Learn. Choose. Change.

I pledge to learn the true cost, to people and the planet, of what I eat, wear, drive, use and do every day. I choose to consume justly and to increasingly change my habits.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Just Learn: Dhaka Factory Collapse

Last week a building that housed a garment factory, among other businesses, collapsed in Bangladesh.  The number of confirmed dead was 359, as of this morning, and though they are still pulling out workers that survived the collapse, rescue efforts are nearing an end as the building is becoming even more dangerous for rescue teams.  There are still hundreds of unaccounted for victims, trapped or dead inside.  The actual death toll may be close to 1,000 workers.

Reports have surfaced that business owners from the building were warned to keep their workers at home after cracks appeared.  Several of these owners have been arrested now for negligence, because they ignored these warnings and forced their employees  to come work in the garment factory.  What has not been as widely reported, is that employees from other businesses (banking and insurance) in the building were not forced to report to work that day.  This is very telling evidence about the type of worker that is exploited in the garment industry and the very little value that is placed on their lives.

While protests erupt in Bangladesh and in the U.S. demanding safer working conditions in the garment industry, it is doubtful any significant changes will be handed down from the government or the industry itself. Garments account for 80% of exports from Bangladesh.  Many executives overseeing this 20 billion dollar business are also involved in local politics. In short, the garment industry is "Big Oil" in this region.

The BBC posted an article online asking, "Can Clothes Industry Change?" The answer is, of course it can, by why would it?  As long as consumers turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the earth's resources and people groups, why would business executives sacrifice their bottom line?  And while Americans are quick to point the finger at obvious targets selling cheap clothes like Walmart or Forever 21, high end labels are actually just as guilty.  Their prices may reflect some higher quality fabrics, embellishments and finishing techniques, but they are typically not paying their workers any higher wages than the ones sewing for Walmart.

This is where the post gets preachy, and most people already know what the solution is:  
1)  Buy less clothing (and fabric!!)  
2)  When you do buy something, looked for it secondhand or as a remnant first 
3)  If you have to buy new, support a company that is verifiably doing things right
4)  Invest in quality pieces of clotihng
5)  Repair/reuse/upcycle what you have
6)  Let companies know you expect change and that they have lost you as a customer

Changing an entire industry often feels like a monumental task, but it truly starts with individuals.  If there can be any good that comes from this tragedy, I hope it is that more people will consider the ramifications of their purchases, and will change their buying habits.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Just Make: Papercut Window Art

I have long admired papercut art, from the big names like Nikki McClure and Rob Ryan, to the hobbyists selling their work on Etsy.  One of my biggest celebrity thrills was talking to Nikki McClure when she called our little bookstore, concerned we hadn't place our annual calendar order.  (Her concern was warranted because we were, indeed, going out of business).  She was just as gentle and sincere as you would guess she would be from her artwork.  

The appeal of papercutting, I think, is that it is very basic, like drawing.  If you have a piece of paper and an X-acto knife, you can cut.  Just like if you have a piece of paper and a pencil, you can draw.  Similar to drawing, I am sure you can invest in various cutting tools and upgrade, but you really don't have to.  And, the last thing I need to take on is another crafty hobby that requires a lot of tools and supplies!

Our family has a sweet tradition of making paper snowflakes during the holiday season.  The snowflakes are then on display all winter taped to a window.  This year we put them in the window of our front door, and were pretty reluctant to take them down.  (Also, March 21st often still feels like winter in the Pacific Northwest).  But by the beginning of April, the weather took a turn and I felt snowflakes were no longer appropriate.  As a compromise, I said we could put something new and spring-y in the window.  

Over the last year I have done a few small papercut projects, incorporating quotes and lyrics with basic shapes.  I knew we needed to stick to that format for time's sake and to feel successful.  I could not find our large roll of butcher paper anywhere and decided to use newspaper instead.  I may never papercut with anything else!  It is thin enough that it does not take much pressure to cut, but durable enough that it doesn't tear easily (like tissue paper).  It was really a dream to work with and I like what the text and advertisements add to the shapes.  My youngest and I worked together off and on for one morning.  She had fun adding the little animals, while I cut out the quote.  Plus, since the investment of time and materials was so inconsequential, I will have no qualms putting it in recycling when we are ready for a change.

Right now, it still makes me smile every time I look at it, but I am already on the hunt for a good quote for summer and have a hard time imagining our door will ever be blank again!