Monday, June 24, 2013


I wish that I could give the "ALL CLEAR" on this project but I can't. It took about 3-4 hours to burn about 1/4 of my burn pile before we had to stop because there was too much ash in the bowl. Now I continue to sit on my still massive burn pile with a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. It took only a few minutes for 1129 people to be crushed to dust at Rana Plaza but it will probably take more than 12 hours to burn through the pile.

The event itself was awkward. We were fortunate enough to convince some good friends of ours to allow us to burn the clothes on their property which is far off the grid. I felt self-conscious the entire time, as if what I was doing was the silliest thing anyone ever did. We shot some video of some of it and then I stood around waiting for the pile to burn down so I could throw another item on. I just wanted the entire thing to be over and yet it became apparent rather quickly, as the mosquitos had their way with us, that the end would not come that night. Finally, I could not ask my friends to pollute their air any longer with the chemical's coming off the pyre. We packed up the rest of the unburned mass of cloth and put it back in the car.  We then retreated inside, played a few tunes and crashed out in front of the TV. 

The new plan is to create our own fire-pit at our home and continue to make our way through the burn pile throughout the summer. We figure we can burn a small amount each week and hope to be through all of it by August 1st. 

I feel so strange about it all now. The remainder of my burn pile is sitting in laundry baskets in my garage. I am trying to stay focused on getting the last plans in place for my wedding in two weeks. I did finally make my wedding dress. It took me about 6 hours. In Bangladesh I might have earned $1.50 for it. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Burn Day

Tonight, on the Summer Solstice, I will burn over 100 lbs. of blood clothing. I do not expect it to be a cheerful event. I am sure the blatant waste of it all will get to me. Many people have called me out for destroying all my clothes rather then giving them away. They are right to do it, it is a huge waste. The clothing I will burn tonight could have clothed hundreds of other needy people, it is true. Yet, so many of us living comfortably across the globe have so little to say about the massive waste of human life that occurred on April 24, 2013 in Bangladesh. We will never smell the burning and rotting flesh, nor see the piles of bodies, crushed and broken and unidentified. We will not see the rubble being cleared for weeks on end nor will we see the long lines of the unemployed. We have all gone on with our lives. Most of us will continue to shop at Walmart, Target and Forever 21 because looking good is worth it. We are taught that every day of our lives as we are bombarded with ads and subliminal messages in our culture. Malls are getting bigger and literally being turned into amusement parks all over this country. There is no sign that consumerism in the extreme is going anywhere soon.

I meant to write much more before today. However, lately, every time I have sat at the keyboard to get started I am filled with emptiness. I feel that there is so little I can do to really change anything for the garment workers all over this planet. I have put a lot of words out into the blogosphere, created a burn pile and gone on with my life. Thousands are still suffering and wondering how they will get by without the arms and legs they lost at Rana Plaza. Many survivors have vowed to never work in the garment industry again which means they will have far less ability to meet the basic needs of their families. This issue has brought out the worst in our world. At times like this I just want to give up on all of it, retreat off the grid, grow my own food, make my own clothes and disappear from modern society completely. 

The news coming out of Bangladesh today is at least moving in the right direction. Inspections are taking place and the pressure is on for factories to become safe. Some major brands like Disney have pulled out of Bangladesh completely. Deals are being struck by others.  A few holdouts are Walmart and The Gap who refuse to sign the international agreement but that is no surprise. I assume that many factories will fail during this process which means less work for people but also a raising of the safety standards in general. Time will march on, more buildings will probably burn and fall and we will keep shopping. 

Time to light the pyre.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Victim 4: Forever 21

About six years ago I rediscovered the mall. I had not shopped in a mall since high school. Once I was married with kids there really didn't seem to be any need for "mall worthy" clothing, especially with four targets only ten minutes away from my house in every direction. But one day it happened. I entered the mall and wandered into a colorful and festive store called "Forever 21". It was love at first sight. Not only was the store massive, it also had the largest variety of merchandise I had ever seen in one store. Beautiful clothes in all shapes and styles lined the racks, sometimes laid out by color schemes or season. I remember thinking I had found Mecca. As soon as I started looking at the prices I thought it had to be a joke. There was no conceivable way that I should be able to buy such lovely, decadent things for less than $20. SCORE! 

On that first visit I was looking for clothes to wear on stage when I performed with my new band. I had not bought anything "stage worthy" since just after college. I was excited, feeling like a young girl rather than a barfed-on Mom. I had also just lost sixty pounds. Talk about a perfect storm.

I took my time. I slowly walked through the entire store, pulling out this and that for closer examination. I touched the soft fabrics and held them up against me in the mirror. Eventually I tried a few things on and draped the ones I loved most over my arm. Next I found the jewelry section, filled with colorful baubles and glittery gems. I put a few on my ever growing pile of treasures. After about three hours I finally stood in the exceedingly long line of shoppers to make my purchases. That was when I noticed that everyone else in line was a teenaged girl. Here I was, a thirty-something mother of two, pretending to be "Forever 21" and loving every minute of it. The fact that I fit into the same clothes as the other girls in line made me feel like a goddess. I sometimes think of that first trip to Forever 21 as the day I got my youth back. Just as the name says, I was frozen forever, a 21 year old hottie, destined to be a rock star.....and all for under $60. 

In the 2007 documentary "Made in L.A.", three Latina immigrants attempt to wage a battle against Forever 21 in order to gain better working conditions and higher salaries.  Keep in mind, this story takes place in Los Angeles. Yes folks, it happens here too. The film documents their three year struggle and highlights its impact on their lives as they are transformed by their journey. 

You can watch the entire documentary here:

In one scene the women take a trip to the mall and stand in front of Forever 21 looking at the outfits in the windows.  One of them says, "my sister did the neck for 8 cents and I stitched the bottom for 11 cents."

"We sent a letter to the president of Forever 21, telling him we sewed his garments but we weren't even paid minimum wage. We asked him to take responsibility. But he said he didn't know us, that we had never worked directly for him."

In a 2012 interview with the CEO and Founder of Forever 21, Do Won Change, he is asked about the labor law-suites;

"Regarding that problem, those are actually not my employees. Those are people who work at a company that sells products to us. With companies that we just buy and trade with, we try to check up on their working conditions and try to prevent any problems. That incident happened almost 10 years ago. And, even though it was not our fault, we have tried to fix it. And now we don't have any problems."

Just after that interview was published in 2012 yet another law suite was filed against them by workers for the same reasons documented in the film. 

This is my current collection of Forever 21 merchandise:
(does not include a multitude of $3 tank tops and plastic jewelry)

Pretty eh?  I love these items and have worn them over and over again in the last several years. As I was building my burn pile a few weeks ago, I practically wept when I realized that all these items would have to go. I also felt sick to my stomach when I realized that I never questioned the true reason they cost me so little. Nothing costs so little. Somebody, somewhere, paid the ultimate price to get these garments onto my body. Suddenly in a flash, I could see past the beautiful fabrics and feminine lines of my precious garments and into the eyes of the young girl who made them. It was as if I could hear the blaring noise of the sewing room, feel the vibration under my feet, the sweat on my brow, the ache between my shoulder blades. Somebody made these beautiful things for me, somebody that I will never meet...a young girl with hopes and dreams, someone not even 21, someone who will never be 21.

Monday, June 3, 2013


My husband has exactly seven T-shirts in his drawer today. Yesterday he gave me permission remove all the blood from his wardrobe. If I had done the job right he would be down to two pairs of Thai style MC Hammer pants and a couple light, gauzy, mandala, hippie shirts. I left him enough for one week. Evidently dressing ethically is a much more difficult task for a man. As I sadly placed each of his concert shirts on the burn pile, I noted that every single one of them was Anvil or Gildan. Since I made a commitment NOT to go broke replacing our wardrobes he will have to get by with less for a while. He seems pretty cheerful about it all so far but I wonder how he will feel when he goes to reach for a shirt and finds they are all dirty because we can no longer go two weeks without doing laundry.

I had my first clothing diva "freak out" the other night since starting this project. I was happily cooking my family sloppy joe's for dinner when I flicked the stir spoon in just the wrong way and drenched my t-shirt in hot hamburger grease. I screamed several obscenities, started crying and ran to my bedroom like a seven year old. The fact that the grease burned me was not the reason for my distress. My hysteria was over the fact that I had destroyed one of the two t-shirts left in my closet. I had just bought it at a fair trade shop in the local village near our home. In my hysteria I threw it in the trash dramatically. My sweet husband then jumped up and googled online instructions for how to get grease out of cloth. He put some dish soap on it and soaked it over night in the sink which did the trick. Thank you Honey!!!

As I reflect on my tantrum I can't help but realize that if Justin had not taken the shirt out of the trash it would probably still be there. I generally would not throw clothing in the trash if it were not stained but in those cases I use the alternative; Goodwill. I have been shopping at Goodwill and feeling "good" about it for my entire life. I was raised to look for the best deal and where else can I find name brand clothing for $5? I also get to feel good about helping the less fortunate and write it off my taxes. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Goodwill Industries was founded in 1902 by the Rev. Edgar James Helms, a Methodist minister who came to the head of a Unitarian Church in Boston's South End slums. Under Helms, the chapel was transformed from a shelter for alcoholics looking for a hot meal into an experiment in social reform. He installed pipes under the baptistry to create showers in the basement and made space for a nursery for working mothers. Eventually he appealed for used clothing in order to give poverty-stricken seamstresses work before selling the clothing back to the needy. By 1919 Goodwill Industries had shops and training centers in four states with plans for thirty more. At that time they were also able to tap an entirely new labor market; disabled veterans from WWI.

In 1951, at the age of forty-nine with 101 plants in the United States, Goodwill Industries took in $13.6 million in revenue and paid $8.2 million in wages.

Look Familiar?

Fast forward to September, 2012 where in an article written by John Hrabe, it was revealed that Goodwill Industries is nothing more then a "charity racket". He explained how Goodwill has been able to exploit their disabled employees thanks to a Depression-era loophole in the federal labor law. New calculations have shown that many disabled workers are paid as little as 22 cents per hour. 

"Subminimum wage, as enforced by Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, is wrong because it creates a double standard for how employees, particularly employees with disabilities, should be paid, by offering 'special wage certificates,'" points out Andy Voss, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Sacramento, which organized a protest outside of a Sacramento Goodwill store in August (pictured below). "It is appalling that organizations that purport to assist workers with disabilities in job training, would hold them back by circumventing the standard of living that minimum wage provides other American workers."

But Hrabes expose did not stop at shameful labor practices. He went on to reveal that Goodwill executives in Florida and California earned from $200,000 - $500,000 in 2010. 

And just a reminder here, as a charity, Goodwill pays no taxes.

Further, in 2005, in my very own city of Portland, Oregon it was revealed that the president of Portland's Goodwill had earned $831,508 the previous year. He was subsequently called out by a state audit, at which time he agreed to reduce his earnings by 24%. Before he was caught, Miller's earnings ranked him in the top 1/2 percent of all American wage earners.

Feeling queasy yet?

I learned about these stories only recently, after I decided to have the bonfire. I was quite upset to know that I had made a lot of fat cats a whole lot fatter by donating my clothing out of the "goodness" of my heart. I had no idea that I was exploiting the disabled men and women of this country by doing so. Sadly, I realized that my beloved Goodwill habit was no better than my Target habit. 

I thought about how much money I personally spent during the Occupy movement here in Portland buying coats and blankets for cold occupiers. It turns out that as I was screaming in the streets about the 99%, I was putting money right into the pocket of the 1% to sustain the movement.

This is what raw, lustful, greed looks like.