Often, the clothes we see at bargain prices on store rails have been made by underpaid workers in appalling working conditions. Tiny six year olds forced into child labour could be stuck in cramped rooms stitching embroidery onto the top you later find in a department store.
What is frustrating is that there seems no way to solve these issues. By boycotting shops that use inethical clothing manufacture, we're left with a much smaller range of clothes, which seems unfair when all you're trying to do is ensure the wellbeing of workers, and the tiny six year olds are still at work, we're just shopping elsewhere, so the problem hasn't gone away. Buying clothes you know have a clean history is expensive, but for many it is the only way to guarantee they're not accidentally exploiting third world workers.
That's where sewing comes in. For the past six months, I've been happy in the knowledge that the only labour that went into the making of my clothes was my own. Of course, with sewing still being a reasonably new hobby, I haven't had an entirely shop free year. I'll be honest and admit to popping out to invest in a couple of new strappy tops as summer approaches, because I haven't had the time to learn how to make these yet, but had a need for them. The promise I've made to myself is that I'll integrate them into my wardrobe and match them with self stitched clothing, so at least they'll get worn and no matter how they were produced, the effort of the manufacturer wasn't wasted. I will wear them.
Thanks to learning how to sew, I have felt happier in the knowledge that feeling less inclined to shop has led to a decrease in the demand I've placed on clothing companies to provide me with new garments. I clothe myself these days. But the next step for me is a tricky one - how does one guarantee that the fabric you're working with has been ethically sourced?
I like to work with fabric found from a variety of places, mostly Abakan, Ebay and my local market. For me, a beginner dressmaker, this has been sufficient to see me through my first few projects and given me clothes that I love to wear. However, the same familiar feelings are sneaking back. Was this fabric made fairly? Did the workers get paid properly? Were they in proper, regulated working conditions?
At 18 years old and about to head off to uni, it's safe to say I'm not exactly rolling in money. I try to stick to fabric under £10 a metre, but I know a lot of places charge a lot more than that. Is expensive fabric what I need to ensure workers got a fair deal? Branded fabric, like Liberty or Amy Butler? Or is it just all down to chance? I think, as far as sewing goes, I'm still pretty new to this and would love any advice you have for me :)
Let's help everyone in the manufacture of clothes, whether for retail or home sewing, get a fair deal.