UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

'Consider the lilies of the field'

UnRavel helps me rethink clothes

By Carolyn Pogue

As a kid, and as a young mom, I wanted school uniforms. They would eliminate worrying about style, shopping, sewing or comments about a sister’s hand-me-downs. Uniforms are easy: just pull on your skirt and knee socks, button up your blouse, tie your shoe laces and go. I grew up knowing that Jesus said that we shouldn’t worry about clothes. “Consider the lilies of the field,” he said. “They neither toil nor spin, yet even King Solomon was not arrayed like these.” But clothes were still a burr under my saddle.

In the 1960s, my roommate also disdained the morning hassle of dressing. She created her own uniform: blazer, white blouse and kilt. She had exactly two of each. I didn’t have the nerve to work in downtown Montreal like that, so I kept doggedly shopping. Later, I discovered secondhand shops. I still like them; recycled clothing is comfortable and easier on the Earth.

The ethics of clothes make shopping still more confusing. I learned about sweatshops with my husband, Bill, in El Salvador in 2000. There, we met factory workers who made clothes for a popular label. They told stories of long hours, forced overtime and low wages without benefits. We learned that women were not allowed to use washrooms when needed, only when mandated. This meant that the women drank less water, even though the factory was hot. As a result, sometimes women fainted at their sewing machines, and often they developed kidney and bladder problems.

Kevin Thomas of Toronto spent years working with the Maquila Solidarity Network. This Canadian network promotes solidarity with groups around the world to educate consumers and lobby corporations to improve working conditions. Frequently, he is asked which brands are ethical because people are frustrated running around, trying to figure out where to shop. He urges people to write to companies using sweatshop labour and stay on their case. “Write them, and you will receive a polite response. That means you need to write again. And maybe again. Invite friends and colleagues to do the same. Part of creating change is helping businesses see that it is in their best interests to have decent working conditions for employees.”

Many of us have overstuffed closets but “nothing to wear.” My friend, Marguerite Theophile, in Mumbai recently sent a link to UnRavel, an amazing view of clothing and consumers by Indian filmmaker Meghna Gupta. This 14-minute documentary is both funny and provocative. We see tons of used clothing processed in a north Indian factory, where people don't know westerners. And the narrator, who has never seen one either, will steal your heart; she is indeed beautiful, in the sense that Jesus meant.

To my mind, the workers in this factory are dressed beautifully. And yet, they look with wonder — and sometimes longing — at our castoff clothing. They are curious to know what western women are like, and so they imagine us. Westerners must be very rich to wear clothes a few times and discard them, they muse, but evidently they lack enough water to even wash their clothes. Underwear decorated with rhinestones also evokes pity. Who would force women to wear such things? Ultimately, the clothes (some likely made in India) are sorted, shredded and made back into thread.

I am still thinking about a uniform.


Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image