I’ve just completed Fashion Revolution’s 3-week course, Who Made My Clothes?, run by the University of Exeter. The course was structured on Fashion Revolution’s mantra: Be Curious, Find Out, Do Something and was jam-packed with articles, exercises and peer discussions. Each week finished with a Q&A video including questions from learners and answers from the course mentors and industry experts. It’s been really insightful and very worthwhile. Plus I got a certificate and who doesn’t like a certificate 😉
As part of Week 2 we had to choose something from our wardrobe to research and tell it’s story based on our findings. I chose a t-shirt from Gap Fit that was given to me for my birthday. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I stopped buying from the high street last year but you’ll also know that I find refusing gifts difficult: I think it’s ungrateful and rude to refuse or return a gift based on it’s ethical merit. So, instead I sought to find out a little bit more about this tee that’s found it’s way into my wardrobe, especially as I wear it quite a lot. What can I say? It’s a nice t-shirt. So, all things considered, it seemed like a good pick. Oh, and it’s the same t-shirt featured in my #whomademyclothes social media posts this year.
If you’re interested, I’ve included the creative piece of writing I put together for the course below along with the collage of photos (posted to Instagram), inspired by the story.
Before reading, I’d just like to tell you a few things.
- Although I’ve learned a lot about sustainable fashion over the past 18 months, I hadn’t actually examined the fabric composition of this t-shirt and naively thought it was cotton. To me it looked like cotton; it felt like cotton. I just assumed it was cotton. And it’s not. It’s a synthetic / man-made blend. I was horrified to learn that it could take up to 200 years to decompose.
- I was humbled and angered by the stories of various garment workers around the world. I don’t pity them: they are strong and proud. I’m in awe of what they’re able to achieve under so many different, heavy pressures. Garment workers deserve much better pay, better working conditions and so much more gratitude from the corporations who profit and the consumers who benefit from their hard-work.
- As I was putting together my photo collage it struck me that I own another grey roll sleeve t-shirt, similar to the Gap tee but from Zola Amour, a UK based sustainable fashion brand. They’re both in this photo. Can you guess which is which?…
Ethical Zola Amour tee far top left and Not-So-Ethical Gap Fit tee next to it on the right.
Here’s a quick comparison of the Gap tee to the Zola Amour tee. The Zola Amour tee is made from GOTS certified organic cotton, which will biodegrade. It was made in the UK for a living wage. I’ve met the human who made this t-shirt in person. She’s called Emily and she’s the owner of the brand. She’s incredibly passionate about every aspect of what she does and her small capsule collection is a dream. I emailed her on the back of this project and she replied with the details of where the cotton was grown (India), spun and knitted (Turkey) and purchased (a supplier in Wales). It was exactly what you’d hope to be able to learn about a garment in your wardrobe. I’d say the gold standard, actually. In terms of cost, the Zola Amour t-shirt is about £10 more than the GAP Fit t-shirt. I’m always asked about the additional cost of ethical fashion. I think the answer is right here under your nose. Ethical fashion may be a bit more expensive but here’s the thing, only sometimes. Because really it depends on what you’re buying, how much you’re buying and compared to what you usually spend and where you normally shop. I think most ethical fashion brands are comparable to lots of the slightly more expensive high street brands. Ethical brands will never be as low-cost as cheap, cheap throwaway fast fashion. But I don’t think ethical means ridiculously expensive when you weigh it all up. Maybe next time you’re looking for a new item, consider an ethical brand first. Because actually, if we all chose an ethical tee (maybe even just one) we could all help to make a big difference; if we all asked more of our favourite high street brands #whomademyclothes they’d have to sit up and listen.
Just Another T-Shirt
You’re just another t-shirt. Gap Fit. Size S. Roll sleeve tee. Grey, loose, soft.
APRIL 26, 2018 @GAPUK #whomademyclothes?
Who Made You? Were they paid fairly? Minimum wage; overtime? Are they proud? Of their job, family, country? Do they get headaches? Period cramps? Eczema? Or worse. How’s their mental health? What’s their favourite colour? food? hobby? Do they take selfies? Or check in on Facebook?
Can they read? Afford to eat? Pay for health care? A mobile phone? A coffee for a friend?
Do they stitch under duress? Are they intimidated because of their sex?
Or are they perfectly happy?
Sunday Morning. Swipe in. Say hello to the receptionist. Arrive. Remove shoes and roll out mat. Smile at the women next to me. Sit, relax, eyes gently closed. Breathe In, breathe out. Half an hour of sun salutations, looking out of gleaming windows over manicured gardens. I check my posture in the studio mirror and admire your reflection. You drape, you cover, you keep me cool. Namaste.
I look at your label. Made In Vietnam. In plain white on grey marl. I read Gap’s Sustainability Report for clues. More than a million people work in the facilities that create our clothes, and we want to ensure that they work in safe, fair conditions and are treated with dignity and respect. Page 51. Are these empty words? Or is everything actually ok?
Who Made You?
130 garment factories in Vietnam used by Gap. Different places full of different faces. All anonymous. The same.
- Hai in Ho Chi Minh? Proud. Factory work by day; home work at night. Extra shifts to send money home to his family. His younger sister has polio. He’s tired.
- Lan in Dong Nai? Trapped by long hours and low wages. Had to leave her baby behind and not see him for 9 months. I don’t know how she does it.
Just some other garment workers.
The minimum wage went up this year in Vietnam… Does the rise make it a living wage? And didn’t the raise happen after you were made? What did the garment worker who made you get paid? More than US$1 per hour? I doubt it.
How many of you were stitched together the same by the same fingers in the same place on the same day to the sounds of the same machines? Tens, Hundreds, Thousands? What did the garment worker who made you get paid and was it docked for human error?
Just another human.
The name behind the fingers of the stitches that hold you together and the factories where you were made: unknown. #nooneknowswhomademyclothes.
An email. At last. Thank you for your interest in gap.co.uk. Made in Vietnam. As shown on the label. We are sorry to hear that you haven’t received a response to your inquiry regarding whomademyclothes. The origin for each item should be listed on the Tag. Thank you, Lakisha, GAP Inc, Customer Service.
I look at your label again.
74% Polyester; 18% Lyocell, 8% Spandex.
Clear as day. Black on white. Unexpected information.
Bradford, Yorkshire? / Mobile, Alabama? / El-Mahalla El-Kubra?
James? / Pam? / Iman?
What part did they play in your production?
United Kingdom / James, MD, 4th generation family business JR Fibres, Bradford, Yorkshire
“I started working at the factory 2 days after finishing school and swept the floors.”
He gets to work early at 7.30am and supports Brexit.
United States / Pam, Sales Logistics Specialist, Lenzing, Mobile, Alabama
“I love my job”.
She studies maps for her hobby. She’s celebrating American Independence Day with her colleagues at a BBQ and fireworks display organised by her employer.
Egypt / Iman, Textile Worker, Misr Spinning and Weaving Company.
“Recently I’ve been working 12 hours a day. I have no time with my family, but I will accept the price of neglecting my family as part of our collective efforts to save the company”.
She considers the graffiti-painted walls surrounding the factory home.
United Kingdom / Katie, Stay At Home Mum & Blogger, Mid-Sussex.
“I get up early. I love my job. I’m a Remoaner.”
She’s looked out on graffiti-painted walls too and called them home. She likes baking with her children, reading, yoga and watching TV with her husband in the evenings. She considers herself lucky.
Everyone wants the best life for their family. Everyone wants a roof over their head and food security. As a minimum. A starting point. Just to live. With enough left over to breathe.
We’re all just another human.
Breathe: 100% Man-made, synthetic fabric. Fossil fuels, air, water, energy. Polymers. Wood pulp. Stretch. Science. Technology. Man-made for Womankind. Do you let my skin breathe? Keeping me fresher than fresh, with your cool, wicking properties, chemical compounds and dyes.
Did the processes harm? Or is everyone, everything ok? What’s the True Cost? You could take 200 years to decompose. Two. Hundred. Years. You could be around long after my last breath on this planet. I’ll decompose faster. A race to the bottom.
Funny old world.
Loved Clothes Last // Man-made Clothes Last Longer.
Plastic Clothes bought with Plastic Money for the Plastic Age.
Just another t-shirt.
The Gap Report:
- 4th in the transparency index – Fashion Revolution.
- B- Ethical Fashion Guide (D for worker empowerment) – Ethical Fashion Guide.
- 6/20 Ethiscore – Ethical Consumer Magazine.
- Gap: Could Do Better: acknowledge the need for a living wage but doing little to make it a reality –Clean Clothes Campaign
- 9/36 – Could Do Better – Rankabrand
- There is evidence that children ages 5 to 17 in Vietnam produce textiles – United States Dept of Labour – Bureau Of International Labor Affairs
My daughter is 5. I cry.
Made in Vietnam 74% Polyester; 18% Lyocell, 8% Spandex UK/US/EG Imported by: Gap (UK Holdings) Ltd. Second Floor, Nations House, 103 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1QS Egypt Importer: RIGE, LLC
Unfortunately, we are not able to provide the specific factory locations of the assembly.We apologize for any disappointment this may cause. Sincerely, Rachel, Customer Service Consultant.
You’re just another t-shirt.