The T-shirt: a 21st century closet necessity.

This slip-over-your-head basic has endured a long reign in the world of fashion –with a late 1800’s debut as the first buttonless undergarment. It wasn’t until the 1950’s, when Marlon Brando rebelliously sported one with a slick pair of jeans, that transformed its functional rep into a fashion statement.

Today tees are fast fashion’s bread and butter. Available in every color imaginable, they are easier to find than a Starbucks — and most cost less than your cold brew.

So where do t-shirts come from and why does Forever 21 sell this tee for a mere $3.90?

Behind every t-shirt, even this one that costs so little  –whether v-neck, scooped or cropped– are hundreds of hands, lives and stories. Forever 21 is notorious for hiding these “stories” like a dirty secret so we did our own digging and here’s what we found:

Made in Vietnam

Vietnam is the second largest apparel exporter to the US after China. Although not everything made is Vietnam should alarm you, we must note the country’s history of child trafficking and slave labor. In Vietnam’s subcontracted factories, many makers endure poor conditions, long hours and are denied the right to organize independent unions.

Alternatively, Vietnam has the lowest minimum wage non-compliance in Asia, which means only 6.6% of garment workers make less.

We are going to make the assumption that Forever21 knows this 6.6% quite well.

When you buy better, children stay in school and get to be kids.

Low Quality Materials

To be able to produce a t-shirt for $3.90, you can bet materials came cheap.

The cheapest cotton money can buy is in Uzbekistan. That’s because they use child labor. Three months out of the year, schools close down in Uzbekistan and 2 million children are forced to work 10 hour days in the cotton fields.

For the most profitable yield, cotton is grown with herbicides and other chemicals that deter pests. These toxic chemicals make the soil infertile over time and poison water sources. Not only that, they are harmful to field workers and those who live nearby– causing health problems, deformities and sometimes death. Then we put these chemical filled tees on our bodies.

When you buy better, cotton is grown organically contributing to a healthy ecosystem for people and planet.

$3.90 = Sweatshop Labor

Cheap labor, long hours and poor working conditions are all synonymous with a t-shirt that costs less than 5 bucks. The average garment worker is a women in her twenties, who left her village in hopes of providing a better life for her family.

Instead she is subject to hazardous fumes, dangerous machinery, and is vulnerable to onsite accidents.

Sweatshops are also commonplace for sexual harassment, physical abuse and rape.

When you buy better, you empower makers and give them the ability to reach their dreams.

Finished with Toxic Chemicals

Making a t-shirt requires multiple energy-intensive processes, carcinogenic chemicals, hazardous dyes and vast amounts of water. Much of the toxic leftovers are discharged into local waterways contaminating drinking water.

Once finished, the accumulation of chemical cocktails, hormone disruptors and heavy metals that rest in the fibers of your t-shirt wreak havoc on your body over time.

When you buy better, you lead a healthier life on a cleaner planet.

Made To Fall Apart

Each year, the average American tosses out 82 lbs of textiles. That’s about 155 t-shirts (sitting in landfills for upwards of 200 years!). And since fast fashion t-shirts fall apart after a few wash cycles, even Goodwill can’t handle that hand-me-down.

When you buy better, you divert clothing from piling up in landfills.

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