Do You Really Want to Know Who Makes Your Clothes?


These ads highlight the need for changes in the clothing manufacturing business. 

This past week marked the 105th anniversary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York. More than 100 men and women, some as young as 14, were trapped in the burning building (it was a common practice to lock stairwells and exits to prevent workers from taking breaks or stealing). The fire led to the implementation of many safety measures to protect workers, as well as the creation of unions. In America, at least, things would only continue to improve throughout the years.

But that’s just in the United States. It might be common knowledge that factory working conditions around the world suck. In 2012, a fire spread through the Tazreen Fashion Factory in Bangladesh killing at least 117 people, and a year later the Rana Building, also in Bangladesh, collapsed killing over a thousand people that worked at the clothing factory housed there. This, despite the fact that there had been a visible crack in the façade of the building the previous day and employees of other businesses had followed evacuation instructions set forth by officials. Employees of the factory were told to show up to work the next day or they would be penalized. And lest you think they don’t affect you, the factories produced clothing for stores like Walmart, JC Penney, Mango, and Primark.

Believe it or not, the men, women, and children – lots of children – making clothes for fast-fashion companies face far greater risks than building fires. They’re not just grossly underpaid (we’re talking as little as 13 cents an hour), but forced to work overtime, threatened with termination, and sometimes even the victims of physical violence. Forcing someone to work against their will, is of course, slave labor.


This week, the Canadian Fair Trade Network launched a series of ads designed to draw awareness to the conditions affecting the people who actually make our clothes. “The Label Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story” campaign features close up images of garments – a shirt, a sweater, and a jacket – and the label that usually bears the fabric content and country of manufacture instead has a long story detailing the fictional (but based on real experiences) story of the worker who may have produced that particular garment. For example: “Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature of the rook he works in reaches 30 degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit). The dust in the room fills his nose and his mouth. He will make less than a dollar for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents.”

It would be nice to believe that no person would ever consciously support a company that knowingly commits such atrocities, but the truth is that these horrible practices are so prevalent, that it requires extra time, effort, and certainly money, to be able to purchase items that are made by people working under fair conditions. The good news is that this is a topic that has been gaining more traction in recent years, and it is now easier than ever to have access to ethically sourced clothing. Supermodel Amber Valletta, for example, recently launched Master & Muse, an online store featuring such goods exclusively, and labels like Loomstate have made this particular cause the driving force behind their company. And sure, most of these items will cost you more money than a shirt you can pick up at Gap, but when you realize that extra money is actually supporting, not enslaving, a family as far away as Bangladesh or as close as Mexico, it’s totally worth it.

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