Does It Matter From Whom I Buy My Clothes?
(Summer 2013 – Volume 26, Number 2) By Angene Wilson
We need to go beyond the old global education lesson that asks students to check the labels of their clothes to see where they come from and realize then how connected we are to the rest of the world. After the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh, we are reminded that students need to consider how our attachment to “fast fashion,” cheap clothes that can be worn a season and then passed on to Goodwill, impacts people in other countries. And how do our attempts to “do good” by, for instance, buying two pairs of shoes, one for self and one for “a child in need,” impact people and poverty in low income countries? This lesson idea challenges students to do research and then answer the question posed: Does it matter from whom I buy my clothes? I happen to think so and have included the MarketPlace India website here as one example of fair trade in clothing – each piece I buy includes the name of the person who made it!
Objective: Students will read several articles related to the question: Does it matter from whom I buy my clothes?, research companies that make clothes, shoes, and other items they buy, understand the concepts of fair trade and social responsibility, and write a one-page answer to the question individually and/or construct a poster or make a video as a small group to explain their answer.
- “Come to Africa for Business, not Handouts: ‘Buy one give one’ model does no development favors” in Summer 2013 WorldView magazine
- “Cutting cost of cheap fashion” and “Indonesia’s unions grow noisy – with some success” in Christian Science Monitor Weekly, June 3, 2013
- websites for TOMS Shoes and Eyeglasses (http://www.toms.com/), Goods for Good (http://www.goods4good.org/), and MarketPlace India (http://www.marketplaceindia.com/) – Teacher should spend some time at last website to become familiar with mission and participants, even get a catalogue, so he or she can introduce the website and concept of fair trade to the class.
- Internet for research on brands students buy and other research on fair trade, social responsibility,
Procedure: Begin by asking students to check the country of origin of the clothes they are wearing. Each student could make a list of brands of clothes and shoes they wear and stores where they shop. Ask students what is most important criterion in their buying: How important is price? How important is social responsibility? Would it matter to you if you knew who made the clothes you wear? Tell students story of one woman from the MarketPlace India website (look under artisan cooperatives – each highlights one woman).
Now ask students to read the WorldView magazine article and the CSM articles or teacher can summarize them as background for student research. Make sure students understand what Buckler and Jackson in the WorldView article call dumping of goods in TOMS buy-one-give-one model and the Goods for Good repurposing of surplus goods as giveaways in low-income countries and the disadvantages as well as advantages of these social enterprise models. Why might these sound attractive to them? Make sure students understand the issue of price versus responsibility in terms of consumers (that’s them!) and the issue of worker safety and unions in nations like Bangladesh and Indonesia where many clothes are made as explained in the CSM articles. Divide class into trios and ask students to divide research on TOMS, Goods for Good, and MarketPlace India websites, then share with each other what they learn. Challenge each trio to do further internet research on, for example, other fair trade organizations, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Clean Clothes Campaign in Europe, and the social responsibility statements of brands students buy and stores where they shop.
Assessment: Students can answer question “Does it matter from whom I buy my clothes?” individually and/or the trios can make a poster or make a short video to educate other students in the school.