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Man finds, writes about the people who make your clothing

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 11 2012 10:28:01 PM CDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Kelsey Timmerman traveled around the world to write a book.

But the travel book he produced after his global jaunt probably isn’t what you had in mind. You see Timmerman’s premise for his international journeys arose around a simple premise: He wanted to locate the people who made the clothes that he wore in an effort to humanize the issues of globalization. The result of his expeditions rests on the pages of the book “Where am I Wearing?: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People that Make Our Clothes.”

“Think about your shirts,” he asked an audience of about 70 people who attended his lecture Thursday night on the campus of Cedar Crest College. “Do you have any idea about the lives of the people who made it?”

By the time Timmerman’s lecture ended roughly 50 minutes later, they did.

Timmerman took the crowd through a tour of the abject poverty that would leave event the hardest of hearts softened.

Perhaps the story of Arifa, a garment worker in Bangladesh who lives on $24 month impacted the audience. Or the story of a girl named Nari, who takes home $50 a month and lives with eight other family members in a shack with a hole in the ground that serves as a toilet.

“I have a question for you,” Timmerman said in a Midwestern twang befitting of his Munice, Indiana roots to the crowd. “How many people do you think had a hand in making your blue jeans?”

Several numbers were blurted out. The closest guess was 13 people off. The actual number was 85, including girls who Timmerman anointed “the queens of cool” who strategically place a whole in the jeans to entice potential consumers to think they are “the bomb” and pay much more money for them then they would otherwise.

Timmerman’s six-year tour, which began in 2005, also paid a visit to the Phnom Penk City dump in Cambodia, where he visited with migrant farmers so down on their luck that they had sent their children to pick through trash for recyclables for the prospect of earning one dollar for the day’s work.

“This place was hell on earth,” Timmerman noted Thursday night as he cringed at even the thought of the stink and disease-infested dump. “Yet it was still considered better than working in a factory for some of these people.”

His visit to China produced somewhat surprising results, he said. For example a garment worker he knew there made more money per month that he had anticipated - $100.

“That was until I learned that was for working a 100 hours a week,” Timmerman said.

And there was also the story of Amilcar, a garment worker who was pulling in $150 monthly in Honduras, but risked life and limb to flee the country for a chance to live in the United States.

“He decided he wanted a better life, that he was going to go to the country where the people don’t make the shirts, but buy the shirts,” he said.

Amilcar was “one of the lucky ones.” He made it and today lives in California.

Timmerman didn’t advocate any political positions or even offer any answers during Thursday night’s speech. Rather his goal was to “frame important questions” globally about issues they might otherwise never consider.

“I encourage each and every one of you to think globally and act locally,” he said toward the end of his presentation, which included photos of some of the people he lived with for a time in the Third World nations.