Rage against the (sewing) machine

Some days ago I was taken to one of the slums of Ahmedabad to interview  parents who bring their children to the SEWA childcare centres.   One of the couples visited happened to be garment workers, just like the majority of the people of their community.

We were told that a big percentage of garment workers suffer from serious pulmonary and cardiac conditions as  a  result of exposure to dangerous chemicals and dust found in textiles.

The woman in the picture is 35 years old and a mother of five.  She spends around 12 hours a day crouched over her sewing machine. Her two eldest under-aged daughters also help the family make ends meet…..

In their living room cum bedroom cum workshop, two big sewing machines stand  against the wall with stacks of clothes leaning on them.

Her husband, is only 39 and literally brokenhearted: two of his heart valves were destroyed and had to be replaced as a consequence of his working conditions.

This is not only the reality of garment workers in India. It is the reality of garment workers anywhere in the world. I know it, because I have witnessed it in my family.

It is such a demotivating and hard way to make a living. Workers are deprived of ownership of the final product. Doing piece work of this kind is ungratifying, repetitive,  and a grand example of taylorism and the wonders of global economy.

Workers are exploited, squeezed like lemons by giants of the cloth industry. At the same time, an average Swedish person will buy 15 kg of textile per year and throw away  8 kg. Normal?

I know that for the woman in the picture, her sewing machine equals the daily bread for her family. Yet, I am not convinced that I should continue buying clothes that are the fruit of such skewed working relations.

So far, I have been doing minimal shopping in this cradle of cotton textiles, where beautifully printed fabrics and handlooms are on display and sale everywhere for really good prices.

I am thankful of the reminder I got the other day. Now, I am convinced that I want to make informed choices. As much as I can, I will  use my purchasing power  wisely and explore local initiatives that employ principles of fair and ethical trade.

My objective is not to make you feel guilty by writing this, but rather happy about the fact that you have a choice.

So now it is done – I have ventilated my rage against the machine. Similar feelings anyone?




  1. Effie said:

    Sofoula mou…reading your post, you made me think of an article I recently read about a man who decided to live only with the necessary, which makes a total of 15 items !!! ….and have been questioning myself;what is really the purpose of all this materialistic way of living today? do we really need all the material goods/items we have in our possession ? does real happiness in life comes from material goods…?don’t think so -:)filakia

  2. Stephanne said:

    Thanks Sofia ! I try to my best in this sense too but how difficult it is !! Where to find the atricles that are complayant with your values? Few labels exist to help you and not everywhere… I just change country and have to find all the good adresses again. Not easy with 2 boys growing sizes constantly… but we keep hope. Thank for your post. It had a light house effect on me 😉

    • So good to hear. Yes, finding the right addresses is an issue. maybe we should start sharing our findings….


  3. Päivi said:

    Hello from Butler too! I like the article, nicely written as all of your posts are. Do you remember the Lucky tailors of ours in Vietnam? Maybe we should have followed the scooters to see where some of the phases of our clothes were made…

    This is tricky with so many steps from making fabrics and working with textiles to making the clothes as final products…people who are well off or people who only buy something once in a full moon could easily start using local designers who make quality pieces of clothes from scratch and do it all themselves, naturally most of these still use fabrics that might not have the most ethical origin but at least one exploiting phase less would still make a difference.
    I could try this for a year: clean my closets, donate all unused items somewhere and then commit to buying the majority (some underwear or swimwear might be harder to find) of my clothes from tailors who do it all from scratch.

    I’m sure this would be a good investment for me too with the less is more principle, the “piles” in our apartment that my husband keeps talking about would be smaller and finally I would have more pressure keeping to my size. Hmm, also a lot more time for sighseeing or enjoying food and drinks when traveling not having to spend time shopping.

    The only thing I wonder is whether it is better that I then support mainly and only the Nordic economy with such choices?

    • Yes, how can I forget the Lucky tailors. Meeting them was an experience, an encounter, nothing like buying clothes from H&M.

      Supporting your local economy is good – you support the skill and the people. You will end up buying imported stuff as well, or do some shopping while traveling.

      Re underwear – There are even some brands of ‘fair trade’ cotton underwear. of course, they will be pricier, and I have not done any further investigations, but I have seen some in a shop in Bxls.

      Clothes is a lot about satisfying our sense of aesthetics and bringing beauty into our lives, which is good. But when are we satisfied with all the beauty we’re generously offering people around us : P?

  4. Päivi said:

    Haha…beauty we’re generously offering people around us:) Good excuse to keep going to chain stores….people will suffer unless I keep spreading beauty around….btw: I don’t think buying from unique tailors will sacrifice on the beauty side, the opposite but only costs like 20 or 30 x as much but just for the sake of this blog discussion I might go for it!

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