Harper's Lollipop Tree Dress

If it weren’t for China, my baby daughter, Harper, would be naked and wouldn’t have anything to play with.

When you have a baby girl, everyone wants to buy her clothes (especially when she is the cutest baby ever!).  Somewhere between thanking the gifter and keeping the giftee from chewing on the wrapping paper, I sneak a peak at the made in label of the onesie or sleeper, the plastic ball or the toy puppy, the teenie dress or tiny skirt.  The tag almost always reads “Made in China.”

Other than shoes (80% made in China), I’ve never seen a category of clothing so dominated by a single country than baby clothes.  If China shutdown, we’d have a bunch of bored, half-naked babies crawling around our living rooms.

I’m always grateful that someone walked into a store, thought of my little girl, and dropped a few bucks on her, but I’ve never been too big on clothes as gifts.  This is deeply rooted stuff. Who doesn’t remember shaking packages only to hear the swoosh of clothes and thinking, “That doesn’t sound like a He-Man action figure. Oh no, I think it’s clothes!”?

Now it’s even a bigger problem with me.  I tell the gifter that they shouldn’t have and then they tell me that it was no problem. Besides, it was on the sale rack and they bought it for only $2. I think about the onesie’s journey from China across oceans and continents and marvel at the $2 price tag.

It makes my head spin.  How is that possible?  I can’t mail a T-shirt to my neighbor for $2.

Harper has about 200 outfits (this might be an exaggeration, but it’s most likely not) and most of them have been gifts and nearly all of them were made in China.  I’ve come to accept it, until last week when I received a package from my buddy Larry.

I shook it.  It sounded like clothes.  I expected to find a cute outfit made in China, but I found so much more.

It was accompanied by a note:

Had a friend of mine design and knit this dress for Harper. The design is adapted from a dress she made for her daughter’s 2nd birthday.
–    Larry

And another handwritten note from the dressmaker, Susan:


It’s been a pleasure creating this one-of-a-kind dress for Harper!

Susan even wrote out the washing instructions, because, really, who knows how to care for bamboo silk?  Who even knew bamboo silk existed?

And she posted the dress on her site and named it after Harper.  The dress is officially known as Harper’s Lollipop Tree Dress.

Forget the economics and politics of Harper’s Made in China wardrobe. What has been lost isn’t our connection with clothes, but with the people who make our clothes.

The note from Larry’s friend got me thinking.  What if every item of clothing we wore came with such a note.
“Hope you like this Elmo shirt. I stitched the collar.” Signed Li Xin.

Maybe then we would pause before buying a garment, which has traveled tens of thousands of miles, for $2.  Maybe then we would think about the workers who stitched our clothes and if it’s possible for them to feed and clothe their own kids while getting paid the tiniest fraction of a onesie.

To me Harper’s Lollipop dress is the most beautiful garment in her wardrobe. From the smile on her face, Harper agrees.

Deb Hildreth says:

What a charming story, and what an adorable lil’ girl! Thank you for making me consider the hands that fashioned the dress your daughter is wearing here. And beyond that, thank you for causing me to think about the people around the world who are, tragically, laboring in sweat shops. I ‘second’ your idea: They should personalize their work via a sewn-in label.

Kelsey says:

Deb, You are most welcome. Glad you liked the post and thanks for complimenting my best piece of work ever – Harper!

Adriana says:

Hi Kelsey. I am from Sao Paulo, Brazil and found out about your blog in an article of a Brazilian magazine.It has been being a pleasure to read it. Congratulations on your ideas and writting.
About your current post, it reminded about a book that I had read some years ago.”A year without made in China” from Sara Bongiorni. An also American writer who got herself thinking with similar ideas about China, goods and Chinese workers. It is worth it reading it.

Kelsey says:

Adriana, I remember doing an email interview with a reporter from Brazil, but never saw the final result. What was the focus of the article? Was it positive or negative? I’m sure it was positive!

I haven’t read Bongiorni’s book, but I’m aware of it. We share the same publisher. Another book you might be interested in is “Poorly Made in China” by Paul Midler.

Thanks for stopping by. How’s winter in Brazil?

Adriana says:

Hi Kelsey! The article was positive indeed. The name of the magazine is Viver Bem. As matter of fact, it was positive enough to make me keen on searching for your blog on the internet!The focus was about your idea of travelling to countries where our clothes are being made nowadays.
I haven’t heard about Paul Midler’s book yet but I will have a look if I can find it in some bookstore here in SP! Thanks!
Winter has been being pleasant! Actually, today is quite chilly and cloudy, around 18ºC, but most of the days the tempeture goes up to 25ºC!
Thank you for your reply!

Let your voice be heard!