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Examining the human cost of cheap clothing
Anna-Marie Janzen is wearing the same understated flowing top and tights for the entire month of October. And yes, she washes them regularly.
It’s not because she can’t afford to buy new clothes. On the contrary — Janzen has a well-paid job she enjoys.
For her, it’s a way of challenging the concept of fashion in North America, the injustice of the garment industry — and who pays the price for the inexpensive clothes we are able to buy.
Janzen, a recent graduate of Canadian Mennonite University, is a speaker at the October 30 Face2Face event at the university entitled When Cheap is Costly.
It looks at the links between North American consumption of cheap clothing and how it’s related to the spread of sweatshop labour in developing countries.
It’s a timely topic. Just this spring, a factory collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 workers — people with families and loved ones who were so desperate to make a living they were willing to work long hours in harsh conditions for barely a living wage.
"I don’t believe the garment industry has to be this way," says Janzen. "There’s no excuse — so much of what we buy is incredibly marked up from what it costs to actually make, and so little of that trickles down to the people who need it."
The Face2Face event will delve into those questions even more, asking questions about the ethical responsibilities of shareholders, businesspeople, and consumers.
Hosting the conversation is Prof. Ray Vander Zaag, who teaches international development studies at the university.
Vander Zaag lived in Haiti for eight years as a development worker. He saw firsthand the effects of garment factories — both positive and negative.
He’s hoping for a nuanced discussion that doesn’t completely demonize one side or the other.
"There are many pieces to the puzzle of a fairer global garment industry," he says.
As for Janzen, she’s hoping that her clothing sabbatical also helps others question what they consider necessary.
"It’s not a boycott," she says. "It’s learning to be content with what I have, without giving into societal pressures."
To follow Janzen through her year of reduced consumption, you can read her blog: http://tobeandnottobuy.wordpress.com
Face2Face will happen on Weds., Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. in CMU’s Great Hall (500 Shaftesbury Blvd.) Admission is free, and all are welcome.
Amanda Thorsteinsson is a community correspondent for Charleswood.
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