Originally posted Thursday, November 27, 2008
Reviewed through Shelf Awareness, for publisher/author
How many people think about their clothes, right down to their underwear and wonder who made them where? This is the start of Kelsey's journey of discovery. I expected to hear about sweatshops, horrific conditions, and protests What Kelsey Timmerman did was personal, interesting, realistic in his approach. He learns from his first unsuccessful foray in the Honduras (his T-shirt) and plans his worldwide trip in a more original manner. He made contact starting at the bottom and working his way up in order to see the actual factory in which each article he is wearing was made. His underwear was made in Bangladesh, jeans in Cambodia, Flip-flops in China, and shorts in USA. His first contact is in Bangladesh. He learns as he goes along that rather than try to pose as a buyer, it's better to tell the truth, he simply wants to see where his clothes were made. He is able to get into almost every factory, they can identify each article of clothing made by them, no matter how old. But what he really wants to do is meet the people, not as factory workers but as human beings.
In each location he makes friends with people who are working in the factories, learning how little they earn and how many hours they work, often working overtime free, what their hopes are. He finds that they all have hope rather than the despair they knew before. The fact that there are factories to work at has actually given them this hope. He learns that almost all have had to move from home in the country to work, and rarely see family. But they have a certain happiness outside of work. They accept the hard work because it is going to gradually increase their economy. Kelsey is still aware of the terrible living and working conditions, and yet this has always been a problem, even in the US, when they had garment factory conditions with poor pay and ill treatment, but the economy did eventually grow.
In Bangladesh, he takes a group of children (and an old man everyone thought he should take) to "Fantasy World", an amusement park, to ride on a roller-coaster (and other rides). These children are not factory workers, and the old man was a farmer who had always wanted to ride on the roller coaster. In return Kelsey learns to play a game called Kabbadi. In Cambodia he takes a group of workers bowling. He is doing exactly what he wanted to do, meet the people who worked in these factories. China is the hardest country to get to see the factory that made his flip-flops. He learns that the amazing dam on the Yangtzee River has displaced 4.5 million people because their homes and orange groves are now under water. His final destination, in the US, he takes in on his honeymoon. Here he not only meets the workers, but the actual person who worked on his shorts.
The book is very interesting and personable. Kelsey makes a lot of good points. It's a lot to chew on, but begs the question of whether the garment factories are good or bad for the economy of the people, and leaves one thinking what is good for the people and what appeases our souls. The people have hope, they are earning money they couldn't earn anywhere else. They are in fear of losing their jobs if the factories are closed down. There is a lot packed into this book but it is not preaching anything. It states facts, it humanizes the people, and gives us a lot to think about. I highly recommend this book. 5 stars