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.
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?
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.