A journalist travels the world to trace the origins of our clothes
When journalist and traveler Kelsey Timmerman wanted to know where his clothes came from and who made them, he began a journey that would take him from Honduras to Bangladesh to Cambodia to China and back again. Where Am I Wearing? intimately describes the connection between impoverished garment workers' standards of living and the all-American material lifestyle. By introducing readers to the human element of globalization—the factory workers, their names, their families, and their way of life—Where Am I Wearing bridges the gap between global producers and consumers.
- New content includes: a visit to a fair trade Ethiopian shoe factory that is changing lives one job at time; updates on how workers worldwide have been squeezed by rising food costs and declining orders in the wake of the global financial crisis; and the author's search for the garment worker in Honduras who inspired the first edition of the book
- Kelsey Timmerman speaks and universities around the country and maintains a blog at www.whereamiwearing.com. His writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and Condé Nast Portfolio, and has aired on NPR.
Enlightening and thought-provoking at once, Where Am I Wearing? puts a human face on globalization.
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About the Author
KELSEY TIMMERMAN is a freelance journalist and public speaker. He's spent the night in Castle Dracula in Romania, gone undercover as an underwear buyer in Bangladesh, and taught an island village to play baseball in Honduras. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and has aired on NPR.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A little slow but I learned a lot and it was really surprising to learn where our clothes come from. Highly recommend
Sometimes you read a book that is so boring you can't find much if anything to say but "boring". The book is so slow and I didn't learn anything from it. Don't waste your time.
This book is really eye opening as to where your clothes are made.
Well, it seems kind of appropriate that Where Am I Wearing is being released today from John Wiley & Sons. After all it's Black Friday this week in the U.S.
Many of us will be buying clothes for gifts or ourselves. But do you ever really wonder where the item is made? Do you look at the tag as part of your decision or are you just happy to get a good deal?
Kelsey Timmerman did a little bit more that wonder. He decided to find the factory in Bangladesh that produced his favourite 'Jingle These' boxers. And his jeans, tee-shirt and flip flops.
And so off he treks to the other side of the world to discover the origins of his clothes.
In Bangladesh, he poses as an underwear buyer to gain entrance to view the factories. While most of us will speak out against sweatshop labour, Kelsey finds that nothing is as cut and dried when faced with actual people and their lives.
"My own conclusion, after visiting Bangladesh, is that we should not be ashamed that our clothes are made by children so much as ashamed that we live in a world where child labor is often necessary for survival."
He has great fun with some street kids, taking twenty of them to an amusement park for the same price it would take to get one American kid into Disney World.
It is this aspect that I enjoyed the most in Timmerman's book - the personal level of interaction - meeting with and talking to the actual workers of the garment industries he visited in their own environments.
Timmerman's writing style is entertaining and candid, but still explores the history of the garment industry and what is being done to reform it.
In Cambodia, home to his treasured pair of blue jeans, he discovers that 75% of the country's exports are garments. Again, it is the personal stories of the eight female workers sharing a 96 sq. ft. room that grabbed me.
It is in China that he has the most difficulty accessing a factory. But he connects with a married couple working in the flip flop factory. They provide for family back in their rural village and have not seen their son in three years. Kelsey decides to go to the village to visit.
Back in the US he visits a garment factory that made his oldest and still wearable shorts.
Timmerman provides no black and white answers but instead gives us much food for thought. Where am I Wearing is a fascinating, eye-opening, thought provoking read that will have you reading tags just to see where your favourite piece of clothing was made. Perhaps it will make you think a little bit longer before you get out the wallet and help you become an informed consumer.
"When I walk into my closet, I think about the hundreds - if not thousands- of people around the world who had a hand in making my clothes. Jeans are no longer just jeans, shirts no longer just shirts, shoes no longer just shoes, clothes are no longer just clothes. Each is an untold story."
(So far - Canada, US, Bangladesh, Taiwan and China - what about yours?)
This outstanding little book should not be missed¿it is worth reading and discussing in every household and classroom in America. Do you know where your clothes were made, by what types of people and under what circumstances? Do you care? Should you care? This intriguing book looks into these issues and more, yet its tone is refreshingly accessible and unpreachy.
All-American Kelsey Timmerman noticed that his typical ensemble of T-shirt, jeans, boxers, and flip-flops, all bore tags declaring their foreign manufacture in places such as Honduras, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and China. His curiosity (and his experience as a travel writer) became a mission to visit the places and meet the people who actually made his clothes. With a backpack, notebook, camera, the clothes on his back, and a mixture of guileless intelligence, he set out to explore the globalization of the garment industry, up close and personal.
His approach is to minimize the intrusive effects of his inquiry into the factories' operations and the lives of the workers by keeping his visits as unofficial as possible. He is just an ordinary guy who happens to be interested in the origin of his underwear. Although he has heard about sweatshops, child labor and unfit working conditions, he wants to see for himself. He wants to know if it's possible to be an informed, engaged consumer. His journey helps us see that we can all be better informed. The people who make our clothes all have names, faces, needs and dreams.
"[In Bangladesh] Asad leads us past a high table with neat stacks of cloth. A few of the workers standing around the table hold what appear to be giant electric bread cutters with blades two-feet long. One woman marks the cloth using a pattern and then sets to slicing. She cuts the outline of a T-shirt. Plumes of cotton dust fill the air¿the factory is clean, exits are marked, and fans maintain a nice breeze. The conditions seem fine. They are much better than I had expected, and I'm relieved."
In Cambodia, eight young women garment workers share an 8' by 12' room that has a squat toilet and a water spigot. They earn between $45 and $70 per week and send home as much as possible to support family members in the countryside. Many of them miss the culture of family and village but they are well aware of the necessity of their work to their families' survival.
Seeing these and many more disparities between the lives of foreign garment workers and the lives of average American consumers, Timmerman is guarded about sharing details of his life with those he interviews. However, he eventually decides that "not knowing is the problem" on both sides. When he tells the Chinese couple about his first¿and second¿mortgages, they find unlikely solidarity in their mutual states of indebtedness.
This book is far from a "them" and "us" comparison and guilt trip. There are many complicated issues interwoven here, to be considered and discussed. The warp and woof of economic and social pluses and minuses is a constantly changing pattern, and the questions¿what and where to buy, how to support or protest industry conditions, how to maintain American jobs, how to influence human rights¿necessitate the participation of what the author terms "engaged consumers."