YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT, a massive pile, like my own private garbage heap. Almost every item of clothing I had retained in the past 36 years was amassed on the bed in my new apartment, pants, socks, underwear, long underwear, dress shirts, ties, suits, pants, sweaters, socks, t-shirts, hats, belts, jackets. And just when I thought I had assembled it all for a final round of sorting, a suitcase was discovered that contained even more clothing! Somehow, I was supposed to dig through it all, excavate the gems, pack away the summer clothes, and find a way of discarding the remnants.
As a person who had little to no interest in clothing design, yet of course appreciates how well they can look and feel, it was truly dull work, so I decided to make a little sport out of it. With a fresh page in my notebook, I began to mark down the nation of origin of each item of clothing I owned. This was in part inspired by a recent documentary I saw, The True Cost, which highlights the uglier aspects of the global “fast fashion” industry, from murderous sweatshop collapses in Bangladesh to carcinogenic pesticides poisoning the minds and bodies of cotton-growing America.
Sure enough, Bangladesh was a popular country of origin for my attire, and so were several other Southeast Asian countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia among the most popular. Since most of my clothes were purchased in America, this made me quite curious. Weren’t our airplanes bombing Vietnam and Cambodia just a generation or two ago? And now those people are making our clothes? Well, well. We must have mended ties and become good friends again.
Of course India and China were the two most prolific producers of Justin’s international wardrobe, which makes a strange kind of sense, as they do have the largest populations in the world. Most of my undergarments, including the long underwear I use daily here in snowy Estonia, were made in hot India. My higher quality clothes — dress shirts, jackets, and ties — were pieced together by the hands of millions of Chinese women who are in general paid about $1.26 a day for their work.
There were some surprises in the mix though. Shirts from Peru, ponchos from Pakistan. I even had a shirt from Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. I had to double check its location. It was all quite exotic. My clothing had been to more places in the world than I had. There were other revelations. My Irish flag t-shirt had been produced in Thailand, not Ireland. My “Jorge Ben Brazilian Beat Box” t-shirt hadn’t been made in Brazil, but in Haiti. Haiti! Of all places! And my ultra-patriotic Captain America t-shirt had been stitched together by Mexican senoritas. My Breton sailor’s shirt was made in France though. That was a relief. My only EU-made item.
Those are just my clothes. I haven’t surveyed my daughters’ clothing, but I know a great deal of it comes from their beloved “Haa ja Emm,” fast fashion supreme. You can imagine how thrilled my girls were when H&M came to Tallinn, and then even more floored when it opened its glass doors in Tartu. Any time any one of these international brands comes to Estonia, they are welcomed like a liberating army. Yet this liberating army of fashion brings with it an unsavory sweatshop supply chain and a consumer junk culture that results in mountains of useless stuff. So, I am still sorting my clothes as I write this. If anyone wants to buy some old crap, you know where to find me.