Do people actually care where their stuff comes from? Who makes it?
I ask these questions when I travel the country talking to students about my experiences (recounted in my book “Where Am I Wearing?”) meeting garment workers in Honduras, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China.
The answers barely vary. “Nope.” “Not really.” “Nuh-uh.” I agree that most of us don’t care. But we care given certain circumstances. There’s someone I want you to meet.
In 2008 a British man fired up his new iPhone and discovered photos of a worker at the Chinese factory where his phone was made. He posted the photos on macrumors and in a matter of weeks the ensuing comment thread had nearly 700 comments and people all over the world were asking, “Who is iPhone Girl?”
iPhone girl became a sensation. Her smiling face was on MSNBC and in the Washington Post.
Reporters tracked iPhone girl to a factory in Shenzhen where a company spokesperson called the incident a “beautiful mistake.”
And something beautiful did happen. When we see that iPhone girl has a slightly crooked smile and is wearing a slightly crooked cap and that she has a sparkle of personality in her eye, we can’t help but care about her. The Divide between produces and consumers. It used to be that when my grandfather bought a shirt, the worker who made his shirt likely didn’t live a life that much different than grandpa’s – although the shirt-makers’ jobs involved less manure (grandpa was a farmer). Back then folks knew what life was like for the butcher, the baker, and the garment maker.
Today there’s a huge divide between producer and consumer and there are a select few companies – Alta Gracia is one – trying to bridge that divide. In fact I recently promoted their apparel through my Closet Giveaway (see my promotion message below).
I believe that we long for a deeper connection with our stuff. The success of farmers’ markets and handmade crafts (think Etsy) are proof. If you buy an ear of corn from farmer Dave out on State Route 32, or a necklace handmade by an artisan in a neighboring county, when you serve that corn or give that necklace as a gift, you will tell the story of where and who it came from.
When we recognize that the people who make our stuff have hopes, dreams, and personalities, we can’t help but care that the job that they have pays them a living wage and allows them to reach those dreams.
Kelsey Timmerman is a friend and advocate for Alta Gracia, touring around college campuses, talking about the apparel industry and Alta Gracia's role in it. In his own words, "I believe that if we reduce global issues to the stories of individual people, we can better see ourselves, our parents, our sons and daughters, and our hopes and struggles in one another."
For more information on Kelsey Timmerman or to see his upcoming tour dates visit http://whereamiwearing.com/
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