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T-Shirt Epidemic

Thomas Rousseau

Amelia Vanyo, Coppell High School

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Sometimes the only way to get students riled up at a pep rally is to hurl shirts at them. The cheerleader’s tradition is almost more energizing than a sugary drink. However, after the pep rally the shirts rarely see the light of day again.

Coppell High School students, among many teenagers, are collectors of the fine art of printed script on cotton. In a population of 3,432 it is easy to feel utterly lost. The T-shirt tradition allows students to form bonds and connections in the sea of unknown faces that surround them. Besides which, money made from selling T-shirts helps to fund clubs, athletes and fine arts. The set up seems ideal in its ease and timeliness.

However, students at CHS are only a fraction of the face of the T-shirt industry.

The price of Coppell’s beloved T-shirts is not summed up in the monetary value of $15. Instead, it reaches across the globe, into broken families and broken factories fueled by a susceptibility to consumerism that many fail to recognize.

Just as people have begun to ask in earnest concern where their food is from and how it is affecting our world, there should be similar concern for our clothes. Cotton is grown somewhere, treated with something, harvested by someone, it is shipped somewhere, made into cloth by someone, cut and sewn by someone and dyed by someone. How many hands touch our clothes before our own?

Human labor regulations set up within our borders make it difficult to cheaply produce textiles, meaning most of the clothing that lines our closets and drawers is shipped from overseas where rules are lenient and enforcement is scarce. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, cotton and textiles are listed as two of the most probable users of child and forced labor.

India’s agriculture is largely dependent on cotton. But with the constant request for cheap cotton, farmers see little income while spending what money they have to pay for the production cost. One might think our demand for cotton is keeping them employed but the emotionally demanding industry often kills them.

According to an article published by the Los Angeles Times in 2014, every 30 minutes a farmer in India commits suicide. In 2011, a government census found that farmer suicide rates in India were 47 percent higher than the national average.

Unfortunately, the terror of the cotton industry is not the only injustice behind our comfort colored obsession.

In the time of the industrial revolution, textile manufacturing became a prominent place of work for the working class. But as history tells us, methods of the industrial revolution were soon met with strikes and regulations for factories to follow. The same cannot be said for every country from which we import garments.

Because factories in America and other more developed countries require employers to ensure the safety of their employees in working spaces, forbid underpayment, and set up laws for working hours, it is more expensive to manufacture textiles. This causes major clothing brands to outsource textile manufacturing to developing countries where cheap labor is plentiful and government restrictions do not restrain what a company can and cannot require from their workers.

Clothing often is made by workers who receive far below our minimum wage, not because they are ignorant or unskilled but because they are subject to injustice that many consumers are unaware of.

Not only are the workers underpaid, but they work in dangerous conditions on a daily basis. Lack of light and little space defined our factories in the early days of industry but have been dismissed by many as a historical while in truth they continue to be descriptors of the textile factories brands continue to employ.

Consumers are not evil in their demand in the textile industry, many simply do not realize what their demand means for others. This too is not a condemnation of ignorance or selfishness, but due to an unfortunate part of the fashion industry. The Fashion Transparency Index found that in 2016, only one-third of 40 of the biggest fashion brands have public information detailing where their sources are.

CustomInk, a commonly used T-shirt printing company for supporter shirts, uses shirts from many different companies, not all of which are completely transparent as to where their products come from. If they were more public with their outsourcing it would be easier for Coppell students to distinguish between socially detrimental companies and socially active companies.

The sad truth is that if the shirt is less expensive, which is a key incentive for students to use as it maximizes their group’s profit, it is more likely to come from malicious production practices.

Coppell, like other consumers, is not an evil villain. No one buys a shirt because they support the death of cotton farmers of the mistreatment of factory workers. But unfortunately, the T-shirt epidemic facing Coppell is a poster child of the consumerism that as a side effect is ruining or ending the lives of thousands of people worldwide.

The intension of T-shirt sales is light hearted and respectable, financial and moral support of one’s friends and classmates is and should be encouraged. But perhaps it should be done so in a different way.

Surely within a population of over 3,000, a group could find another way to allow supporters to show affinity to their group while supporting the social action which Coppell’s T-shirt sales has superseded for years.

Simple donations could fund a group without funding malicious factories and farms. While giving up the custom of receiving a shirt for the monetary exchange would be somewhat discouraging to donors, it makes the act far more selfless.

By no means should Coppell wipe out supporter and spirit wear all together. The constant flow of order forms throughout the halls should, however, be slowed down. In a survey taken by 110 Coppell students, 47.3 percent of the responders had already purchased three or more supporter shirts only eight weeks into the school year. How many shirts does one person need?

By reducing the amount of shirts purchased, Coppell can help to reduce the demand for a product that fuels imbalance and injustice in our world today.

Read the original story here.

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