Back in the States, I was the kind of gal that would spend my time trying to figure out the root of world problems. I guess that is why I ended up getting a degree in Sociology, and how I ended up doing Peace Corps. It fascinated me to mull over and try to understand why problems exist, and then try to come up with solutions to them. My desire to understand drove me to care about many more things than a normal human ought to concern themselves with (what soap I should use, food I should eat, who to boycott and when, the list goes on…). This resulted probably in a bit of burnout, but also a drive to do what I can to help resolve different problems around the world.
(My thesis: SOC final paper)
My thesis, in a nutshell.
During my senior thesis course, I decided to focus this drive on understanding problems in the fashion industry. When I was much younger, I held onto material things more fiercely, and that has resulted in many trash bags and donations of stuff (AKA, crap) every spring cleaning. As I got older, I wanted to minimalize the ‘stuff’ I have, as it is better for the environment, society, and myself. I knew that I did not fully understand why things like Rana Plaza happen, or why companies would continually choose non-biodegradable materials and cheap labor even when activists got up their butt about it. And so, I dedicated my senior thesis to understanding all facets of this issue, and learned quite a lot. I’ll upload the PDF of my final report and findings (and ways forward) at the end of this post, for those who are interested in reading about that.
For now, I want to focus on clothing donations, and what happens when they make it to Timor-Leste.
In our closest market called Tasi Tolu, there is about a ¼ mile of clothing.
Around the island, there are little market hubs. Within a two hour drive from our village are Gleno, Liquica, and Dili. All these hubs sell vegetables and fruits and cheap plastic commodities imported from nearby nations. These hubs also have enormous quantities of old, used clothing. And yes, I have found many clothes that are from the USA. I have found the 1989 Pillsbury family reunion in Pennsylvania top, and graphic tees from Target. I got an almost new H&M top the first time I shopped for clothes at a smaller pop-up market for USD$1-$2. My husband just bought a pair of light wash Lee jeans for USD$5 last weekend. There are also many brands from China, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and other nearby countries. What we have in these markets isn’t unusual at all. Nearly all developing countries around the world that receive any aid are also the dumping grounds for excess clothing donations.
There are always way more women’s clothes than men’s.
I’ve been able to see both ends of the supply chain for products we take for granted in the States. I’ve walked among the coffee trees that produce the Arabica coffee beans for Starbucks. AndI’ve walked among clothes that date back to the 1980s, and are still circulating at this dead end of used and donated items. Maybe some people are surprised that not all clothing donations go to a charitable cause, but we buy so many clothes and then donate all those clothes, and it is more than the world can wear. Not to mention that giving away clothes often kills local industries, as it has here in Timor-Leste. It is so strange and otherworldly to be in the place where things both begin and end.
I think this quote matches what I hope to do, and hope to inspire a few others to do as well:
Here’s to using the power of our dollar, and our actions, to make a difference. What you do there really does affect us here.