The Clothes They Wear
The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. –Pope Francis
My daughter Clara has a unique style. The other day she wore mismatched socks, striped tights, a diamond-patterned dress, and a polka-dot hoodie. The unpredictability of her daily outfit is usually determined by whatever is on top of the indomitable laundry pile and whatever I can wrestle her into. She receives comments from passers-by that range from pity (“That poor little girl… her dad must’ve dressed her”) to compliments based on wrong assumptions (“What a cute little boy!” or “I love your daughter’s style…it’s so hobo shiek.”)
But our daily battle to get her dressed turned from whimsical to worrisome recently, as three words on her t-shirt tag caught my eye: Made in Bangladesh. The observation struck me because I had just listened to story on the radio about garment factories in Bangladesh. Specifically, heart-breaking details were shared from the collapse of Rana Plaza outside Dhaka earlier this year, the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry. Clothing made in the factory before its tragic end included children’s clothes from American companies, like my daughter’s shirt. Just this week, the New York Times reported that many of the families of the 1,100 victims (many of whom were teenagers) have been forgotten, under-compensated, and left in deeper poverty and despair. The majority of American companies connected to the factory have refused to contribute to easing their plight, even as they market so aggressively back home to parents like me during the holiday season.
As Christmas draws near, and presents pile up for my children from well-meaning friends and relatives, I am aware of how the very gifts designed to bring our own children warmth and joy may have been stitched in the hands of people whose dignity is being violated, all in the name of profit for American companies. Considering this reality, and my daughter’s ambivalence to what she is wearing, I consider simple ways I can minimize my own contributions to an often unjust children’s clothing industry.
- Teaching that giving is more important than getting.
- Encouraging buying and wearing less.
- When our children do need clothes, relying on hand-me-downs and used clothing stores.
- If we must buy, researching and purchasing sweat-free options.
St. Joseph, bringing dignity to work, standing in the shadows of our Christmas celebration…
St. Mary, overwhelmed teenager saying a “yes” beyond your years, holding a baby in simple swaddling clothes…
Pray for us parents and our purchasing power.
Michael Downs serves as director of justice and kinship at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. He is also a member of the California Catholic Conference’s Environmental Stewardship Committee and the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform Working Group.
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