I really enjoyed part V of this book because the author provided an insight of his grandmother, a garment worker in a small Ohio city. This portion of the text provides the reader with a more relatable experience compared to when Timmerman is over seas observing all these horrific laboring techniques. Timmerman begins describing his lovely grandmother’s experience as a garment worker. Now Timmerman does not go into much detail about his grandmother specific work conditions, but he draws the comparison to the workers he met in various countries. I think this is a healthy reminder that each (being Timmerman’s grandmother and the various garment workers he met in other countries) have the same occupation, but the geographic location of their factory changes the entire dynamic of their work experience.
Timmerman moves on in this chapter with his journey of finding the final factory where an item of his clothing was made. With this expedition, he found himself in Perry, New York at a factory where his shorts were manufactured. Here he met a women named Debbie who had worked at the same Champion (which later turned into ACO) factory for 28 years. What is remarkable to me about this is that Debbie had worked in the same factory for 28 years and clearly enjoyed it. The fact that she worked there for so long highlights that the working conditions could not have been too strenuous for her. Otherwise, her body would not have been able to take that much stress. This also is a eye opening statistic because never in his previous factory visits did Timmerman meet someone that worked at a factory for as long as Debbie did. She also was not even the most experienced worker the author met! Kelsey soon was introduced to Maxine, the production control manager who had worked there for 37 years. 37 years!! That is incredible for any occupation! What also is interesting about Kelsey meeting Maxine is he was able to compare her experience to Sreekanth’s brief conversation when he was in Cambodia. The two held very similar positions, but on one hand you had Sreekanth who only had negative statistics to offer Timmerman, and on the other you had Maxine who was ready to talk Timmerman’s ear off about how much she loved making clothes. What I also compared between these interactions was the passion that the American workers had for their jobs compared to the international factory workers. In America, the workers were working because they had a passion for clothing and it was work they wanted to do. In the various countries Timmerman visited, the employees were working because they had no other choice for work and they needed money somehow.
Above is an article discussing the shutting down and production of Champion factories, including the one Timmerman visited.
One of the final stories in the book I found intriguing was Timmerman’s story of the migrant workers Edwin, Amiclar, and Oscar. The men had traveled from Honduras, through Guatemala, and then by bus to the Mexican-American border. Here the men made a run for it to sneak into the United States. Although the men were ultimately unsuccessful (sorry spoiler), what I found particularly interesting about this story was the background that Timmerman gave us. They discuss how within their journey the men ran out of food, were forced to drink dirty water out of puddles, and were at risk to be caught and sold by the cartel. One priest who aids migrants told the Spanish language news channel called Univision that “Migrants represent a lot of money whether it’s for the store owner along the railroad tracks, corrupt authorities and immigration officials, or organized crime.” This excerpt and story was ultimately extremely eye opening to me because this is yet another scenario where Timmerman is able to lay out the environmental conditions these abused laborers are forced to endure. If these men are going through all this struggle, pain, and adversity to escape the country they work in, I can not even imagine the brutality they faced at work if they were willing to endure all of this. All of this traveling was risky, but the men saw the reward at the end of the tunnel if they could find a way to work in America. America, a country where there is a minimum wage more than just a dollar, where there are strict labor laws, and where laborers are not mistreated the way they are in other countries. In America, most laborers are treated as real people, not just machines. (I say most because it may not see this way to certain people based on the leadership of their company). Overall though, I really liked this story because it then continues to describe all that these men went through to try and get into the country. They ultimately were stopped by border patrol as they were confronted on a train car, but they made a valiant effort. The men were soon shipped back to Mexico, but this was an incredible story about real struggles and attempts foreign workers make to come to America.
Below is an article discussing the Mexican-American border patrol and issues they have faced.
The more I read this book the more I respected Kelsey Timmerman, the journey he took, and him as an overall author. In his final paragraphs he could not have concluded the text better. He makes references to each of the items of clothing he went on a journey to learn about and the people he met along the way. He reflects on his interactions with Amiclar (his shirt), Arifa (boxers), Nari and Ai (jeans) and Dewan and Zhu Chen (flip-flops). I admire Timmerman’s determination to hunt down a person that contributed to every item of his clothing. Although, what I admire most about Timmerman, is the relationships he made along the way. Timmerman took the time to be away from his family, and learn about others and their families. He learned about the struggles they endure as a result of barely making a dollar a day, living in hostile cities, and living in horrid housing conditions. Timmerman literally put himself in the shoes of the garment workers to grasp what they were experiencing at work and how it effected the rest of their everyday lives. What Timmerman took away from his journey most (and what I took away most from reading this book) is that we can not underestimate all the work and people that go into making the clothes we wear. Each pair of jeans, boxers, t-shirt, etc. has had thousands of hands contribute to its manufacturing. These clothes are no longer just ordinary clothes we under appreciate. Instead, and as Timmerman puts it, they are untold stories.