Fashion revolution

Who made my clothes?

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It’s fashion revolution week. I’m taking the opportunity to pause for a moment and consider: Who made my clothes?

Take these jeans. I wear them practically every day when they’re not in the wash. Who made them? I don’t know. H&M made them. In Turkey. Out of 90% cotton, 6% polyester, 4% elastane.

What did it take to make them? I don’t know. I counted 21 pieces of fabric. 50 seams. 12 overlocked raw edges. 1 zip. 1 button hole. 1 button. 6 rivets.

Apparently, a generic pair of five-pocket jeans is sewn up manually in an assembly line in about 15 minutes. (Wow, that’s fast!) However, the final process of washing, sanding and bleaching may involve up to 16 manual operations. At least, this is true of Jack & Jones jeans. Take a look at their blog series on the production process from denim to stitching to finished jeans. Fascinating read.

But my jeans were made by H&M in Turkey. What is the garment industry like in Turkey? I don’t know.

It seems the average wage of garment workers in Turkey range between 15% and 37% of a minimum living wage, according to this factsheet produced by the Clean Clothes Campaign in 2014. I sincerely hope the persons sewing up my jeans received a minimum living wage for their work. At the very least. To be fair, H&M is not mentioned on this factsheet. But what reason do I have to suppose H&M is so much better than other brands?

In the name of transparency, H&M do publish lists over their supplier factories. Thumbs up for that. Yet, that’s 449 – four hundred and forty nine! – supplier factories listed in Turkey alone.

And that’s just my one pair of jeans.

Faced with a wall of solid information, I give up. The persons who made my jeans seem as invisible to me as ever. There is such a huge distance between my world and theirs. A geographical divide of course, but also a huge knowledge gap. I’ve never set my foot in a sewing factory, nor ever witnessed how cotton is transformed to fabric. With no real-life experience in textile manufacturing, I need more than just the name and address of a factory to fully appreciate what it took to make my jeans.

Transparency is important, as this post on the fashion revolution blog makes clear. Publishing a full list of supplier factories, as H&M does, is certainly a good first step. While it doesn’t answer my question of who made my jeans, it does show how incredibly complex their value chains are.

Next time I'll take heed of that. I might turn to a company with less complex and more transparent value chains so I actually know what I’m buying. Perhaps like Community Clothing who aim to create jobs and restore pride in the British garment industry by producing staple jeans in high quality denim. Or I might try my hand at making my own, with the jamie jeans or ginger jeans pattern?

In the meantime, I will honour my pair of well worn, less-than-perfectly transparent jeans by continuing to use them. I will wear them, repair them, and be thankful for the work and materials that went into making them.