The Government Doesn’t Want You to Know How to Sew

I Wish I was Joking

I wish this concept were half as far-fetched as the headline makes it sound, but unfortunately, it isn’t. So buckle up, reader, while I open your eyes to yet another way in which the man is grinding you down without you even knowing it.

If you’re around my age, you probably didn’t take a Home Economics class in high school – whether it was called that or its new title, “Family & Consumer Sciences/FCS.” FCS classes have been steadily dropping from schools’ curricula in past decades, and the few schools that do still offer it mostly do so as an elective. 

If you didn’t take Home Ec and one of your parents wasn’t into tailoring, then you probably also don’t know how to sew – by hand or with a machine. This seems like a pretty minor skill to be nitpicking about, but the fact that sewing is no longer a relatively universal skill has had huge consequences. The idea that teenagers don’t know how to sew a button on sounds like one of those absurd things boomers say because they don’t like the youth –” Back in my day….” – but it’s true. Sewing isn’t something most people know how to do on their own.

This has been instrumental to the rise and success of the fast fashion industry as we know it today. People no longer mend their clothes and repair them when they tear – they throw them out and buy new ones. And this isn’t helped by the fact that clothes just aren’t manufactured to last anymore. It’s in companies’ best financial interests to sell weaker garments that will keep people coming back for replacements, not quality work that will last. 

Making money is the main goal of most fashion companies, not making good clothes. This is only exacerbated by the fact that the fast fashion industry runs primarily on slave labor – whether overseas or here in America. In Bangladesh, workers in fast fashion sweatshops are paid 33 cents/hour to work in dangerous sweatshops.

In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed due to cut corners during construction and ignored safety regulations that officials took bribes to overlook. Over 1000 workers lost their lives, not to mention the thousands of others that were injured. Walmart and the Children’s Place were some of the American companies that sourced from the factories inside the plaza despite the unsafe working conditions, and little has been done to improve working conditions since.

A law that would require garment factories in LA to pay their workers by the hour rather than by the garment was shot down in 2020, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 85% of factories violate labor laws, wage, and hour laws. We imagine sweatshops to only exist overseas, but this isn’t the case. Right here in the United States, thousands of garment workers are barely making pennies – and at a time when the minimum wage isn’t even enough to cover basic living expenses. In 2021, LA workers – who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation – reported working 60-hour weeks with no breaks for wages of $5/hour. California’s minimum wage is $14/hour, and according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, the living wage for a single adult working full-time in California with no dependents is $21.24/hour. 

During the pandemic, factories refused to follow Covid-19 safety guidelines and moved workers to windowless basement rooms to hide from authorities. One such factory was ordered to close when an outbreak resulted in 300 positive Covid cases and 4 deaths, not to mention the fact that this work involves dangerous, heavy machinery. One of the most common injuries is when machine needles slip and fully impale workers’ fingers, but most factories don’t even have first aid kits on site, much less health insurance.

The mending kit I carry with me everywhere. Photo Credit | Marie Sayler

Garment workers are being unfairly compensated for the work they already do, which is to churn out mass-produced garments of unreliable quality. Clothes aren’t made to last anymore because then companies would have to pay workers more for higher-quality work. They probably wouldn’t come close to paying their workers fairly anyway, but even the slight hike is too much for the average CEO. 

But where does the government come into this? Well, my friend, it comes in where the U.S. government always seems to come in – where there’s money to be made. Not to mention the obvious oversight of 85% of factories breaking the law and business being allowed to continue as usual, did you know that fashion companies spend millions every year on political lobbying? 

In 2014, Nike spent $1.1 million on lobbying, over twice what they spent the year before, and in early 2015, President Obama was visiting Nike’s headquarters to endorse the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. The TPP was a proposed deal that would eliminate tariffs on textiles between multiple nations, including the U.S. and primary apparel suppliers like Vietnam – which would significantly fatten Nike’s bottom line.

The U.S. government as we know it now runs on the late-stage-capitalist machine of the American economy. The top 1% fund the politicians they want – who will protect their insane wealth and keep the class divide ever-widening – and those politicians who aren’t being funded by private donations are probably members of the 1% themselves. I’m not saying every politician ever in the entirety of America is a corrupt, money-grubbing grifter who bases their policies on the desires of whoever’s pocket they’re in. However, I am saying that most of them are, especially when it comes to the federal government. If you can prove me wrong, I’d love you to do so, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a congressman who doesn’t take private donations.

It’s in the government’s best interests to continue supporting the current American economy, whether it’s good for the citizens or not. This means encouraging people to engage with the fast fashion industry and keep buying more things. This country runs on capitalism, and not in a remotely good way. 

The rich don’t want people to make their clothes, or know how to mend tears and get the most out of the garments they own. They want us to keep throwing away clothes and buying more, and then throwing them away, and buying more, and on and on as we keep pouring money into clothes with a built-in expiration date.

It’s estimated that 85% of clothes in America end up being thrown away. Not only does this have disastrous environmental consequences, but it also begs the question of why people still struggle to find warm, affordable clothes in the winter if we have so much excess. Once again, the answer is simply – capitalism. 

Manufacturers and CEOs don’t want to close the wealth gap. They want to expand it more and more every day in their favor, and who cares what happens to anyone else? By the time our careless management of the environment comes back to bite us more than it already has, these people will either be dead or so rich that they can afford the private escape shuttle to Mars when we finally squeeze Earth dry. 

So, this is all very dire, but I’m not trying to ruin your day. All is not lost, and doom and gloom never fixed anything. I’m saying all this because the thing I want you to take away from this is – to learn how to sew! There’s so much we can do in social movements and legislature to improve the state of the fashion industry and make the world a better place, but most of us don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to political action. 

I mean, we’re college kids in North Dakota. I can’t very well support striking garment workers in LA from here on a barista paycheck. But this is a small thing we can do to make the world better for others and ourselves.

Youtube is full to the brim with free tutorials on how to sew just about anything, to the point where I’ve learned to sew entire ball gowns from there, but it doesn’t have to be that large-scale. I also learned how to darn holes in my sweatpants, and a pair of joggers I would have otherwise thrown away three years ago is still serving me well. I can take in or let out thrifted clothes to fit the way I want without buying new clothes in my exact size – and the fact that the sizing of women’s clothing is so inconsistent and weird anyway means that if I’d gotten something new, I probably would have had to alter it anyway. 

You don’t need a sewing machine for most general repairs, but if you do want to get into larger-scale work, sewing machines are way easier to come by than it seems. Brand-new, they’re expensive, and this deters most peopleBut there’s a 9/10 chance that if you walk into a pawn shop somewhere in Fargo, there’ll be at least one perfectly functional sewing machine, and – I’m going to let you in on a little secret – if it’s old enough to be at the pawn shop, there’s a decent chance it’s also old enough to have been made to last. My clunky, all-metal, six million-pound Singer from the 80s has held up better than any new machine I’ve ever used.

So, learn to sew. That’s my advice to you. The rebellion begins in the small things, and sometimes that’s knowing how to patch your favorite jeans so they don’t tear again. And if rebellion isn’t your vibe, see it as a return to self-sufficiency, a fun hobby, or just a practical skill that’s important to have. Sewing is for everyone, no matter what those rich bastards want you to think.

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