I had a couple of minutes to kill in after visiting the scrapyard and working at my internship yesterday (and before going in to the city for my night job), so I visited Beacon’s Closet to poke through secondhand clothes. I used to live in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the Streetlightless Years of Feral Dogs & Carfires, so it’s nice to see what’s left.
I’m always taken aback by how much Gap and H&M crap Beacon’s buys. Hennes & Mauritz AB is an inevitability in NewYork, and I have a few of their fitted basics. Fitted basics are a big market here. The problem is the ethical entanglements that inhere to this price-sensitive market.
Uniqlo’s single-source Chinese and now Bangladeshi production raises questions about human rights. Zara claims to be vertically integrated (itself producing everything from raw materials to finished product in retail facilities), but in the same presentation says it makes 60% of its own products (?!), leaving little question as to where the balance could be produced on the cheap. American Apparel occupies a higher price bracket for their touted “sweatshop free” manufacturing, but recently almost a third of its Los Angeles workers were found to have improper legal work documentation—and its owner famously treats AA employees as sex vending machines. H&M makes a lot of clothing in Turkey, which has a big child labor problem (to be fair, it’s largely agricultural in practice), but I groaned when I saw that some suitable H&M jeans in Beacon’s were made in Bangladesh.
A December 2010 fire started by crap wiring and/or short circuits roared through a Dhaka, Bangladesh factory making clothes for American Eagle, Sears, and The Gap (inter alia). It killed 21 workers because the exits were b/locked (to “stop garment theft”). Dangerous electrical conditions are not unusual to That’s It Sportswear (indeed!), Ltd. Scores of the 2.5 million underpaid sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are killed every year by such fires. In a fabulous irony of time, this happened almost 100 years after the famous Triangle Shirtwait Fire in NewYorkCity, where 146 poor immigrant women were killed working under almost the same circumstances.
It’s a century later, and I’m in New York looking at Bangladeshi jeans of possible blood and fire. But the circle cannot complete: They’re second hand. H&M has already reaped its profits, and I am only supporting a local second-hand retailer. In the same way that I minimize market culpability by buying military surplus, I trust that the cinders and tears were washed out of the jeans by the previous owner.
*Moksha, in Buddhism, is the transcending of the cycle of suffering that is birth, life and death, or samsara. I thought if I clumsily deployed some Oriental (things are Oriental,people are Asian) concepts in this post it would help my search engine indexing, given that the Buddha is the un-ironic marketing coup of the past two decades.