Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Where Am I Wearing?

Recently I had the privilege of reading a book by an author named Kelsey Timmerman. Kelsey’s not the typical writer, and his book is far from ordinary. As far as genres are concerned, you could consider it a mix of travel writing, exposé, biography, and socially conscious advocacy.

The book’s roots come from curiosity. The author was simply reflecting on the fact that his clothes come from many faraway places, and he had no idea what life was like for the people who made his clothes (and I imagine the same is true for us). We hear a lot about sweatshops, child labor, and the horrible conditions in which those who make our clothes often work, but the truth of the matter is that very few of us ever really delve into what’s happening in the places where our clothes come from.
What I like best about Kelsey’s book is that it’s not an angry rant of a protester, nor is it the apathy of the person who is simply resigned to “that’s just the way it is, and their’s nothing we can do about it.” Instead, he advocates a third path.

That path? The path of the informed consumer. In fact, he encourages his readers, to take trips similar to his own. In an Appendix, he warns folks about possible pitfalls and roadblocks to completing the mission, and encourages us to go for it anyways.

At times as I read the book I would find myself laughing out loud because I could relate to Kelsey’s wit and life experiences (and you probably can as well). At other times, I would find myself in tears uncertain if these tears were as a result of morning the difficult life of those who make our clothes, or mourning the loss of community and family that garment workers cherish, but that is quickly eroding in areas in the west.

Another aspect I enjoyed as I read was that there was a transformation taking place within Kelsey as he traveled. He was realizing that the more he learned (and he admits that he’s still not an expert), the more he realized that the issues surrounding the clothes we wear are highly complex, and it behooves us to be better informed.

Among other things, he points out that it’s often not as simple as protesting or boycotting a clothing company. Even where work conditions are extremely challenging, at least there are jobs and opportunities for the people. Rather we can advocate for improving those conditions by writing congress as well as the companies we buy from. We can also choose to support companies that are regularly auditing and seeking to improve conditions.

If you can get a copy of this book, I would recommend taking the time to read it. Kelsey’s journey around the world is not necessarily something we can all do, but we can all be better informed about the people and the places that make the clothes we are wearing. It is a reminder of a truth that we can often forget in a global marketplace There are people who make the things we wear and the things we use. These days they don’t live down the street and we are growing more and more disconnected. Perhaps, we could use a little more connectedness to our brothers and sisters around the globe.

If you are interested in reading the book or finding out more about Kelsey, read his blog here. There's a link to order the book from amazon too.

If you’ve already read Kelsey’s book, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Thanks for reading.

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