Where do your clothes come from?

Do you know where your clothes come from?

Click on the image to see the interactive version

As sewers, generally the answer is a resounding yes. You’re not likely to forget after hours of stitching now are you? But if you’re anything like me, your wardrobe is probably mostly made up of mass-made and high-street clothing – and this is where the answer becomes less clear.

I tuned into new documentary Mary’s Bottom Line the other day, featuring high-street guru Mary Portas’s attempts to bring clothing manufacturing back to Britain. As you know, this isn’t the first time Portas has featured on this blog – this time, I wanted to see how my own wardrobe measured up to the issues she faces in her programme.

It was simple really, I just checked the labels to see where my clothes were made, jotting up the totals. I left out underwear, but counted garments I’d bought in charity shops. Obviously self-made garments came under their own category.

To be honest, the first thing which struck me was the sheer amount of clothing I own! I counted about 70 garments – who really needs 70 items of clothing?

As for where they came from – in terms of where I bought them, the vast majority come from high-street names like New Look, H&M and Topshop. With the exception of clothing I bought while living in Germany, the majority of it was bought here in the U.K.

But my clothes come from parts of the globe I’ve never even been to. Truth be told, I wasn’t overly surprised. After all, in the UK, 90% of our clothing is manufactured abroad. There just aren’t a great deal of British companies making clothing at home anymore.

When you actually break down the contents of my wardrobe, no less than 18 countries are represented. One blouse bought from New Look came from Bangladesh while another garment hailed from Turkey. The only British garments in my wardrobe came from small clothing labels Rare, Love Label and Quiz. Ironically, a dress I own from Lipsy London was made in China.

As I said, it’s not particularly surprising, yet it wasn’t anything I’d really considered before. Generally I don’t have a problem with buying something made abroad if it was made by people being paid a fair wage (and that’s a topic which deserves its own blog), but I didn’t quite realise how little I own is actually made in the U.K.

On the plus side, the self-made portion of my wardrobe is growing, slowly but surely. Progress!

What do you think? Does it matter if most of my clothes weren’t made in the U.K? Where do your clothes come from?

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18 thoughts on “Where do your clothes come from?

  1. aviewintomyworld

    ah the answer to your twitter question revealed ;-)
    plans for the long weekend now include 1) hunt down said doc 2) assess wardrobe and report back!!! although I think i can say before i even start that apart from what i make, I doubt anythings going to have a “Made in Ireland” label

    Reply
    1. Elena Cresci Post author

      Hahaha yeah, everyone was on the edge of their seats ;)

      Ooh please do it! I’d love to collate some answers from other Seamless wardrobes.

      Reply
  2. ReadyThreadSew

    I decided a long time ago to not worry about such things as where my clothes are made. Even if they are made in a Fairtrade (or similar) factory then I have no way of knowing where the fabric came from. And if I knew where the fabric came from I have no way of knowing where it was produced. And if it is a natural fibre I have no way of knowing where the raw material was grown.

    You can buy something that is labelled “Made in the UK” that could easily be made from cotton harvested by people who are just about slaves, the fabric could have been produced in the worst conditions you can possibly imagine, the cutting of the garment could have been done in a chinese sweatshop, and then the final garment is assembled in a minimum wage (hopefully) garment shop in the UK. It can then be labelled as “Made in the UK”.

    I look at it the other way – every single garment or fabric made in another country is probably/hopefully providing a wage for the person producing it. I don’t like that Indian garment sewers sleep under their sewing machines, but my not buying garments made in India doesn’t stop that – if everyone stopped buying garments made in India then the men who currently sleep under their sewing machines could simply starve in the streets.

    I don’t like it, and know it is beyond wrong, but there is really nothing that I, as one person, can do about it.

    Apologies that this turned out to be a ranty comment.

    Reply
    1. Elena Cresci Post author

      Not ranty at all – really interesting in fact! That’s always what I’ve hoped for my clothes, that those I have bought from the high street have at least provided one extra meal, a better home and a job for someone in a far off country.

      I think something could be done if consumers as a whole wanted something to be done, but, particularly in harsh economical times, it’s difficult to convince people to spend more for something they’re used to getting for far less.

      Incidentally, have you seen the show at all? I’m not sure if you’re based in the UK though so that might be a silly question!

      Reply
  3. ReadyThreadSew

    I am in the UK, but haven’t seen the programme you are referring to. I did watch the BBC3 series a couple/few years ago where they sent some teenagers to see how third world countries produce clothing. Some of the conditions were awful to watch, but, as a sewist, I kept wondering about the conditions of the fabric producers (which, of course, were never shown). About 95% of my own wardrobe is now sewn by me, but I don’t consider it as a world changing thing. A sweatshop not producing one t-shirt because I’ve sewn it myself isn’t a good or bad thing – I just have a new t-shirt.

    I think this comes under the banner of “First World Problem” – i.e. something that most of the world doesn’t even consider because they are too busy trying to earn/grow enough to eat and only us in the first world worry about the impact of our new dress/handbag/shoes, etc.

    Reply
    1. Elena Cresci Post author

      95% is an amazing figure to be at if you ask me, kudos! It’s definitely not something which is the norm in the UK.

      I haven’t had a chance to catch up with the whole series yet, but if you ever get a chance, you can see the programme here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC6Iw_FlaAo

      I think the part which interested me the most from the first episode was the emphasis on clothing being British and this idea of local factories which fed the communities.

      Reply
  4. sewsable

    Just done a quick go-through of my wardrobe. 75 pieces; many are knitwear though. Of them 43 are made by me, 12 made in NZ (where I live), 1 in India, 13 in China, 2 unknown, 2 Australia and 2 in Poland.
    I don’t think that’s too bad all things considered. Slowly getting the ones made in the countries with poor labour conditions down and I’m making more stuff for the kids now too so our overall wardrobes are becoming more friendly. Much of my fabric that I purchase now comes from NZ factories where possible; certainly that’s where my cotton knit comes from so although I can’t guarantee the conditions the growers live in I do know that the weavers/machine knitters are looked after according to our labour laws; it also means that I don’t end up with crappy quality polyester/cotton knits.

    Reply
  5. molly

    I kindof agree with ReadyThreadSew, it’s hard and stressful to keep up with where everything is made so I usually worry slightly more about what it’s made of (tho I still don’t mind synthetic stuff like some people). But it would be interesting to find out statistically where all my clothing was assembled.
    I once heard a news report (not recent so I wouldn’t be able to source it) that the US (where I am) actually still produces a lot of cotton, but then ships it off to other countries to do the manufacturing. That doesn’t surprise me because there is a ton of agriculture of all kinds here, just not always healthy for the environment. I guess you can only win so much.

    Reply
    1. sewliloquies

      No. And as Elena says, it does deserve it’s own blog post/research/book/etc. I have been wondering this for awhile. How can we know country of origin for our fabric?

      Reply
  6. Meris

    While it isn’t a fool-proof solution, one of my tactics to get around the “where is my fabric made” is to buy used fabrics (curtains, blankets, sheets, used clothing) at thrift shops. It might not solve the problems associated with labor, wages, and whatnot, but it is one way for me to reduce the demand for new fabrics. This stuff is being discarded anyway, so I’m “recycling,” and also not supporting questionable manufacturing practices. I’d like to be able to find a fabric source that provides “local” and sustainable materials, but until then, I’ll be at the Goodwill down the street.

    I look forward to any future blog/research you find on these topics. :)

    Reply
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  8. Handmade by Claire Bear

    I’m going to have to do this with my clothes. I’m already trying not to buy clothes unless I really need to replace several of the same type. I suspect that quite a lot of my clothing will have been made in China or Pakistan. I live in the UK and would love to be able to buy British-made every time, but….
    ClaireBear

    Reply

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