At the top of my list of things to do this morning I had laundry. Doing the laundry is invariably a bit of a pain in my apartment because the laundry is in another building down two flights of stairs and the washing machine requires £1.40 in exact change, which I very rarely have. Hence doing the laundry usually involves a trip to the corner shop with a £10 note to buy a small number of items I don’t need and asking them for as much change in the form of £1 and 20p coins as possible.
Today’s situation is like this and so I am still yet to do this. In procrastinating said shopping trip and laundry run, I decided to make a sequel to the wildly successful food map earlier in my blog using my laundry basket initially before getting carried away and overlaying my entire wardrobe on the world map. Whilst clothing is significantly less transient in the home than food, it still produces a thought provoking image.
Voila. Successful procrastination.
As would be expected and as everyone knows most of the world’s clothes come from Southern and Eastern Asia. My wardrobe is no exception. The great majority is manufactured in China, despite being from a host of different types of companies. Timberland winter boots, woolen jumpers, my suit and my Norrøna rainjacket from all come from China. Bangladesh also is beginning to make a bit of a dint in the pile of clothing at a distant second, and the remainder is thinly spread across 4 other continents (the only continent missing in this case is South America).
There is less uncertainty in this map than my food map as approximately 90% of my wardrobe has a country of origin label on it. The continents with their clothes are summarised below with some possible justification.
Socks + Thermals: Bonds prior to 2006 had still about 50% of their manufacturing operations (of mostly underwear and socks) in Australia. This has since dropped to virtually 0% as the remaining operations were off-shored to the dismay of nearly 2000 factory workers in Pacific Brands.
Jeans: What! You have jeans made in Australia? Apparently so. They are a relatively high end ethical brand (click to read about Nobody) however and I wouldn’t have bought them if they weren’t on a pretty serious sale. Having said that I was specifically after ethical clothing after having recently watched a trailer for China Blue, about the state of affairs in Chinese jeans factories.
The belt from England is a mystery to me because I didn’t buy it new. It probably has an interesting history
The shirt is from H&M. Not a great brand in terms of ethics I know… bought it in Europe when I was here previously. They are opening an Australian store soon though.
This is just the same as my Tanzanian green beans story. I was pretty surprised to find that my woolen jumper from M&S is Madagascan! M&S was a brand who’s ethical undertones I’d heard about before getting here, but interestingly at the train station the other day I saw them throwing out approximately 30 ready made sandwiches and other ready to eat meals. I asked in fact if they donated the food and they said it was company policy to chuck it. Terrible. I hope they change that policy.
North and Central America:
I stayed a semester in California on exchange 3 years ago and many of the clothing items I bought there came from Haiti, Mexico or Honduras. Geographically close to the USA, it makes sense, but I was surprised there was not so much Chinese made products.
Climbing shoes: bit of a niche product so not that surprising that the US manufactures them. The jumper is also made in the US by Threadless, and was a gift from a friend. Has an eco-message associated with it, which makes sense in terms of the company’s positioning: “Check out these products made right here in the Nifty 50!“
Well that’s the response I’ve got from some people when I talk about where things are from (I don’t do it all the time). In terms of ethical produce of either food or clothing, I think it is important to ensure some decent standard of living is made possible by the purchase of products from the developing world. For many of these countries, it is a very big contributor to the GDP, however small that may be.
For instance in Bangladesh, there are about 5000 factories employing 4m people in a country with 31m households. Forecasts from the Economist suggest that it is set to quadruple in size over the next 20 years. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in April highlights the need for better regulation however and some big clients of the Bangladeshi clothing industry are now seeking to improve the minimal compliance levels for worker conditions starting with fire and structural integrity safety.
At a broader level, to shop ethically, even though there may still be a significant environmental footprint can be done through a host of different websites that are seeking to measure the progress of the industry. One that I’ve used for the UK is Ethical Consumer which has metrics for the ranking of different high street clothing vendors if you’re so inclined through to providing helpful alternatives to shopping through alternative means: hand-me-downs, second hand and re-used clothing. It is really worth a look at the website, although you quickly reach member-only sections as it can weight the ethical scorecard according to your own view of the different ranking scorecards such as whether animal cruelty or carbon footprint is more important.
A friend of mine from home sent me a video link recently talking about Patagonia called Worn Wear, talking about some of their products that have been in existence for far longer periods of time than most people would normally be prepared to hold onto. It’s the keeping up of the good condition of clothing, the repair and re-use of these items and the attempt to keep them in the use-cycle for as long as really possible that comes across as the main message and of course it really makes sense at other levels too. Repairing holes in socks when you first notice them and can keep them going for another year or more. Finding a new elastic cord to your boardshorts or repurposing t-shirts as part of a patchwork quilt all make sense.
The aforementioned friend has an ethos to buy things that last and it’s one that’s worked out very well. He purchases items of high quality, and invests in a product that he knows will be used for a long time. As a result, the number of items that travel across the seven seas to reach him are far fewer and their in-use phase far longer. It’s not a difficult thing to do and certainly an approach that I think we should all emulate more (unless perhaps you’re already featured in Patagonia’s Worn wear video).
My clothing map hopefully won’t change greatly in the short term, but even less so in the longer term if I try to make informed decisions about the products bought and make sure they’ll stay in a useful condition for as long as possible. As a final word, I think the rise of companies like Patagonia (for Worn Wear above), Icebreaker (for their tracking baa code) and Rapanui (for their cashback anti litter and recycling initiative) is fantastic and hopefully they’ll stick around for a while and inspire some more such companies to start.