Silhouette Staff

Anytime most people go shopping for clothes, they usually examine the following : the fit, the colour, the style and the price.

Although these factors are important, there is one quality of the clothing that may be overlooked, even though it is plain for us to see: where the product was made. Indonesia, India, China, Vietnam; these are usually the countries that are put after the “Made In” on clothing labels. Although many people may disregard these tags as irrelevant to us, where a product is made is extremely important.

The MTV Exit documentary Enslaved is an eye-opener, as it delves into the world of sweatshop labour and human trafficking.

After watching this documentary, I began to think more consciously about the labels on my clothing and about the relevance of my personal consumer habits. I asked, Why is it important to look at labels? How can my clothing be a part of this system of sweatshop labour? How does my consumerism contribute to this system?

But living a sweatshop-free lifestyle is not easy to do. Like any lifestyle change, it may take a while to adapt. Not all sweatshop-free clothing is cheap, nor is it always easy to find.

Out of convenience, people tend to choose clothing stores that they have easier access to, rather than seek out specific places that may be difficult to find.

But there are definitely ways to reduce and perhaps put a complete stop to one’s participation in the profit of companies who use sweatshops in manufacturing.

The first step in living a sweatshop-free life is awareness. Just knowing where your clothing comes from can make a difference. It provokes thought about the origins of the clothes, even for a moment’s time. It can also be a launching pad for living a sweatshop-free lifestyle.

It also doesn’t hurt to do some research. There are many organizations that will post information about which companies use sweatshop labour to make their clothing. Research can also show the effects of sweatshop labour on the people who work for these companies in their factories.

By facing the facts of sweatshop labour, it becomes a lot more difficult to ignore, to the point where a person cannot help but face the reality of the impact that “just a tee shirt” can have on a worker’s life.

Organizations such as No Sweat promote ethical shopping and manufacture clothing that is sweatshop-free and also affordable. There are also alternative ways to get new clothes, such as trading.

The Clothing Swap, a Threadwork initiative that will run again this month at McMaster, is one such example, wherein for every item a person brings in, they are able to swap it for an item of similar value brought in by other people.

Also, if you’re handy with a sewing machine and a pair of scissors, you can either alter your current clothing items or you can buy sewing patterns to make your own clothing.

Making just one of these changes in your lifestyle can have an impact on your own consumer habits and can also bring about awareness regarding sweatshop labour. It’s not necessary to follow every single one of these tips, but one small change can make a big difference.

So the next time you shop, be conscious of the clothing manufacturer and where the clothing is from. And if you are having trouble with ethical shopping, just remember – don’t “sweat” it!


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