Stewardship of Life

Welcome to my International Closet…

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on January 15, 2010

I am somewhat saddened to admit that the contents of my closet are more-well traveled than I am—sad but true. From Indonesia to Peru and from Ireland to China, my clothing has done more globetrotting than I will likely ever have the opportunity to do. Who would have thought that one’s closet could be such a global melting pot?

This rather bizarre travelogue all started with my New Year’s Clutter Cleanse. I decided it would be an interesting experiment to take a look at the global reach and impact of my wardrobe. As each garment that made the cut came back into the closet or drawer, I catalogued its country of origin/construction. (A few categories such as undergarments, hosiery, and scarves/accessories were exempted from the process.)

This is the third closet purge in three years, so I really didn’t expect very much. I was brutal, culling some 60 items of clothing to take to the Dakota Boys’ Ranch Resale shop or to give to other people. See this post for the details. When the remaining items were back in place, I was somewhat surprised by the global diversity represented in my closet and chest of drawers.

Clothing countries of origin include:  Brazil  (1), Cambodia (7), China  (17), Egypt (1), El Salvador (1), Fiji (1), Germany (1), Guatemala (1), Honduras (1), Hong Kong (8), India (1), Indonesia (3), Ireland (1), Japan  (1), Lithuania  (1), Macau (1), Madagascar (2), Malaysia (5), Mauritius (1), Mexico (2), Nicaragua (2), Peru (2), Philippines  (1), Scotland (1), Singapore (1), Sri Lanka (1), Taiwan (2), Thailand (5), Vietnam (6), UK (1), USA (16), Ukraine (1), Unknown (3) = 99 items (excluding what’s in the laundry basket).

At first glance things look diverse. Take another look. Notice anything? Yes, there were quite a few items made right here at home—clergy blouses, Pendleton wool skirt, a couple of better suits. A Hanna Andersson dress was made in the Ukraine, a Laura Ashley wool sheath hailed from Lithuania, and sweaters came from Ireland and Scotland. A most un-exotic shirt came from tropical Fiji. I found it interesting that only 10 items were made in Central and South America.

So where do most of my clothes originate? Yep, you guessed it—China and other points in East Asia. Many of the labels are readily recognizable, including Eddie Bauer, The Gap, Old Navy, and Evan Picone. Does this mean my wardrobe is sweatshop poster-closet material? Well, not exactly, but I am pretty sure that what I consider a living wage and what the workers who made most of clothes consider a living wage are vastly different sums.

The situation becomes more complex the more one thinks about it. Just buying goods with the “Made in the USA” label does not ensure that the subcontractors who produced the clothing for a label followed exemplary practices. I really have no way of knowing if the shirt produced in Fiji was made in better, equal, or worse conditions than the knit shirt produced in Los Angeles.

What about the fabric? Is it organic? Does that matter? Is it fair trade? Is it better to purchase something that was made in the USA from imported fabric?  Add to these questions my determination to buy used whenever possible. A good 45% of my wardrobe was purchased secondhand, another 30% was acquired before I joined The Compact. Only about 15% has been purchased or been gifted new. Am I doing a disservice to the economy with my thrifty ways? Frankly, it’s enough to give one a headache just thinking about it.

What I know to be true at this point is that a wardrobe is a complex thing. No longer do we grow the flax, sheer the sheep, spin the wool, weave the fabric, and produce our own garments. Our clothes come to us from various places on the planet, making our closets and drawers more of a melting pot than Staten Island. Awareness and education are critical, and we really do need to think about what we are choosing to put on our backs. We should consider the lives of those who make the shoes we slip on our feet. The contents of our closets are about way more than fashion and function. Yes, there are issues of justice and how we love our neighbor that must be considered.

Go ahead…take a world tour through your closets and drawers. It’s worth the effort, and I guarantee it will be an eye-opener.

Check out this article by Harry Blodget for more on why the issue is so complicated. For a refreshing look at fashion, click here to visit the coolnotcruel site.

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