What’s the real cost of your clothes?

I love clothes. I love to buy new clothes. I also love a bargain. But my bargain isn’t a bargain for everyone.

How Many Lives Is This T-Shirt Worth?

Last week a building collapsed in Bangladesh, a building where clothing was manufactured that ended up in retailers like WalMart, DressBarn, J.C. Penney, and The Children’s Place, along with British and Canadian retailers.

My penchant for cheap clothes may have cost 400+ people their lives. Where we shop, what we buy, affects people a world away. But how do we decide where to shop? Every retailer purchases from factories off-shore. And it’s not a new phenomenon.

As a buyer for Macy’s back in the ’80s, I traveled to Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong to place orders for our private label goods and to tour factories. The factories they showed us were all modern and lovely; who knows where our clothes were actually produced. But even then we were dropping countries like Taiwan where prices were rising as workers’ wages rose and seeking out cheaper countries of origin.

I know I’ve blogged on this issue before, back when a Pakistani factory burned, killing 300 people. It’s a complex issue that has no easy answers. People in these countries need and want jobs. What will bring lasting change that helps them and saves their jobs? What will it take to ensure workers aren’t forced to go back to work in a building with cracks appearing in the walls as happened last week?

I’m grateful to see Primark, a major British retailer, and Loblaw, a Canadian retailer, planning to compensate victims and their families. Hopefully, other retailers will join them.

What changes can you and I make to ensure worker safety, to ensure my t-shirt doesn’t cost someone else her life? I look to you for ideas, for ways to buy ethically. Share them, please.

3 thoughts on “What’s the real cost of your clothes?”

  1. Like we talked about this weekend, there is no easy answer for this. I always think that buying used clothes from thrift stores and such would help, but it’s bigger than that. It’s greed (companies wanting the same work for less pay), it’s ignorance (if we don’t know where our clothes come from, we aren’t responsible for our actions), it’s corrupt governments and inequality. Thanks for the article link. I’ll check that out.

  2. Yes, Lisa, it’s so big and so intertwined, and I think that’s what makes so many of us give up and go back to life as we know it. I’m eager to make some choices that will even help with a small part. Ideas such as microloans through Hope International (http://www.hopeinternational.org) can play a part in providing employment that is not dangerous. But it’s not the full answer. As long as we want clothes and lots of them, unscrupulous companies will find a way to exploit that.


Leave a Comment


Have Carol Speak For Your Group

An accomplished and flexible speaker, Carol tailors her topics to fit the theme and timeframes of your meeting, conference, seminar or retreat.