Every semester in my Introduction to Sociology course, we read the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I ask my students to count their clothes and list the countries from where they came. In Overdressed, Cline focuses mostly on clothing production in three nations: The United States, China and Bangladesh. Above are the results from my Fall semester students and you can see that these three countries feature prominently (China in dark purple, the US in light purple and Bangladesh in marine blue). Perhaps what’s more interesting is that there were so many countries that accounted for just a tiny slice of clothing production that they all were lumped together in “all others” and that’s the second biggest piece of the pie (in apple green).
In this semester’s results (below) China still has the largest wedge of the pie chart, and Bangladesh, Bulgaria and Vietnam are close behind. I wasn’t surprised by China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. China is where garments that require more complex sewing is done (like sewing coats), and Vietnam and Bangladesh are known for T-shirts and other cheap knit clothing. I was surprised by Bulgaria having such a large wedge. I was unaware there was so much clothing production there, but a quick google search revealed that Bulgaria is considered “the sewing sweatshop of Europe” with low-paid workers sewing many American brands like Lee jeans or Calvin Klein.
It’s an interesting task to count one’s clothes and note their origins. I always learn more about how global clothing-making geography is shifting through my students’ projects.