“Oh, I get it. I understand now what you mean by slow fashion.”
I had been talking with one of my seamstresses for a couple of hours already, discussing clothing and home décor and hemlines and changing styles. I pulled up my company’s website to show her the kinds of products we sold at Wearthy, and explained again the heart behind the business.
Labor rights. Safe work. Quality craftsmanship over mass production.
In the clothing industry, we call this slow fashion, and it’s a phrase that’s just beginning to emerge in the American marketplace. So I didn’t expect that it would resonate with Linda* as I shared unfamiliar vocabulary in a different language.
She stopped me, and she asked me to explain further. And that’s when I started to talk about the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013. I told her about the working conditions of seamstresses around the world, working long hours with little to no pay in an environment Americans wouldn’t accept even for their family pets.
I didn’t have to go too far. Her knowing eyes told me quickly that she was already familiar with the story I was telling. What I didn’t realize was that it was the story of her life I was telling.
Linda is now a mother of four children. She manages a drug rehab center and safe house and sews out of the front room of her home to provide an extra income for her family and the people they serve.
I knew Linda was an amazing seamstress. I knew she had a heart to help others. I just didn’t realize that before she was a wife, before she was a mother, and before she was running her own sewing business, she was an employee at a garment factory in our city making less than $5 per month.
The memories flooded back for her, and she opened up to me about what it was like for her in the factory.
Two bathroom breaks a day, with docked pay if she needed to request a toilet outside of the designated times.
Occasionally working 36 hours straight, missing an entire day of sunlight while checking zippers and collars indoors at her production line.
Being called and treated like a water buffalo (the most common work animal in her country), stripping away her humanity and dignity.
Linda’s face is what I remember every time I start to question if the risks of running Wearthy are worth the investment. I remember Linda’s face when I start to believe that I’m not strong enough, smart enough, or savvy enough to be a business owner. I see Linda’s face when I’m shopping in big box stores with piles of clothing on sale, wondering how a $5 shirt could possibly pay the retail company, the wholesale company, the shipping company, the seamstress, the designer, the cotton farmer…
Because I know. A few dollars can’t cover that cost.
THE MONEY WE REFUSE TO SPEND ON GOODS AT A FAIR PRICE IS EVENTUALLY PAID IN THE FORM OF EXPLOITATIVE LABOR.
The privilege we have as Americans to consume can either positively or negatively impact our neighbors around the globe, and I’ve seen first-hand how it has negatively affected the health and livelihood of garment factory workers.
But by providing safe work through Wearthy, I’ve also seen how the ethical production of clothing and home goods can also provide hope, ensure stability, and restore dignity in individuals, spilling over into their families.
As Americans we have an incredible power to affect change: It’s called PURCHASING POWER.
The way we spend our money reflects our values, and the values that are reflected in our purchases directly influence the policies and performances of the companies we choose to patron.
Simply put: When we choose to buy from companies with the best ethical standards for their employees, companies with poor standards will be forced to improve the working conditions of their employees as well.
Products have makers.
Makers have faces.
Faces have names.
Will you join me in saying her name?
Say their names with me and imagine their faces.
Those names and faces have stories. And their stories deserve to be rewritten within the context of safe work.
Lauren Pinkston is currently working in SE Asia as a social enterprise consultant. She is also completing her PhD research in faith-based organizations’ regional response to human trafficking. Lauren believes that business creation is the most direct and effective way to address modern forms of exploitation, and she co-founded Wearthy in 2016 to create more jobs for people seeking safe work. Lauren has grown her family on three different continents and will travel almost anywhere for a top-notch curry.
Want to know the next phase of Wearthy and how you can help?! Visit here to find out about the development of a handicraft distribution center in Laos!