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The Faces Behind Your Fashion Choices

Catelijne Bexkens
Written by Catelijne Bexkens April 07, 2021

What does your morning routine look like? Most of us wake up, take a shower, get dressed and get on with the day. But did you ever stop to think about who made this daily routine possible? How was your favourite outfit made, the one that makes you look so good? Most of all, who made it for you?

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Take jeans for example. Almost everyone owns at least one pair of jeans. At any given moment, anthropologists believe, half the world's population is sporting jeans.

But what is the journey of cotton? How does it turn from a cotton ball into the jeans that you’re wearing today?

Here is a brief outline of the process explaining how a cotton ball can turn into a pair of your favourite jeans.

First, the cotton is picked. Then, it is stretched into a thin thread, dyed, woven and preshrunk. Now the fabric is ready to be turned into jeans. It is cut into a pattern and sewn together. Finally, it receives the finishing touches; sanding, a different wash, or fringes to make it look more authentic.

Voila! Your new favourite jeans are born.

Working conditions

It sounds pretty straight forward. But let’s look beyond the process and into the human aspect. The hands that make our jeans. The faces behind our fashion choices.

The textile industry is one of the largest economic markets in the world, generating $450 billion and employing over 25 million people across the world.

Cotton is especially popular, with an annual demand of 120 million tons. Unfortunately, as of 2007, only $3 billion of the $450 billion (0.5%) of the revenue generated by the textile industry is considered “fair trade or environmentally stable” according to Global Action Through Fashion.

While we want equal pay, autonomy and enough vacation days in our work, in other parts of the world so-called ‘sweatshops’ are still in place.

Factories where people are working in unsafe, unhealthy and exploitive working conditions such as low pay, exposure to toxic materials, unventilated workplaces, verbal and sexual abuse, a ban on union parties and long working hours.

While we want equal pay, autonomy and enough vacation days in our work, in other parts of the world so-called ‘sweatshops’ are still in place.
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Employees in the textile industry endure working hours that range from 10-18 hours per day, working 6 or 7 days a week, not including overtime hours to meet strict company deadlines.

Most of the workers are women. In Bangladesh, the most important export country for jeans into the EU, 85% of the workers are female.

They are poor, non-educated, and most of them have to support whole families with the little income they make. This makes them very vulnerable. Many of them face multiple forms of mistreatment.

It is estimated that 18%- 23% of employees experience verbal harassment and that one in four women is a victim of physical sexual harassment. But it’s not just women.

Child labor is, shockingly, not uncommon in sweatshops.

Also, in other parts of the cotton industry, child labor still occurs. For instance in picking the cotton and the ginning process; prepping cotton to be made into thread.

There were an estimated 152 million child workers worldwide in 2016, from whom most work in agriculture (70%). The cotton industry holds sixth place when it comes to child labor.

What can you do?

So what can you do to help stop these unsafe, unhealthy and bordering on slavery working conditions?

The first thing you can do is to be conscious when you buy your next pair of jeans. Buy less, buy vintage and if you do want to buy something, invest some time in figuring out how your jeans are made. Don’t buy clothes if you are not sure what the working conditions are.

The first thing you can do is to be conscious when you buy your next pair of jeans. Buy less, buy vintage and if you do want to buy something, invest some time in figuring out how your jeans are made.
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Various quality marks exist to help you to make the right choice. These quality marks indicate that the material and production process is subject to the requirements of leading authorities and that strict controls are carried out.

1. Global organic textile standard (GOTS)

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed by leading standard setters to define world-wide recognized requirements for organic textiles. From the harvesting of the raw materials, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labelling, textiles certified to GOTS provide a credible assurance to the consumer.

2. OEKO-TEX® standard 100

STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is one of the world's best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It stands for customer confidence and high product safety.

3. Fair Wear Foundation

The Fair Wear Foundation is an independent Dutch non-profit organization aiming to improve the working conditions for employees in the clothing production industry.

4. Fairtrade Textile Production Standard

The Fairtrade Textile Standard is one component of the greater Fairtrade Textile Programme to facilitate change in textile supply chains and related business practices. This comprehensive approach engages manufacturers and workers in the supply chain to bring about better wages and working conditions, and engages brands to commit to fair terms of trade.

Ethical choices

We understand you don’t want to walk around in your undies all the time. Sometimes you just have to buy a new pair of jeans.

So we took the liberty of creating a short list of ethical fashion brands that are not turning a blind eye, that are taking responsibility and are transparent and honest about the working conditions.

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You do have a choice. Together, we can end inhumane workplaces.

Create awareness

The second thing that you can do, is help spread the message. By creating awareness around inhumane workplaces, we can increase our impact.

We are looking for contributors who want to write articles to create awareness around inhumane workplaces and provide solutions. Let us know if you would like to contribute! Contact us here.

The next thing you can do is donate to our foundation. We have selected some great, rebellious projects that are already fighting to end inhumane workplaces, and that can use your donation.

Do you have a project yourself that does just that? Great, submit it on our website! Together we can raise money as well as awareness to support your project. Visit our website to learn more about the requirements for submitting.

This article was written by the Corporate Rebels Foundation. Unfortunately, there are still too many inhumane workplaces that we as consumers are contributing too, without being aware of it. Creating awareness around this topic is one of the ways to get a step closer towards our mission to end inhumane workplaces. Learn more about the foundation at corporaterebelsfoundation.org

Written by Catelijne Bexkens
Catelijne Bexkens
Lecturer in communication and creative business at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.
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