A Journey through my wardrobe in just five items
Who made our clothes and where have they travelled before ending up in our drawers? These are some of the questions I was left pondering as I learned more and more about the fashion industry and its globe spanning supply chains.
Unlike some of our food products, there is very little information on our clothing labels to tell us anything about where our clothing has come from or who was involved in manufacture. Information on clothing labels tends to consist of a breakdown of fibre content, country of origin, care instructions and flammability. However, country of origin labels don't always show the full picture. A cotton t-shirt's raw materials may be produced in Africa, manufactured in China and sold in the UK and say on the label, "Made in China". Origin labels therefore don't tell us a great deal about every stage of the garment's production and manufacture.
It is the stories behind our clothes and behind the labels which continue to fascinate me and which I would love to know more about. It's incredible to think of the lengthy journeys and all of the people involved in the manufacture and production of just one garment. Our clothes provide livelihoods for people across the world in so many countries and it is important to connect our clothing to the real people who manufacture and produce them. My clothes didn't miraculously end up in a well known fashion store in Scotland--they went on lengthy journeys and many hands were involved in creating them.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the labels on five items from my own wardrobe and I have written a little about them and what I found out below.
I bought these yoga pants from a local boutique store just less than ten years ago. At the time I knew they were made from organic cotton but didn't buy them for their ethical credentials and knew very little about sustainability. I've had them for years and love taking them out when I'm in the mood for some yoga. The label tells me they were made in Turkey and are made from 95% organic cotton and 5% elastane. From the label, I don't know anything about the types of dyes or chemicals used or working conditions of workers.
I bought this dress ten years ago and wore it for an interview I got the job for at Marks and Spencer's. I think it must be my lucky dress! The label tells me that the dress was made in Spain and is composed of 66% cotton and 36% polyester. The lining is 100% acetate. The label doesn't tell me where the cotton was grown or anything about the chemicals and fertilisers used by farmers. I also don't know anything about the working conditions of the workers throughout production and manufacture.
I bought this skirt ten years ago when I was in the sixth form at school in Durham. It's one of the only pieces I still have from that period in my life, but I'm a little bit sentimental about it. I think it's such a beautiful cut and design and I've not seen anything else similar since. The pockets and the bow are really cute and it is the perfect school girl grey skirt. The label tells me the skirt was made in Italy and is composed of 64% polyester, 34% viscose and 2% elastane. From the label, I don't know anything about where the raw materials were sourced or their environmental impact. I also don't know anything about the working conditions of workers in Italy. In 2018 an investigation led by the New York Times found Italian homeworkers working in the supply chains of luxury fashion brands earning less than the minimum wage.
Zara Trafaluc T-shirt
I bought this t-shirt in Zara a few years ago and wore it loads when I was an au pair in Spain. The label tells me this t-shirt was made in Bangladesh but unfortunately I've worn it so much the label has been washed out, so I can't tell what it is made from. The label doesn't tell me anything about the working conditions of those in the Bangladesh factories and garment workers in Bangladesh typically have some of the lowest wages in the world. I also don't know anything about the dyes used or if they included any toxic chemicals.
I bought this jacket a couple of years ago when I was working in Spain. It's one of my favourite purchases of all time and I absolutely love the embroidery. The label tells me that this jacket was made in India and is made from 100% cotton and the embroidery is made from 100% polyester. The label doesn't tell me anything about the working conditions of the workers or the various stages of production and manufacture. I don't know where they source their cotton from or the working conditions and toxic exposure to farm workers. I also don't know if it was hand embroidered or machine stitched, but it has a lot of details and buttons so it must have taken a lot of work to produce.
Looking at just a handful of items in my wardrobe, we can already see how globe spanning the fashion industry really is. My clothes had been to Spain, Italy, Turkey, India and Bangladesh before being transported to a shop near me. And these are just the countries that appear on the labels. It is likely that the raw materials came from and were processed in other countries. I'd love to know more about where my clothes came from and the people behind the labels.