The “Tigers for India” outfit

 

One of the reasons why lately, I haven’t contributed much to Sew Weekly is that I have been busy sewing clothes for my son. Fall/winter is coming around and he needs new warm clothes. Last winter, I still bought all of his clothes but in July/August I started to educate myself for about the about working conditions in textile factories in developing countries/Eastern Europe. Deep down, I have always known that the working conditions are probably not great but when I found out about the so called Sumangali system I was in shock and haven’t really recovered since then. Which is good because this shock won’t allow me to get back to business as usual. India is obviously not the only country where something’s seriously going wrong – at the beginning of September, there was a big fire in a Pakistani textile factory (where among others, cheap jeans for the German market were produced) and 150 of the 300 women working there died because windows were barred and emergency exits didn’t exist.

I have done a lot of research on this topic and it looks as if even the better brands have their garments produced under socially acceptable circumstances. Just because something is expensive it doesn’t prove that money was spent on “good factories”. It’s hard to know for sure what’s going on and of course, all brands try to look good. Besides, I simply can’t afford spending 30 Euros or more on a pair of children’s pants. The good news is that I can sew. So I decided that from now on (and as long as my son will let me) to make most of his clothes myself. Obviously, I can’t make shoes and I also won’t make my son’s winter jacket and snow suit because it really is too much for me to handle. But I’m making his pants, his long-sleeved shirts and his sweatshirts for winter and am trying to buy the rest of his RTW clothes from brands with a good reputation (and hope that they deserve that reputation). I am also trying to buy organic fabric only because picking organic cotton is less of a health hazard for the workers than picking cotton that was treated with pesticides etc. This still doesn’t guarantee that the fabric itself was produced in a good way but there isn’t an awful lot of fair trade fabric around and I figure cutting off the manufacturing process as early as possible (i.e. directly after the fabric has been produced instead of having more workers be involved by turning the fabric into a garment) might make a small contribution, too.

People have pointed out to me that boycott won’t help the situation. Other people pretty much told me I must have too much time on my hands (believe me, I don’t) and that I obviously don’t belong to Germany’s suffering class if I can afford to have pity with people who are thousands of miles away. They may have a point there – but I don’t see anything wrong with this. If all the people who can actually afford pity and sympathy would change their shopping habits the world might turn into a slightly better place.  I personally don’t know how much of a difference my sewing will make but I don’t want to look at my son and wonder whether he’s wearing something that was made by slaves, children or “merely” workers who are forced to work extra hours for free and get a wage that is hardly enough to survive. I don’t want to shame anyone into not buying RTW clothes and I certainly don’t look down on people who do buy them. There are more than enough other “consumer sins” that I am guilty of and I know that sometimes we’re victims of circumstances. I am lucky that I work at home, don’t lose time with commuting and can slip in half an hour of sewing each day. Other people might not be that lucky. This is my personal solution to the problem – it certainly isn’t an ideal solution but it’s better than nothing. I have actually been toying around with the idea of opening up a blog that is dedicated to the subject. I’d like to try to motivate people to start sewing by e.g. showing them easy children’s clothes, list how much time it takes to make and how much money exactly it costs. Sewing isn’t very popular in Germany but I wonder whether there should be a site that proves that sewing really isn’t that difficult and not necessarily expensive.

Sorry for straying away from the actual sewing project. Actually not much to say about the garments themselves. I found this cute tiger knit fabric (organic cottong) online and since my son loves tigers quite a lot, I got half a meter for him. I combined it with turquoise knit fabric to save a bit of fabric and I may be able to make another shirt for him next spring (or fall) by using the remnants of the tiger for the parts that are blue now an use blue knit fabric for the bigger parts. This way I get as much out of the small pieces as possible.

The pants are actually old (I made three pairs of these in spring) and they are getting too small for him .

This outfit is quite a good example of how I like to dress my son – bright and happy colors. I grew up in East Germany which meant that I had to wear lots of drab colors until I was about 12 (not sure whether East Germany couldn’t afford to buy dye or whether they were aiming for a uniform look as in “all people are equal and shouldn’t show any individualistic tendencies”…). I got my first piece of clothing with a “real color” (a pink sweater) when I was 9 and my mother was insanely proud of herself for managing to procure it. I think this was the first time that I ever owned a garment that I actually cared about. I am happy my son grows up under different circumstances so I don’t really know what to make of the grey, navy, black, brown and khaki clothes that are so popular for boys nowadays. I want him to wear all the colors of the rainbow. Even pink if he wants to. (I made him a pink sleeve scarf and mittens last year – he loves them.) I think my strategy is working: He enjoys picking his clothes and he has very specific ideas about his clothes. I always let him have a say in what kind of clothes I buy/make for him. I don’t think he’s going to be one of those men who just let their wife pick all the clothes for him. I appreciate men with a sense of style (says the woman whose husband has been wearing the same old plaid flannel shirts for at least 10 years).

The facts

⁃ Pattern: Miou Miou hoodie V 6010, pants: self-drafted according to the book “Metric Pattern Cutting for Children’s Wear and Babywear” (by Winifred Aldrich)

-Fabric: about 0,5 meter of organic cotton jersey and remnants of turquoise jersey (organic cotton) for the shirt, about 1 meter of corderuoy made of organic cotton for the pants (fabric remnants for the knee patches)

-Year: contemporary
⁃ Notions: none
⁃ Time to complete: about 1 hour
⁃ First worn: shirt on 15 September 2012, pants are from spring this year
⁃ Wear again? – Yes, my son loves this outfit
⁃ Total price: about 17 EUR – relatively pricey for such a small amount of fabric but it’s organic so the material was quite reasonably priced.

PS: These pics were taken in the park of “Schloss Charlottenburg”. My battery gave up after 3 minutes so I wasn’t able to take pics of the actual park which still holds a nice little castle, the Belvedere, and little streams and a pretty bridge. We went there by bike and Josh was anxious to get to the park playground so he refused to take of his bike helmet. I am lucky he agreed to posing in the garden of the castle.

Author

Djamila

Djamila is a German translator living in Berlin, Germany. She is married to an American and has a 4-year-old son who never sleeps. She used to sew A LOT before her son was born. After 4 years of wearing practical sandbox-clothes she finally wants to get her original fashion style back and sew a lot more again.

4 Comments

  1. Sew stuff for your son for Sew Weekly! I like seeing different things, and there are only so many skirts and dresses and tops we all need. I think this is a great outfit, and especially appreciate that you are encouraging him to wear colours. It took so much work to get Mr D into colours (and now I can’t get him out of his pink & yellow shirts!).

    Thanks for sharing your philosophy on clothes, and particularly how your aesthetic relates to your childhood. I always worry about the ethics of how the cloth itself is produced too (funny how there is so little talk about that compared to the discussion of the sewing), but you’re absolutely right that at least making it yourself cuts one little step out of the process.

    • Thanks Leimomi. I might be able to squeeze a few more of his garments into the Sew Weekly challenges but only if they happen to fit in there.
      My husband isn’t much of a color lover and had an awful lot of brown shirts when I met him – it really isn’t a color that suits him and I am slowly getting him used to wearing bright royal blue at least.
      And thanks for your encouraging words. I am still trying to figure out where to buy “good fabric”. You’re right this is something that is often overlooked although it is actually a really big problem, too.

  2. Oh Djamila, I can’t tell you just how much I agree with you! I’ve been struggling with the issue of fabric (and clothing) manufacturing for YEARS. I have my own small “manufacturing” business so that I can guarantee how things are made with NO exploitation. One of my friends and I do a side business making renaissance/pirate outfits that produce almost zero waste (we revamped our patterns slightly) AND are a decent price. We did this after going to a local and very popular fair and seeing that 90% of what was offered for sale came from India and China and looked like K-Mart-for-Pirates : ) We also realized that it doesn’t matter how sustainable or wonderful our finished product is if we’re still buying sweat-shop made fabrics. We’ve stalled out trying to find a decent priced sustainable manufacturer.
    I’ve sewn my entire life because I wasn’t the “right shape” to fit into most RTW. Then I sewed to make a living and because I loved it. I’ve always had a primary job, and I raised my daughter on my own after her dad wandered off when she was 18 months old, but outside sewing let me pay the bills so we could breath. If you decide to do a blog about ethical fabrics, manufacturing etc I am SO there! I’ll read, I’ll subscribe, you name it.
    I think others are wrong when they they say our little boycotts can’t work. One person sparks another who sparks another…One of my favorite sayings is “Well behaved women rarely make history.” We don’t have to be rude or mean but we also don’t need to acept things that rankle. Do your blog, change a corner of the world.

    • Thanks for this long comment, Loran. It really means quite a lot to me, particularly because most people here (not Sew Weekly, my real life) aren’t that supportive of my idea and tell me that I am overreacting and won’t change a thing with what I do. (This doesn’t include my husband, thank goodness.) Although I have to say that even if my sewing won’t change the world, at least I’d feel better about myself because I found a way to dodge this unfair system. (A very selfish motif…) I am quite convinced though that I could manage to motivate other people to sew more or start sewing at all. Most people say “Oh well, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t afford more expensive clothes for my children and can’t afford any sympathy. And I don’t know how to sew.” Which is the moment where I always try to convince them that sewing really isn’t that difficult, particularly when it comes to sewing children’s clothes…people don’t believe me though. So maybe, a blog would be good. I already have a few ideas on how I could get support in promoting it and getting some media attention.
      Thanks a lot for your encouraging words. I sure need them right now. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *