to home that make it worth the effort of educating yourself and paying any implied premium.
- Lower Carbon Footprint: It isn't possible to live in the modern world without producing greenhouse gases, but it certainly is possible to reduce your footprint considerably. Products made overseas require significant fossil fuels to reach us, opposed to domestically-made goods. Reducing shipping in general is one way to reduce your carbon footprint. Amazon Prime has become synonymous with shopping - the convenience and comfort of receiving things at your doorstep by the click of a mouse has replaced regular foraging. Lucky for me, my East Village tenement is delivery-challenged - awarded "second worst doorbell in NYC" by my postman. Forced foraging brings me out into the world and into nearby mom-and-pop shops, supporting the local economy, connecting with the origin of my purchases and avoiding wasteful packaging!
- Improved Economy: Buying American-made goods supports the entire economy. The EPI estimates that every U.S. manufacturing job supports 1.4 jobs in other parts of the economy. NYC's Garment District, once the epicenter of American manufacturing, is on the verge of extinction due to production outsourcing to cheap and unethical foreign labor. However, there is a trend towards bringing manufacturing back home - places like Baltimore, Philiadephia, Peekskill and Dallas are seeing a resurgence of apparel production. Our purchasing power can influence the industry to switch to a more regenerative supply chain. Every time we buy domestic, we invest in our country, supporting locally owned businesses and domestic job growth for future generations.
- Less Pollution: Another reason it's cheaper to make goods in developing countries is because of the lack of regulations in air and water pollution. Not only have we outsourced our goods and jobs, but our pollution too. By buying "Made in the USA," we're investing in environmental standards and quality control.
Yes, there is usually a premium for American-made and sustainable products. But fast fashion isn't cheap - somewhere, somebody is paying. We're not ill willed - just uninformed!
Read labels carefully. Research before you buy.
Educate your family. Be loyal to responsible brands.
It's not about politics - it's about our planet and it's people.
It's not about boycotting foreign-made goods - it's about connecting
to the truth about the origins of our purchases and doing better
where we can.
"Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart,
Just gotta poke around..."