This morning you got up and got dressed. I wanna bet that while dressing, you did not wonder where the clothes that you are wearing come from. That is not surprising, so don’t worry. But now, look at the label of your shirt. What does it say there? Chances are that it says “Made in China”, “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in India”.
But did you know that the “Made in …” -label does not say anything about where the clothing was actually produced? Your clothes travel around the world before they eventually end up in your closet. In this article, I will take you on the journey of your clothes.
A world traveler
Before our clothes become ours, they travel all around the world. All steps that are required to create a garment, take place at different locations and often in different countries. Even within one country, it may be that a piece of clothing is moved from place to another. Generally, garments are made in seven different countries.
The main reason why our clothes travel so much is because it is the cheapest way to produce them. The producers outsource the manufacturing to the lowest bidder. Even with transport costs, this is often cheaper than producing in one place. Quite bizarre, right?
This is also an ideal way to avoid legislation that hinders cheap production. By moving a product from country to country, a clothing producer creates the opportunity to avoid complicated legislation. In this way for example, what is forbidden in Vietnam can legally be carried out in Haiti and after that fly back to Vietnam for the next step in the production process.
The journey of cotton clothing
Cotton is the most popular type of textile worldwide. This is partly because jeans are very popular. To give you an idea of the journey your clothes make, I’ll show you in this article which countries your cotton clothes are traveling to before they become yours.
1. From textile to fiber
Fiber is the basis of your garment. In the case of a cotton garment, the journey of your clothes starts on the cotton plantations where the cotton grows. Cotton is most widely grown in China, India and the United States. But countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkey are also growing a lot of cotton.
2. Cotton ginning
After the plants have been picked, the cotton balls have to be made clean. With a machine, the balls are combed out. This is also known as cotton ginning. In this way, residual seeds, hulls, and other residual products can be separated from the cotton. Usually, this takes place in the country where the cotton has been grown.
3. Spinning into thread and yarn
Once the cotton has been unginned, it can be spun or woven into yarn and threads. This is often done in countries such as China and Vietnam.
4. Weave or expand into fabric bales
A pile of loose yarn and threads are not very useful for the production of clothes. That is why after the threads are spun, clothes must be woven. For this, the yarns and threads travel to Eastern Europe. Especially in Poland, many weaving mills can be found.
5. Textile finishing
After the threads and yarns have been woven into a fabric roll, it still does not look very appealing. The fabric is still white and gray. In order to make it something marketable, the process of textile finishing is necessary. This contains all processes that are necessary to beautify the fabric and make them appealing for sale. Washing, bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing (wrinkle-free or anti-microbial) of textile fibers and fabrics, are all part of it.
This work is carried out in many different countries. From Asia to South America. It may occur that the textile is first washed in Bangladesh, then flown to Haiti to be bleached and then dyed in Bangladesh.
The confection is the production process where a garment is actually made from the fabric. As with textile finishing, this part of the process is also cut up. As a result, for example, the pattern may be cut in El Salvador, the pockets are attached in China, the buttons are sewn in Bangladesh and the hem is made in Cambodia.
The last thing that is sown on is the labels. The “Made in …” label will reflect the country where this was done.
As you can see, the garment workers only contribute to a small part of the production process. Day after day they do the same thing, time after time. Mind-numbing work. Because of the large repetition of movements and the high work pressure, diseases like RSI are lurking!
Once the garment is finished, it continues its journey. This time it travels to the countries where they will be sold. Also in this phase, the clothes will make lots of kilometers. They are first transported to distribution centers, from where they are taken to the various stores. Sometimes this distribution center is in the same country, sometimes not.
Eventually, you buy the clothes. Here, the journey of the clothes continues with you. It goes where you go, it experiences what you experience.
9. Waste process
If at a certain point you no longer want to wear your clothes, the journey of your clothes continues without you. For example, it may be that you exchange clothes or donate to charity. It could also be that you throw it out because it is broken. This clothing can be recycled into new clothing or new textiles.
Do not throw your textiles in the bin, but in the appropriate clothing containers. I wrote a separate article about this before. Read that for sure!
Talking Dress, Marieke van Eyskoot