Hallo liebe Schülerinnen und Schüler!
I hope you have a great week. Today’s blog post is extra special. The expert of the week this week, Christianna Stavroudis, has already been introduced. Today’s post will be a guest post.
(Here is a link to the original post about Christianna.)
Sarah, a student from the Goethe Gymnasium in Saxony, Germany had an interesting exchange with our Dr. Crister Garrett, the expert of the week of October 6 – 11th. Dr. Garrett’s answer will be the main contributor to this week’s post.
The location of Sarah’s school in Chemnitz, Saxony, Germany.
Sarah asked Dr. Garrett about sustainable fashion. She wondered: How sustainable are my clothes? What working conditions or safety standards threaded my jeans or laced my shoes – and why are the majority of my clothes made in developing countries, rather than in Germany or even the U.S.? Is there anything I can do to help the people producing my clothes?
Dr. Garrett had an interesting answer for her. He answered Sarah by telling the story of our T-shirts:
Dr. Crister Garrett, University of Leipzig
Let us do the math. The store selling you the t-shirt has to pay rent, electricity, and its staff to sell you the t-shirt. So let us say that costs 2 euros per t-shirt. The owner of the fashion store in Leipzig wants to make some profit, so let us say that is about 1.5 euros per shirt. We now have 3.5 euros left for the worker. Then the t-shirt needs to be shipped all the way from say Laos to Leipzig. Let us say that costs 1.50 euros. We now have 2.0 euros left. The owner of the factory in Laos also want to make a profit, and that after having paid for the production of the t-shirt. The production — cheapest cotton possible (not organic!), factory, the dyes, electricity — all come to about 1.5 euro per shirt. We now have 50 cents left over. That is not much profit for the local factory owner, but he or she will take it. We now have zero cents left over for the factory worker. And we have zero cents left over to raise wages, to improve factory conditions, to hire people to supervise safety, to buy organic cotton. We might have some extra money for these things if we could charge 10 euros or even 13 euros for each and every t-shirt.
He then related our T-Shirts to Germany, the U.S. and the low-wage workers:
The Bowler Editions T-shirt factory. Photo: Ryan Speth, Flickr
Many Germans and Americans cannot afford such an expensive but perhaps more fair t-shirt. A lot of Germans and Americans are not even making 8.50 an hour. It is hard to afford fair clothes. It sounds strange, but for millions of Germans and Americans struggling to make a living, the cheap t-shirt helps their families a lot to be able to clothe themselves.
The low-wage jobs in places like Laos or Bangladesh or Romania allow families there to often buy the food to prevent family members from going hungry. Wages are often terrible, but a terrible wage for a family is often better than no wage, if it means food on the table. So why don’t governments demand higher wages? Sometimes they do, but that can often mean a factory get closed and moves elsewhere. That is not fair perhaps, but it is economics.
Street seamstress, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Mark Fischer, Flickr
Dr. Garrett then provided Sarah with two group examples of activism.
Dr. Garrett ended his answer with a challenge for Sarah and for the rest of the Going-Green Project participants. If we can, we should play detectives. We should venture to our favorites stores, find where the t-shirts are made and what the employees’ wages are like. Then write about it.
He also provided a link to a cool organization providing loans to citizens in developing countries around the world. It is one easy way to help others in need!
I hope (and am sure) this answers your question, Sarah.
Vielen Dank Dr. Garrett for the helpful information, and I wish everyone and their clothing a sustainable week!
When the going gets tough, the tough go green.
Alexandra Magaard is a native of Wayzata, Minnesota and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and German Language from James Madison University. In 2014-15, Alex served as a virtual intern for the U.S. Embassy and the Teach About US blog’s first author. A passionate supporter of environmentalism and green topics, Alex says that her activism began when she built a replica of the Cathedral of Notre Dame out of re-used egg cartons for her art class at age eight. She is now working for a German company based in Washington D.C.