March 16, 2012 § 12 Comments

hi everyone,

I hope you are having wonderful Spring breaks.  I’m excited to hear about your adventures, far-flung and near-flung, when I return.  I’m headed off to La Pietra tomorrow and will arrive there just as you are returning to NYC.  I wanted to write about the plan for the week I’m away, and for the following week.

Next week, as we discussed, I’d like you guys to meet during our scheduled sessions to work together to revise the Keywords/Keytools Wiki.  Let’s use Annie’s suggestion as the homework for Monday:  Take a pass through the document and add your comments along the way.  You can comment with an eye towards clarity, amplification, disagreement, adding useful examples or illustrations.  It’s MORE THAN OKAY for the wiki to reflect shades of different meaning or understanding or continued places of confusion.  In other words, you are revising for juiciness, usefulness, and texture not for consensus or flatland.

For the Monday, March 26,  when I return please watch this film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeCIlgUeYlM&noredirect=1

I’ll screen Pepe: Secondhand in class Monday.

For the blog for March 26, please react to the film and make some discussion questions.

Also, I’ve just started blogging for the visionary “green” fashion designer, Natalie Chanin.  Here’s my first post!: http://alabamachanin.com/journal/2012/03/the-heart-better-joys/#more-15574  Let me know what you think. xjessamyn

§ 12 Responses to Misc./miss

  • Alex says:

    Whenever I clean out my closet at home, I usually take the piles of clothing I have deemed “unfit” for my current wardrobe and place them in bins that will be given to charity. I never think much about what happens to my clothes after they have left the immediate space of my closet. Prior to watching T-shirt Travels, I just assumed that my clothing was going to a local woman’s shelter or to those in need around my area. It never crossed my mind that my clothing could end up in Africa. If someone had told me that my clothes would end up in a different continent, I probably would have reacted much like the people in the film; assumed that it was okay my clothes were sent to Africa because they were probably needed by people there. After having watched T-shirt Travels, I now feel that this is not the case. By shipping second hand clothing to countries in Africa, it creates and perpetuates a dependency where the African people wait for things to come from “the outside”. Even though African countries gained political independence in the 1960’s, because of the borrowing they had to do from the IMF and World Bank, they have lost their economic freedom to a set of imposed policies that are supposed to help them pay back their debts. One moment in the film that really struck me was when some of the men had an American flag pinned up and one of them referred to America as the “good guys”. It’s disheartening and upsetting that the people in Zambia look up to countries in the West, when we are really the ones who are audaciously assuming that policies that worked for us will work in countries like Zambia when they clearly are not. Throughout the entire film, there were multiple shots that focused on Zambian children and adults wearing very American clothing. This was such a powerful image for me. The narrator spoke of how the American t-shirt was “a metaphor for the impossible task confronting Africa”; it was interesting to see how the material could hold such a deeper meaning, but it was also unnerving to know that this simple piece of clothing represented so much more than just something to cover the body. I also think Luka’s story was very compelling and I deeply admired him.

    Discussion questions:

    The film ends with the statement: “It is never to late to correct a wrong” — What sort of things could we do to make a difference in this situation? Does the answer lie solely in the hands of policy makers and people at the World Bank, or do we have some sort of power too?
    Why are these policies still in place if they aren’t actually tailored to help the specific conditions in countries like Zambia? What does this say about the people enforcing these policies? Why would we assume that what works for us will work for Zambia too?
    By giving our clothing away to charity, are we perpetuating Africa’s dependence on US clothing exports? What should we do with our clothing??
    What sort of feelings did you get when you saw the Zambian children wearing t-shirts with images of the Titanic or The Simpsons on them?
    Zambia had to borrow money because oil prices rose and copper prices fell – the fall of copper prices had a huge effect on their economy because their economies were dependent on the raw materials for which they’d been colonized. Should the colonizers take any responsibility for this?

  • Joanna says:

    Before this film, I thought when I donated clothes to Goodwill, or Salvation Army, or those clothes bins that were littered throughout my childhood, I believed that the clothes were actually being donated. I did think they went overseas, to Africa or Asia or whatnot, but I thought that they were given away for free, not sold and then resold. I didn’t really think that there was a whole other economy based purely on reselling secondhand clothing.
    The film seemed to stress how ‘globalized’ and ‘capitalized’ the world really became. And though we speak of globalization so highly, it was clear that one man thought globalization was the downfall to Zambia, since globalization instead opened Zambia up to colonization, and colonization almost always only helps the colonizers, at the expense of the colonized. Though Zambia broke free of the physical colonization, as one person said, they were still economically colonized. The U.S. and other industrialized countries keep Zambia economically colonized so that they can help their own economies. Yet, as Alex mentions, they do so in a way that they seem like the ‘good guys’. They are ‘helping’ in appearance, but only hurting Zambia more, and the majority of the people are led into thinking this way. It seemed that most of the people who realized that the secondhand clothes donations or the other ‘help’ from the World Bank and the U.S. was harmful were only the educated people, which was striking since so many children and people in Zambia cannot afford the education. Thus, near the end of the film, when people were talking about what they wanted to be if they could have afforded the education, was honestly very moving. Their dreams were, to us perhaps, rather normal and small: an office worker, a journalist, or Luka who wanted a car to be able to drive to the market. But to them, they are clearly, very significant.

    Discussion Questions:
    Is ‘donating’ our clothing then a viable way of ‘revivifying’ our clothes?
    How can Zambia break free of the ‘economic’ colonization imposed on them? Will they be able to in the lieu of the industrialized countries demands, or in other words, will the industrialized countries let them (though they might not be openly against it)?
    And even if Zambia is able to break free, what are some policies that will be able to help them sustain themselves, if, as the banker brought up, 50% of the next generation is under 15?

  • Tiana Tan says:

    Growing up my mother always taught me that giving away allowed you to receive, and by that I think she meant doing good instilled a sense of benevolence. It has always been traditional for my family to donate clothing to Salvation Army or other services. There is a clothing bin located outside the King Kullen nearby my house, so once every few months everyone would gather up the clothing we no longer wanted and gather it in a trash bag and then dump it in the bins. My mother’s ignorance always led me to believe I was helping people, as if I was a Mother Theresa of some sort. I no longer feel that way. However, I don’t blame my mother. I think everyone is somewhat negligent (myself included) to what actually happens to our clothing. Few people actually think beyond where the clothing is going; we automatically assume it’s going to needy people. Sure, it may eventually end up there, but this film has truly opened my eyes up to the process our clothing undergoes before actually making it there. I couldn’t believe that 95% of the clothing donated to Salvation Army winds up being sold to dealers who end up selling that to Africans like Luka who make a profit off what we donate for free. I feel cheated. Even worse, donators are indirectly preventing Africans from achieving true emancipation. Even though they are physically liberated, they are still economically constrained by a reliance upon what we provide them. At least originally Africans produced their own clothing, now everything they need is supplied to them by other countries. I feel as if I’m aiding in this process by allowing it to continue, by being the initiator (the donator). They have learned to depend upon us for everything and in turn are no longer doing it themselves. They also lack the resources to start doing anything themselves. We have stripped them of their natural resources and their most able-bodied men and cast Zambia into a pit of unpayable debt. It reminds me of a proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In this case this is exactly what applies to the Africans. If we truly wanted to help, we would need to provide them the resources to survive for themselves; a self-serving economy. That is the real key to their emancipation. It worked well when they initially gained liberation and had funds from their copper mining to develop the country. As Luka mentioned before, Zambia was not colonialized by a government, it was colonized by a company. As of now, underneath it all, they still are; their reliance upon the companies which bring over things like second-hand clothing and the structural adjustment guidelines instituted by the IMF and World Bank keeps them in chains. “Africa needs to be allowed to stand on its own two feet.”

    Discussion Questions:

    Is the copper market in Zambia still lively today? Does it keep the country from falling further into debt?

    Should clothing donation be endorsed if it is only encouraging Africans to become more dependent upon what comes from other countries?

    What would best help Africa at this point? Fixing the situation with the World Bank and IMF or educating the younger generation? Rather than pay a basic fee for education and health services why not just provide it for free?

    Is it actually more beneficial to give away clothing to the Africans for free or make them purchase it for a fee (which fiscally benefits them more)?

  • Jenny Chang says:

    T-Shirt Travels was an “eye-opening” film that changed my way of thinking about donated clothing and our attempts in helping developing countries. I think that most Americans or clothing donors believe that their clothing is being given away for a good cause, but fail to realize what happens to the clothing after it is given away to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. This ignorance is actually funding a whole new economy in under-developed countries like Zambia where second-hand clothing or donated clothing (meant to be free) is being sold. Luka was one of the many Zambians who sold second-hand clothing for money to support his family. He gave up his schooling and even put aside marriage to work for and feed his mother, siblings, and younger cousins. Yet, Luka is grateful for what he has: two hands, feet, eyes, and a brain that knows not to steal and get arrested. Luka’s story was very moving because his reasons for being grateful were much more genuine and simpler than what Americans usually take for granted.

    In addition, I think it was interesting that the sellers look more for the quality of the clothing rather than the style. It occurred to me that the Zambians didn’t pay attention to fashion or trends but rather the durability and potential longevity of the clothing. They also searched the pockets for American dollars. Americans are ignorant or even careless with their things and this carelessness leads to failed policies and even poverty. The World Bank’s decisions are more taken into consideration based on the country’s economy and America is usually the country with the most power. However, the Zambians believe Americans to be the “good guys.” Even though they don’t necessarily search for the current fashion trends, they come to the second-hand markets looking for things they recognize from TV. I think that was very surprising to me because they are, in a sense, deep-wearing clothing even through second-hand material. There were T-Shirts with The Simpsons, MTV, Titanic, Mickey Mouse, and even Mike Tyson.

    The structural adjustment policies made in order to borrow money were terrible for Zambia and led to a life of dependency and poverty. They don’t have “political colonialism” but rather “economic colonialism.” Free market and globalization were the main reasons why under-developed countries could not participate in the current world. These were reserved for only “people with capital,” almost exclusively for the rich. Thus, I think it is important to realize what our actions can do even for something with “good intentions” such as donating clothing.

    Discussion Questions:

    What exactly must Zambia do to revive its economy? Would it be helpful to take away the “Salaula” or the second-hand clothing trade? What would happen then?

    What other countries have also been suffering poverty in attempts by corrupt companies or the World Bank and IMF to change its policies?

    Like one man said in the film, what “moderation” between countries like Zambia and America or suggestions/new policies can be made for countries like Zambia to develop independent economies and create jobs for the people?

  • sunnyyi says:

    I’ve never thought about where clothes go after giving them to charity. I never expect that second hand clothing could have such a big influence on people’s life in another part of the world. Most people don’t know, and perhaps don’t care, what happens to their clothes afterward. But giving away clothes doesn’t mean the end of the relationship, the clothes are going to travel and establish new relationship among in a new culture, maybe a culture that values durability rather than fashion, pattern, and meaning of the clothes. I thought charity would give away clothes for free to people in need, but it turns out that selling and exchanging second hand clothing is what supports people’s life, such as Luka’s in Zambia.

    With so-called globalization, countries like America are able to find places to get rid of second hand clothing, but at the same time, countries like Zambia become heavily dependent on such import. They don’t even have their own manufacturing factories anymore. Another thing is that, according to the documentary, World Bank and IMF implemented development policies that eventually have negative effects on Zambia’s economy. Thus it should be questioned what exactly does globalization mean – implementation of western, developed countries’ ideology on a global scale?

  • Aki says:

    I was really mind-blown about the whole cycle of where used clothing go. When I was in elementary school, we used to have a program where we would collect canned foods and clothing to donate to the people in North Korea. My dad used to always be reluctant because he believed all the food and clothes were going directly to the soldiers and not to the people. Although in Zambia’s case it doesn’t seem that extreme (going only to the army), it seems the people who really need the help aren’t the ones getting it.
    I usually just drop off my pile of clothes in a “recycle clothes bin”, not even knowing if they go to the Salvation Army or what not. I just assumed that all the donations were going straight to the people with no middle-men. It was interesting to hear about how the people who were profiting from the new ‘global markets’ were the Indians and not the Africans themselves. I was also surprised at how cheap the bundles of clothing were in America (how huge piles would only end up a few cents), yet in the beginning of the film we could see that Luka was paying 180 bucks for one bundle.
    I briefly learned about Africa’s debt crisis regarding the world bank and how the interests of each loan is pushing the country further into debt, but this documentary really put things into perspective. I felt like I had suddenly fallen from the 110th story view (from De Certeau) to at least the 10th floor (can’t really say I’m on ground level because I still feel distant about the issue).
    In our global topics class, we also mentioned problems of how cheap imports have weakened and destroyed some domestic markets because the prices were so low, the domestic products could no longer compete with the importers.

    Discussion Questions:
    The documentary kept repeating the question — Who is the global market really for?

    It seems idealistic to ask people to change their incentives from capital to people, but what could be some methods that can drive this change?

    Do the benefits outweigh the losses when we donate our unwanted clothes? Should we continue doing so?

  • Zach says:

    Wow, watching this I have to say I am utterly shocked. I feel ignorant. My entire life, when anyone in my family leaned out their closet, my mother always insisted that we take our clothes to good will or salvation army, and I was always under the presumption that most of the recycled clothing went to shelters here in America, to families and children in need, or were re-sold in the salvation army store for the purposes of charity. It is truly shocking to see that my recycled clothing, given away by me is the source of a multibillion dollar industry. Founded on charity! It is hard to see justice in this, but I also feel that it is important to recycle and positive to see things that would have been thrown out being re-used. But where does this lead? If we were to boycott giving away unneeded clothes the entire industry would collapse, and we would merely have a bunch of waste in our closets. At the same time the idea that it is providing people with jobs and money in Africa seems like a positive in some ways. The biggest issue to me, the question of who this market really serves can be easily answered; it serves the scum who charge 200-300x the price, the “wholesalers” who profit the most from an entire industry based upon charitable donations. How are our charitable organizations getting away with this? It is sad to see how the supposed “donation” of clothing caused the textile mills, a skill based industry to go out of business. It is ever amazing how continuously stuck in colonization Africa seems even today.

    A big question I have is: why is it that the Indians, at least from what I can tell, are the ones selling wholesale, the ones profiting the most?

    Is there some way to stop these imports and build a self sufficient industrial economy?

    I wonder at what point the west can truly continue to be involved without hurting the situation more?
    Can it ever not be involved?

    Why don’t we ever just get the hell out and leave everyone alone?

    At the same time whenever we do it is through a lens of neglect, an idea that we aren’t helping people in need. It seems at this point that through helping we are hurting and through not helping we are hurting, conundrum.

  • Mel R. says:

    It was extremely interesting to see the process through which Zambia receives their clothing. We most definitely take for granted to ability to walk into a store and purchase one (or more) brand new, appropriately sized item of clothing, let alone something that we feel reflects our personal style and ideal outward appearance. A simultaneously simple and complex luxury. Even more luxurious is our ability to compartmentalize. Buying clothing is separate from feeding ourselves, housing ourselves, and taking care of our families. In Zambia, all of these things are intrinsically linked for a vast number of the population. The secondhand clothing industry is not a choice but rather a reflection on how history has robbed Zambia of its self-sufficiency. The “first world” often thinks it is doing good by donating clothes to impoverished areas, when in fact that is completely by passing the route of the problem. “Worrying about smoke instead of putting out the fire” is an idiom that has come to mind quite a bit in learning about U.S. import and export policies this semester. If Zambia could reinstate its dormant textile industry, not only would it employ a great number of people, but it would end Zambia’s detrimental reliance on imported clothing.

  • Morgan says:

    I think that this film is a great example of using a material item to show a deeper issue or idea! Though I didn’t explicitly know the issues of secondhand clothing in Zambia before, the fact that such a tangle exists is unsurprising to me. As the film states, so many policies, whether they be based in aid or otherwise, typically benefit the giver more than the African nation receiving the aid and often result in a dependence of some sort. What struck me about this particular issue is how bustling the textile industry was before the secondhand industry took over. I would have thought that perhaps the secondhand industry was providing something that hadn’t been provided yet but in reality pushed an entire sector out of the country. The fact that people can now only afford secondhand clothing and that little if any clothing is actually produced in Zambia is pretty shocking and depressing. More than ever, I wonder if there will be a time when major international financial institutions will implement policies that make more sense for the countries themselves.

    A few questions…
    How much do these people really NEED these clothes? A dependence has definitely been created and perhaps this shapes the situation, but are all these clothes being used? Are they the only source of clothing available? Is this specific dependence reversible?

    Is it really our duty to provide these clothes? It seems like by giving them, we are more solving an issue of our own (overstock/overcrowding of thrown away clothing) rather than truly looking at an issue of someone else’s.

    What would happen to the clothing if it wasn’t going to African nations?

  • Maria Shapiro says:

    Watching this film was pretty crazy. I would have NEVER guessed that my donated clothing ends up in other countries. After watching this film, and Pepe it seems more like “DUH, where else would all this stuff go,” but for some reason before it really didn’t seem like an obvious answer.

    Who would have thought that over consumption in one country can help contribute destroy another country? Again, this seems obvious but only after you think about it.

    I am so much more prone to donating my clothes to my friends now, because in a way, this film made me feel extremely guilty about all of the mindless purchases I made. Sometimes you’re just in the mood to buy something, anything, and you get it and end up realizing you don’t even like it.

    I think on the whole this film was a shock to the system, it raised issues which make sense and are fairly obvious but only when you think about it. And it’s the “thinking about it” part that tends to be a problem.

    On another level this film just makes me feel sad and a little frustrated. Sad because it forces me to realize how hard it is to ACTUALLY do something good rather than thinking that I’m doing good when I’m just mindlessly purging my wallet or wardrobe of money and clothing. And frustrated because it seems like there are so many developing countries that have been messed up by giant corporations and companies like the World Bank that promise to help but really just mess things up.

  • brynnopsahl says:

    After watching this film I felt a bit frustrated and hopeless–what should we do with our used clothing then? We have so much excess stuff in the world and it is disheartening to think that when we donate, it truly makes things more difficult. Throughout the film I also thought a lot about my experiences in Ethiopia and how many people would be wearing clothing from the US with different phrases written in English printed on them. It is a weird feeling to see the impact our clothing has on a country so distanced from us. I saw western clothing more so than traditional clothing. This makes me feel a bit off and uncomfortable. It feels more and more that the western world is taking over and this video really showed how it’s not only a cultural thing but also soemthing that has influenced the market in a negative sense. We have made it so that it’s more affordable to wear used pepe clothing than it is to keep tradtional clothing in cycle. With this added used clothing, we make it harder for those selling clothing made in their own country. It has created a dependency on the western world and even worse, it has made these cultures look and dress like us–it is a strange visual that leaves me wondering how we can un-do this. When is donating actually helpful? How can we rid of our used clothing? Maybe it starts on the other end–slow down the amount we are producing and use more wisely so we don’t have so much excess.

  • Anny Yang says:

    I was disappointed, confused, and frustrated. The film definitely complicated the notion of “donation” because the idea of donation and the impacts of donation carried two completely different outcomes; donating to help others only further damaged their own culture and the economy. There was also a discontinuity in how the whole process of “donations” work– why did Luka have to pay so much for a bundle of clothes when its original cost was less than few cents?

    I was disappointed because I didn’t know this whole system of donations involved huge corporations trying to make profits out of it. I think this all goes back to the conflict within the modernist system of economy, linking corporation with donation, and help with making profit. These concepts organically do not go together, but somehow, they are in our society. One clear example is the TOMS 1-1 project where the profit-driven corporate merges its identity with philanthropy.

    All of these damaging cycle seems to have started with us having too much “stuff.” One way to get rid of these “stuff” was to “donate” them. This is where the documentary came in to show the other side of the narrative by showing where these donations go and the impacts they have in the developing countries economy, culture, and people’s lives.

    I think this all comes down to becoming more conscious of our actions– what we buy, where we buy, and how we discard things. This is not to say that being conscious is the only way to kind of try to solve this problem, but I think it is very important one to remember. By becoming more conscious, by choosing not to participate in fast-fashion and being more critical of how we discard our clothes, we can at least take a step in slowing (rather than accelerating) this damaging cycle.

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