This years Common Read for the Fashion Institute of Technology was Where am I Wearing by Kelsey Timmerman. As a part of our freshman orientation week we had the opportunity to hear Kelsey speak about his book, how he started his journey and the actions he now takes in order to be a more conscious consumer.
Where am I Wearing is a book about Kelsey’s adventures in finding the factories and people who made his clothing. He chose 4 items of his clothing, a t-shirt, jeans, underwear and flip flops and traveled to their places of origin, toured some of the factories in which they were made, met some of the workers and ultimately shows that international labor is a complex discussion much more difficult than labeling it right or wrong.
What I found most interesting about his discussion was the questions he brought up about exploitation vs. opportunity. For example, as Americans we are trained to believe that child labor is 100% wrong. And although the conditions that children work under and the age that they start working have negative consequences, we need to understand that if that child was not able to get their factory job, they would have to do much harder tasks in order to provide an income for their family.
For most families in underdeveloped countries, parents are faced with the option of sending their children to work or starve. If a child is not able to get a well paying job they will be forced to beg for spare change, dig through garbage for something valuable they can sell or even turn to illegal or immoral activities in order to make enough money so their family can survive.
This really shocked me because I had never thought that child labor could ever be a positive thing. I had always thought of child labor as exploitation, but for many children and families around the globe it is an opportunity to live a better life.
Kelsey also shared a little bit about his adventure in finding where his food was made. When he traveled to the cocao farms in Cote D’Ivoire he met a man from Ghana named Solo. Solo had said that he came from Ghana because he was promised $300 if he worked on the farm for one year. He had been working there for 4 months when Kelsey met him and had not been paid a cent. He wanted to go back home, but was not allowed to leave. He calls his boss master. He is by all definitions of the term a slave.
This evoked a strong emotional response with me because living in America we don’t realize that in other parts of the world, slavery is still happening even if it is not called by the actual name. The fact that there are people working on fields just with the hope that maybe one day they will make some money that they can bring back to their family reminded me to not take any of the privileges that we have for granted.
We live in the land of the free and sometimes we forget that and get caught up in all these little things in life. Life is made up of little moments, but we also need to take time and appreciate the situation we have and think of those who have a worse one. Kelsey’s whole point in writing his book and his presentation today is to remind us to think about these people. Not to make us sad or to make us feel guilt, but to do these people justice and to make us a more aware of what our impact is.
Something that he said which really resonated with me was to watch what our impact is. Normally we are told “don’t do this” or “don’t do that”, but Kelsey was looking at it in a positive way. He gave us a call to action: to take our impact in our hands and ask ourself “what will our impact be”.
Thank you Kelsey for embarking on these adventures and showing us that there is a lot more to think about when it comes to consuming especially in this ever evolving fashion industry.