When you're shopping at the mall (if you shop at malls, of course), which stores do you typically see first? American Eagle? Gap? H&M? Zara?
Would it surprise you to know that a whopping 97% of the clothing sold at American stores like these are imported? That's according to a 2014 report from the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Additionally, about 80% of the workers crafting these clothes are women. Many work in poor conditions and for low pay. Even when they work in good conditions, that doesn't mean the work is easy.
But these women's stories are rarely heard, and their identities aren't considered when we shop. So Mic worked with Remake, a nonprofit startup that's focused on building a conscious consumer movement. Its goal is to raise awareness and introduce consumers to the people making our clothing, shoes and technology overseas.
Here, we're bringing just five of those stories to light. These women work at factories or workshops that manufacture clothes for, among others, American Eagle Outfitters, Gap, Hanes, Kohls, H&M, JCPenney, Uniqlo and Zara. While we might see headlines of what goes on in these factories, we rarely see the names and faces of the people who work there — or hear about their lives.
"Only recently my children starting going to school. I now hope that they will have a better future."
Kashimiri from Panipat, India
Kashimiri, 25, is a yarn opener with four children. She wants people to realize that the conditions in her workplace reflect those where she lives.
"I sit crouched on the floor all day, opening spindles of yarn which go on to become fabric. Panipat has a lot of needs. Open sewers, flies and trash everywhere," she said. "Only recently my children starting going to school. I now hope that they will have a better future. Go on to be somebody. I hope you can see their faces in the threads of your fabric."
"I wonder if you think about me ever."
Rubina from Karachi, Pakistan
Rubina, 22, is a hoodie sewer with ambitions to become a doctor. She doesn't want you to feel sorry for her, she just wants you to think about her.
"After all the injustices I've seen happen here, I've become a labor organizer," she said. "I go to management to demand that we are not harassed, paid on time, given proper food to eat. You would not believe the things I have seen. You having fun, wearing these hoodie on campus. I wonder if you think about me ever — the woman who made that for you."
"I am here, making sure your clothes look nice. I picture you and I am sure you look BEAUTIFUL."
Zheng Ming Hui from Guangzhou, China
Zheng Ming Hui works in quality assurance. She wants you to know that she misses her family and has dreams just like you.
"I work 12 hours a day, looking at beautiful, bright patterns to make sure that there are no defects," she said. "My mother wishes I would call her more. But mostly I miss my grandmother. I only get to see my family once a year for Chinese New Year and mom makes the biggest feast. My entire life is the factory. At night I dream of bungee jumping. I want to find someone to fall in love with and travel the world for work, taking pictures and telling stories. But for now, I am here, making sure your clothes look nice. I picture you and I am sure you look BEAUTIFUL."
"Without this job, I have no way to support myself or my six siblings."
Maud from Ouanaminthe, Haiti
Maud is a jeans sewer, who wants to study computer science. She hopes you remember her and her six siblings.
"Recently my back and neck has been hurting a lot more," she said. "But without this job, I have no way to support myself or my six siblings. After a long day, I walked across the river into my community, which is pitch dark at night. There is no electricity or running water, just human need everywhere. I want you to think about your sister Maud in Haiti when you put on your jeans."
"I stand on my feet all day, pulling loose threads out of finished blouses and tops. Making sure they are perfect for you."
Anju from Delhi, India
Anju is a fabric inspector who wants you to realize the hard work she's put into your clothing in order to provide for her family.
"I once dreamed of a life that was very different," she said, "where I could finish my education and become a teacher. Everything changed when I was 15 and married to a man with few means. For the last 10 years, I've been working in a factory instead. I am proud to be an equal breadwinning partner with my husband and to know that my hard work allows my children to go to school. I stand on my feet all day, pulling loose threads out of finished blouses and tops, making sure they are perfect for you.
I want you to know that I recently took a health education course on making nutritious meals with little money. I now teach what I've learned at my children's school on my day off. I guess my dream of becoming a teacher has come true after all."
That shirt you took off and threw on the floor? Remember, women like Kashimiri, Rubina, Zheng Ming Hui, Maud or Anju might have had a hand in crafting it.
April 8, 2016, 6:22 p.m.: This post has been updated.