I can’t stop thinking about the photograph taken by Taslima Akhter of a man and woman embracing each other in the ruins of Rana Plaza.

The gold bangle on her arm.
Her bright pink and orange sari covered in concrete dust.
An embroidered flower on her sleeve.
The way his arms wrap around her never letting go.
His single red tear.

Is cheap clothing really worth this? More than 800 1,000 dead and they’re still searching. What are we doing?

In my closet I check the tags for countries: China, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Guatemala, India, Jordan, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Vietnam, Macau, Cambodia, El Salvador, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. That’s just the shirts.

Refashioning doesn’t alleviate my guilt. Thrift store racks are filled with inexpensive brands: Old Navy, Walmart’s Faded Glory, Target’s Merona and Mossimo, Kohl’s Sonoma, and more. They’re here because we don’t wear our clothes until they’re worn out. We buy new when we’re bored. Why not? It doesn’t cost us much.

It doesn’t pay much, either. Just over a dollar a day in Bangladesh. $37 a month.

We demand cheap clothing. Companies push manufacturers for lower costs. Manufacturers cut corners to avoid losing contracts to competitors. Governments look the other way because their economies depend on these industries.

It’s a vicious cycle we’ve created. An enormous problem on a global scale. The only thing we can do as individuals is demand better. Pay attention to clothing labels. Educate ourselves. Be willing to pay more.

We can do better, and we should.

recommended reading: Kimberly Ann Elliott is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in international trade policy, with a particular focus on labor standards and trade as a tool for fighting global poverty. In an interview with The Washington Post, she shares relevant knowledge about what’s happening in these countries and how things can improve.

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5 Responses to refashioning and thrifting doesn’t take away my guilt

  1. Amy* says:

    Gripping. Haunting. Convicting.
    Thank you, Julie.
    I will be reading labels and on every label I will see these faces.

  2. Cindy Cooksey says:

    Hear, hear, julie. Very well said,and we all need reminding.

  3. This is something that I think about all the time and really upsets me. It seems like such a no-win situation. I can thrift, but as you said, those clothes are made in these conditions as well. Although, at least I can clothe myself without directly contributing to that economy. I can make my own clothes, but the fabric and yarn I buy is made in these factories, too, I presume. How can I find fabric that’s made in a humane and socially responsible way? Or thread? Or buttons? Or zippers? I get so paralyzed by this. I keep avoiding the problem by just continuing to wear the same things I already had, but our clothes are starting to fall apart, or in the kids’ case, become too small. I don’t know what to do. Have you thought about what your plan is? ~Angela~

  4. kelly says:

    thanks, Julie. The image is indeed disturbing. My mom recently made me six A-line skirts of materials and notions from her bins in the basement. She was appalled by the recent accident and asked me: why does a blouse cost $20 when we can’t even buy the fabric for that much. right. I used to love to show students the documentary T Shirt Travels. How to counter the acquisitiveness that the US celebrates and our economy now depends on? yuck.

  5. Merry says:

    As usual, the victims of our vicious capitalist society are the most poor, and the most desperate. They all work in these factories in the hope of making ends meet while we thrive on the cheapness of their lives and our clothes. What has our world come to?