In the spring, NPR and This American Life's Planet Money started a Kickstarter to raise money for their t-shirt project, a reporting enterprise that would have them help design a t-shirt "and then follow that t-shirt around the world as it gets made." Though the piece has a few chapters, the most striking portion is where they show the differences in the lives of the women who actually make the shirts.
Planet Money's men's and women's t-shirts are made by Jockey, but that doesn't mean they're made in the same place. The men's t-shirt was made in poverty-stricken Bangladesh, while the women's t-shirt was made in Colombia, a country with a GDP that puts them at 30th in the world, versus Bangladesh at 59. This means that the lives of the women who work in the garment industries in these two countries are drastically different, as reporter Alex Bloomberg explains during their profile of Doris (from Colombia) and Jasmine (from Bangladesh). "Doris and Jasmine share a job. but they're separated by the economic realities of the countries they live in...the role the garment industry plays in bangladesh, the role of our t-shirts, is very different," he says.
Jasmine makes $80 a month, has been working in clothing factories since she was 16, and is one of 4 million garment workers in her country. She left her small village to move to the city to work in a factory because paying for her sister's dowry had left her family in debt. "Nobody would come work in the garment sector if everything was all right," she says. "They're all here for the same reason as me."
By contrast, Doris seems much more happy-go-lucky. She makes almost four times what Jasmine makes and can support herself and her mother off that salary. She also sells pastries and hopes that this year, she'll have enough money to leave the garment industry and start her own business doing only that.
For these women, their jobs represent different things. For Jasmine, it's a complete necessity; for Doris, it's one of several options. Jasmine says the factory she works in is safer than ones she's worked in before, and Planet Money points out that the minimum wage in Bangladesh has drastically improved since the horrific factory collapse in the spring. The general consensus there is that if companies pull out of producing their wares in the country, it won't help the Bangladeshi people as much as safety reform and better pay will. Of course, the cost to produce there still has to be low enough that the industry won't move to another, cheaper country.
Doris and Jasmine live such different lives it's striking to see them compared; as Planet Money explains, Doris's occupation is just part of many job options in Colombia, while Jasmine's has become part of an international outcry. But while Jasmine's story seems more tragic, both are rare and honest depictions of lifestyles rarely talked about in the American press. Though just Doris and Jasmine's profile is called "People", it's people who crop up in every step of this project, through interviews with the workers who produce the cotton that the shirts are made of, to talking to those who ship the final product. For us watching them at home, surrounded by the fabrics we purchased in a store, putting faces to the materials we use every day is an exercise in extreme humility.
Images via Planet Money