Our Clothing Addiction Leads to Cycle of Poverty in Developing World

September 1st, 2017

Revised 9/1/2017.

Our tendency to buy inexpensive clothing when it is barely worn or when “it’s out of style” leads us to support an industry & system that contributes to poverty in many ways…

  • New clothing is sewn predominantly in sweatshops around the world, often by women that are permanently enslaved to pay off a “debt” for the “privilege” of a “well paying” job (NOT).
  • The used clothing business has effectively destroyed native garment industries in much of Africa and other developing countries. American cotton is so highly subsidized that our used clothing can be purchased more cheaply by them than those made with native fabrics and sewn by native seamstresses.
  • Cheap clothing from that is made in the US is, many instances,  made by factories  that hire undocumented immigrants and are not following US law for wages or conditions. http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-forever-21-factory-workers/

“T-Shirt Travels”is a documentary that should make us think twice about the easy fix. If you don’t have time to read the entire article or want to explain it easily to students here is a quick visual. Over time many of the links are disappearing; here is one for the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” The movie Life and Debt tells of the Free Trade Zone in Jamaica where workers who sew for American corporations earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week. Sweatshops, with the approval of their governments, offer incentives to foreign clothing designers which are allowed to bring in shiploads of material tax-free and are immediately transported out after sewing. Over 10,000 women currently work under sub-standard work conditions. In order to ensure the employment offered, Jamaica agreed to the stipulation that no unionization is permitted in the Free Trade Zones. When the women attempt to organize they are fired and blacklisted to prevent them from working again. The jobs move on to next developing country desperate for work.

The book Fugitive Denim: a Human and Sensible Approach of Global Textile Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder shares the complex story of the textile trade, now & historically. She traveled around the world speaking with workers and professionals in the trade. United Students Against Sweatshops at 25 universities are now boycotting or severing ties with Russell Athletics/Jerzees until the company re-opens the Jerzees de Honduras facility at full capacity, re-hires all union workers and complete the collective bargaining process. Also, individual initiatives such as Ethix Merch attempt to link small manufacturers with buyers.

A recent problem is the sale of ethnic goods and designs on such sites as Etsy, Amazon and Google. There is both theft of design and underpayment of the workers. Fortunately, some Guatemalan Artisans, with the help of Ethical Fashion Guatemala, are taking them on legally:

“Dillon notes that knowledge of the unique features of Guatemalan craftsmanship — like the fact that genuine weavings don’t contain the color black, as all the dyes are natural and a dark black isn’t achievable — helps identify possible fakes. Knowledge of the artisans’ preferences, like the fact that many have asked that they not be displayed in pictures that show them sitting on the ground weaving on e-commerce sites, helps him identify retailers that may be selling genuine products without maintaining an ethical relationship with the weavers. “

“Using bots to scan for keywords and specific types of images, Dillon locates products on Etsy, Google and Shopify that seem suspect and then reaches out to individual sellers to ask what percentage of profits are passed back to the artisans, what their transparency policies are and more. Sellers who can’t prove that they have legitimate relationships with Guatemalan artisans are then reported to their hosting sites to be removed.”

Make inquiries when native made pieces seem overpriced

Americans consider ourselves to be generous people as we assuage our guilt about buying new clothing by giving away our slightly worn or out of date cast offs to charity but the net effect is a global economy turned upside down. What to do?

  • Worn thin? Goodwill or Salvation Army will turn into rags.
  • Stained? Sew or iron a patch, applique. Tie die the garment – stains get lost in the patterns. Missing buttons, open seams, broken zippers? Fix yourself, or take it to your dry cleaners or find a local seamstress/tailor. Keeps Americans employed at decent wages. If you’re crafty, here are ideas for recycling old Tees .
  • Gained/lost weight? Style dated?  A good tailor can take in or let out seams and can even re-fashion professional clothing to reflect current fashion trends
  • Just itching for a change or something different? Look for clothing swaps online or plan an event with friends

If you must buy new, search out  items made of organic or sustainably harvested fabrics by fairly paid and treated workers.  Green America has links to many online ethically traded clothing items and much more. Be willing to pay more for both American /union/Fair Trade made goods.

The fashion industry itself is just discovering Zero Waste and trying to apply it to the cutting room floor. Parsons New School for design will offer a course in zero waste.

Ethical doesn’t have to mean giving up style. Ethical In Style will send you the latest trends daily via FB or Twitter.

Sustainable Donations

April 8th, 2014

Environmentalists are generous by nature, desiring to share our good fortune with others. Like me, most of you probably make monetary contributions to a number of causes. I suspect that, like me, your mailbox (at your door or post office) is probably overflowing with requests. Sadly, they come monthly or more and with lots of letters, explanations, envelopes that fill up our trash.

Here are some possible solutions:

1) MY  solution,  is in this letter which your are welcome to copy and send to your favorite organizations. If  many of us do this, perhaps these well-meaning organizations will move in the right direction:

Dear ________,

Please help me be a better contributor and supporter by removing me from your mailing list. Huh? You may ask.

I feel overwhelmed to face a mailbox of multiple ‘begging letters’ each and every day (on top of adverts, bills). I have no time to read yours, much less those from the 25 other organizations to which I regularly contribute.

It is now December and I have received XX requests by mail and countless emails from your organizatin. I have been donating since ____  contributing an average of $__ each year.  Endless letters remind me only that the organization has no idea of who I am. Once or twice year I pull out an envelope and payment form and toss the rest of the contents. The rest of the mailings from you go directly to the recycling, what a horrible misuse of time & resources. Most of my friends will not take the time to audit the charitable requests as I do but I know from speaking to them that they feel the same way and become resentful of constant requests, larger trash bills and wasted trees.

I am a busy person, heavily involved in my family, work and community. At some point in my life I decided that your organization was worthwhile and effective in using my funds wisely. I have continued to contribute without reading any of your subsequent nicely-crafted letters whose stories were ingrained over a lifetime – I no longer need to read them.

This is the computer age. You DO have the ability to track which of your contributors donate and how frequently – if you truly value them, you will care about their contribution patterns, ask them how frequently and in what form (paper or electronic) they would like to receive communications and respond appropriately.  Yes, a few very old ladies have endless hours to read every piece of mail but I, and most others like me, am not one of them.

I, as most contributors, have limited financial resources to meet endless requests. I plan & spread my giving throughout the year; I don’t respond to special or year end pleas. I expect that the organizations to which I donate to do the same financial planning for the year. You must  trust that your thoughtful contributors will not give less because they are asked less frequently. Many of us are donating smaller amounts electronically on a monthly basis so that your budgets (and ours) are less lumpy.

BTW, I am not swayed by name stickers, note pads, medals or member cards – I am trying to simplify my life in many ways –  no one has ever asked to see any of my members cards and my wallet is full already.

This is not a negotiable request.  If mail did not decrease to quarterly or less by ____ ( date 1 year in advance)

This also serves as notice that you may not sell my name, address, email  to any organization for any purpose.

(USE WHEN APPROPRIATE) ( You may not split your organization into two parts to collect twice as much. I am not gullible just because I have a heart.  I give to the original organization, not the offshoot.)


Someone who thinks highly of your cause

2) Charity Watch has a simpler notice:


I am sending this note to reduce the waste and invasion of privacy caused by unwanted mail solicitations and telemarketing calls. If you would like me to consider contributing to your organization in the future, please agree to the following checked items:

___ Remove my name and address from your mailing list.

___ Do not sell, rent, exchange, or give my name or contribution history to any other organization or business without first receiving my approval.

___ Do not send me direct mail solicitations more than ___ times a year.

___ Do not telephone me to ask for money, or…

___ Phone me no more than ___ times a year, and only on the following day(s) and times:

Name and address labels from your solicitation(s) to me are enclosed.
Thank you for respecting a donor’s wishes.

3) Sandra Block at USA Today  suggests intent giving sites such as Network for Good and Just Give which allow you to donate anonymously (there is a 3-4.75% processing fees so your charity doesn’t get the full amount) but that won’t get existing requests to stop.

4) Catalog Choice.org is known as a website that allows you to lower your paper footprint from catalogs but they also work with some of the larger charities to get remove your name from their mailing lists.  It won’t help with smaller and local charities, and not all charities have joined, but it’s a start.

Is Your Printer/Copy Paper Recycled?

November 15th, 2010

October 2008.

Is your copy/printer paper recycled? Probably not. If you separate and put out your paper for collection, you might presume that all the paper you buy for copying is recycled – you would be wrong. About 90% of the copy paper available for purchase and used in printing is virgin paper from freshly cut trees. The magazine trade is far worse, only 5% of magazine paper is of recycled content.

As of Sept 2008 the only 100% recycled copy paper I could find at the big box office supply stores was Staples and had to pay about a 50% premium. 30% recycled is readily available at most stores at about the same cost or just slightly more than virgin paper. Why?

Although the technology and paper is there for recycled , high quality, glossy magazine paper the will is not there. Those publications that ARE using recycled paper are predominantly those with a scientific, nature, health or consumer vantage such as Audubon, Consumer Reports, Scientific American (Reycled Magazine List) but Oprah has taken the big step as the first mainstream magazine. You can encourage this process by writing or e-mailing to the publishers of the magazines to which you subscribe.

By stopping the junk mail that arrives at your home, advertiser will be printing less. OptOutPrescreen can partially cut the flow of credit card and insurance offers. StopJunkMail.org will give you other ideas. Some folks don’t mind paying Green Dimes $15 to manage new junk mail offers as they arrive at your home; the $15 includes 10 trees planted in your behalf.

Conservatree on the news

How Can I ReCycle This? has hints on how to give a 2nd life to almost anything.

Brain Research: Stash Credit & Debit Cards, Use Cash

January 22nd, 2009

Sharon Begley in Newsweek has wonderful articles on science how they relate to how we live our lives.

The Dec 15, 2008 issue reveals research that points out that we buy less when we pay with cash because the insula in our brain registers the tangible loss of coins and currency but the same thing doesn’t happen with cards – I know the feeling as I confidently buy my latte on my debit card then hesitate to decide what cash tip to leave.

Credit cards numb us to the pain of parting with money and we are also willing to pay more for the same item on credit than with cash. When we are depressed we both overshop and overpay because we think less of ourselves and try to overcompensate by acquiring stuff.

Certain neurons in the ventral caudate do complex reasoning that affect such things as tracking previous sale prices which make it harder to pay full price later on and stock purchase and sale decisions.

To read the entire article see Inside the Shopping Brain

US Consumption the Greatest Currency in the World

December 24th, 2008

Sadly, the world depends on US consumption to raise it’s standards. Our consumption is the world\’s biggest Ponzi scheme. 

Even sadder, our government sets the example and encourages us to do so.

The challenges? 

Meaningful employment for people throughout the world.

Determining how much ‘stuff’ we really need and if we should make or buy it and from where.

Production and transportation of ‘stuff’ should have least impact on environment.

Enough leisure or slow time to actually enjoy our ‘stuff’.

Some things to ponder as we enter 2009.

Resolve to be less “Consumed” in 2009

December 11th, 2008
The holidays bring out the consumer in us even as we try to scale back. In addition to the waste we personally produce, there is a tremendous taxation of our earth in the farming, mining, manufacturing, transportation and sale of most every item we purchase and use.           

Despite my rantings about sustainability, I’ve discovered I have a long, long way to go even though I’ve made much progress. One of the best websites to find a good overall look at your personal & family sustainability footprint is Consumer Consequences . After you input your information you have the ability to compare yourself with others in different categories: house, energy, transportation, food, etc. It helped me identify which areas I should make more efforts in the coming year.

I’ve been reading online the NPR special report “Consumed” that was broadcast November 2007 and highly recommend checking it out:

Its goal is to answer the question, “Is the consumer economy sustainable?” in a serious way. They tackle the question in a comprehensive manner, with a lot of breadth but, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed, just choose one or two that most interest you.

A partial list of the featured topics: ecological footprint, landfills and the waste disposal sector, consumer debt, air pollution, freegans, marketing, junk mail, energy independence, the effect of consumer culture on mental and emotional well-being, carbon tax, food miles, fashion obsolescence, the green economy, e-waste, clean tech, globalization, Bhutan’s happiness index.

Interesting things to ponder as we consider resolutions for 2009.

Refinancing & credit card debt

July 18th, 2008
The federal administration proposed sub-prime bailout is not so much to bail out the victims as to bail out the banks and financial institutions that made the bad loans in the first place. The steps are not mandatory but voluntary to the mortgage companies. NYTimes 

Homeowners might be offered a “opportunity” to extend the length of the loan meanwhile building up less equity and paying more interest over the lifetime of the loan. Many were steered into sub-prime variable loans when they would have qualified for a fixed rate loan anyway; the federal plan would give a slap on the wrist to lenders and have them restructure the loan back to the fixed rate that they should have qualified for in the first place. The plan doesn’t help those who never should have qualified in the first place and were given loans with a wink from the mortgage broker who stood to make a tidy sum from the loan points.

Voluntary rate freezes suggested by the administration have little support from mortgage investors who are not thinking about the future consequences of being inflexible. Mortgage brokers, handlers, banks & investors are blaming everyone except themselves; each group is as greedy as the next and each built their expectations on a house of cards. (Sigh…two of my bank stocks have not done very well lately, fortunately they are well diversified banks). Only 12% of subprime borrowers & 5% of minorities would be helped by rate freezes says the Greenlining Institute .

The plan floated by the administration covers almost no loans in California because of the size of the mortgages – guess where most of the bad loans are? California Assembly

The California Assembly is proposing steps that would both prohibit certain types of mortgage rate structures and fees in the future as well as require lenders to work with the state to reach out to distressed borrowers

What does it mean to you with perfectly fine credit records? You are being solicited to extend their term length so mortgage companies can feed their habit with dependable suppliers. See Footnoted.

What can you do? Be aware of mortgage solicitations and what they will cost you over the long term. Pay your credit cards on time – consider an automatic online bill-pay if you are just plain forgetful so you don’t get hit with late fees and subsequent rate hikes based on late payments.

If you don’t pay off your credit cards each month, don’t charge ANYTHING you would expect to not have at least 3 years later: never use credit for food & toiletries, fashion clothes & accessories, tuition, day-to-day medical, etc.

Best is to save so you may purchase what you truly need with cash. An item is not truly a bargain if you add in the costs of paying 10-20% interest on it over several years.

If you must use credit, use it for truly long term and match the credit term to how long you’ll have the item or less. If you buy cars every 5 years don’t pay for them with a 30 year home equity loan; don’t even get a 7 year auto loan. If you can’t afford a 5 year auto loan, look at a less expensive car or reconsider if this is a “need” or just a “want”.

Holiday time is around the bend. How many unwanted gifts have you recieved in the past? How many gifts that you have given have you actually seen the recipient use or talk about since you gave it? Give gifts of your time or talents and don’t go into debt that you’ll still be paying off next year. Give your children the gift of teaching them fiscal responsibility.

The Compact: Adventures in Simple Living

July 18th, 2008

Several months ago I discovered and, sort of, joined the Compact. A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco made a compact not to purchase any new, non-essential items for a year i.e. a compact lifestyle. They did give themselves a little leeway though to buy underwear, socks, and safety items new. They started a Yahoo! group to refine the rules, record their journeys, give each other tips and support each other.

Joining is not rigid -you are more making a compact with yourself – and is more about reconsidering you personal relationship with “stuff”.I’m now more likely to repair something or borrow something. I usually buy tops secondhand but have a difficult time finding pants that fit so I go straight to the stores I depend on for fit.

Soon so many others discovered the Compact that the original group was helping the world and had little time to help each other. To make it more personal again, geographical Yahoo!group offshoots have started because many shopping sources and ideas for free entertainment tend to be local.

Even teens can be tempted away from the mall and make it their own cause as Marta Marano in Toronto has.

Some other links:

Some local groups: San Francisco/Bay Area
Los Angeles
New York City


Not All Buy into Black Friday

What Would Jesus Buy? asks us to reconsider what Christmas is all about.

Not Made in China, only YOU can make it happen

July 18th, 2008

 A recent e-mail chain started:
“Are we Americans as dumb as we appear — or — is it that we just do not think?

While the Chinese, knowingly and intentionally, export inferior and even toxic products and dangerous toys and goods to be sold in American markets, the media wrings its hands and criticizes the Bush Administration for perceived errors.

Yet 70% of Americans believe that the trading privileges afforded to the Chinese should be suspended.
Well, duh..why do you need the government to suspend trading privileges?


It asks why not make real Easter eggs instead of purchasing plastic ones and goes on to propose an embargo on buying Chinese from 6/4/08-7/4/08.

The message above is somewhat reactionary and and oversimplifies the eco-political situation, but it has many nuggets of truth and guages the frustration of much of America.

As I see it:
Americans are not dumb but….. many do not think, many are not willing to do without having something cheap immediately despite the the fact that that it was made poorly or by captive slave labor.

We do not need plastic eggs or numerous other plastic tchotkes. Many won’t take the time (& receive the ultimate satisfaction) of creating an intricate Easter egg (or needlepoint holiday stocking). We have lots of inexpensive holiday decorations and then complain about how long it takes us to undecorate. We have too much. We are asking the government to legislate what we are unwilling to do for ourselves – say “no”.

We do not need the government to suspend trading privileges. That is the beauty of a market economy which China, India and the rest of the world have embraced. The power is all in our hands as consumers. We must find substitutes for incessant purchasing and become the pioneers we once were. Use the time we spend shopping to instead create something, cook something from scratch, learn a new skill, nurture relationships by our presence to others nearby or write a letter or e-mail to those far away.

Don’t stop on July 4. As you vacation this summer, don’t buy a souvenir unless it is made in the state or country you are visiting. At home seek out farmers markets, roadside food stands & small local shops for not only foods that directly benefit the farmers but also non-food items such as locally made soaps, crafts.

Repair: Fix it yourself, or trade skills with a friend or neighbor, keep local tailors & cobblers in business. We just went shopping for a suitcase and paid a little more for one with a true lifetime repair warranty (disclosure, it was made in Thailand). (Victorinox and Briggs & Riley both offer that warranty)

Re-think fashion: buy less but of better quality that lasts longer, shop local craft fairs (but look at labels) thrifts stores. Accessorize, trade. Learn to sew, knit, crochet, quilt. Let’s bring back old-fashioned American ingenuity & creativity. This may not always be easy but the important things in life never are.


The Compact to Live Lightly and Sustainably

December 20th, 2006

Several months ago I discovered and, sort of, joined the Compact. A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco made a compact not to purchase any new, non-essential items for a year i.e. a compact lifestyle. They did give themselves a little leeway though to buy underwear, socks, and safety items new. They started a Yahoo! group to refine the rules, record their journeys, give each other tips and support each other.

Joining is not rigid -you are more making a compact with yourself – and is more about reconsidering you personal relationship with “stuff”.I’m now more likely to repair something or borrow something. I usually buy tops secondhand but have a difficult time finding pants that fit so I go straight to the stores I depend on for fit.

Soon so many others discovered the Compact that the original group was helping the world and had little time to help each other. To make it more personal again, geographical Yahoo!group offshoots have started because many shopping sources and ideas for free entertainment tend to be local.

Some local Compact group links:

San Francisco/Bay Area
Los Angeles
New York City

Other related links:
Not All Buy into Black Friday
What Would Jesus Buy? asks us to reconsider what Christmas is all about.

If you are a fan of thrift stores or would like to find out more about the stores in your area then The Thrift Shopper is for you.