Americans buy twice as many items of clothing today as we did twenty years ago (1). Every few weeks, we can find trendy new clothing with low prices that make it easy to toss an item in our cart, wear it a few times, and give it away soon after. If we pause and think further about the history of the item—who created it, how much they were paid, what their working conditions were like—we will find the process to be obscure and unsustainable.
Most of the apparel sold in American stores is made in developing countries with low minimum wage requirements and worker regulations. Millions of women in garment factories work long hours for very little pay. With the industry’s need for rapid production, they are expected to work at an unrealistic pace, frequently in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, as we witnessed with the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 where 1,134 workers died.
We have the ability to change the system with our purchasing power. We can resist the enticement of these low-cost pieces and instead invest in high-quality apparel that was made under fair trade conditions, by artisans who are greatly improving their families’ livelihoods.
Serrv partners who create our apparel items in India, Peru, and Nepal are committed to improving the quality of life for their artisans and wider communities. Creative Handicrafts and MarketPlace: Handwork of India are Serrv partners who employ low-income women in Mumbai to sew beautiful tunics and dresses. Most of the women are under-educated and have few other opportunities to earn a living and support their families. In addition to earning a fair trade wage for their work, they are also involved in running their sewing groups and cooperatives as well as making decisions. This has led to their becoming active leaders in their communities—they have learned to speak up and advocate for women on taboo issues such as domestic violence. The self-sufficiency and self-confident voices the women develop have changed their status in their families and beyond.
“I was married at the age of 13 and only studied until 8th grade. When I was asked to be part of the embroidery design workshop I was so excited! I was then asked to coordinate the workshop and that made me feel very proud because it is a big responsibility,” says Meeta Gupta, seamstress with MarketPlace: Handwork of India.
With our fair trade apparel purchases, we increase the number of positive opportunities for women like Meeta. We express our preference for high-quality and unique pieces made in safe and healthy conditions for a fair wage. Our choices matter and have a direct impact on people’s lives!
Find our complete Spring collection of apparel at serrv.org/newapparel.
(1) “Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth” by Juliet B. Schor