The Dickinsonian


Mia Merrill ‘19, Guest Writer

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Most of our clothing is not assembled in the U.S., nor is much of the cotton for our clothing grown domestically.

Last year, I worked in the women’s clothes section at Target, folding shirts and reassembling racks and picking up everyone’s fitting room rejects. Customers loved sales, and I get it: I’m on a college student’s budget. I see the benefit of only paying $5 for a shirt. But after almost a year of being surrounded by clothes, I began to see the faces behind the price tags.

It’s no secret that exploitation of laborers is commonplace in the garment industry. Workers, mostly women and girls, are not guaranteed livable wages, safe working conditions, or a cap on hours if they work in a factory that is not fair-trade certified. On some level, most consumers know this; Ivanka Trump recently made headlines after abuses at a factory for her brand came to light. But Trump is not the only celebrity or brand name label whose tags come with a higher price.

Regardless of our interests in helping refugees, combating injustices, or resisting agendas that deny climate change, we turn a blind eye to human and environmental welfare when the sale sign goes up.

Many students on our campus fight for a better world, whatever that means to each of us. I call myself an intersectional feminist, and I know others who use this same term. Our school champions sustainability, and student groups are committed to addressing climate change and the environmental impact of everyday practices. Yet, every time any club or organization has an event, we order bulk quantities of t-shirts made with pesticide-treated cotton, colored by inorganic dyes, sewn by exploited laborers in questionable conditions, and shipped to the U.S. on huge airplanes. T-shirts for Dickinson events addressing domestic and sexual violence were made by women who are often victims of these phenomena and who turn to the garment industry for meager support. I have seen people wearing shirts advertising the People’s Climate March while the very production of the shirts contributes to environmental decay. And yes, fair-trade clothes are expensive. But I limit my shopping, and head to Goodwill over Target, and so far my style hasn’t fallen apart.

I seek to consistently educate myself about ethical choices within the garment industry, and I track the hashtag “#WhoMadeMyClothes” to stay updated. Although I don’t control a factory or a company, it is my belief that change can start with the consumer.

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