Departments, student orgs should use ethically made T-shirts

Jacob Palmer

As a student, you’ve probably received about 100 free T-shirts since Freshman year. You might have a class shirt, a specific program shirt and shirts from events and organizations. Getting a free shirt is fun, and it feels good to represent something you’re a part of, but how often do we stop to think about where these shirts are coming from? UT departments, organizations and students should take time to look into the labor practices of their T-shirt manufacturers. We need to purchase T-shirt brands that align with our ethics.

None of us intentionally advocate for the use of sweatshops or workers’ abuse, but there’s often a disconnect between what we say and what we purchase. If we’re not careful about the T-shirt brands we choose, we might be funding companies’ harmful production practices.

Mehlam Bhuriwala recognizes this problem. The Middle Eastern studies junior serves as an organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops and is a secretary of the board for the Worker Rights Consortium.

“(Worker abuse) is not exclusive to any one brand,” Bhuriwala says “Sadly, it has become somewhat of an industry standard.” The WRC reports a variety of prevalent abuses against factory workers, from poor facility conditions and compensation to physical and sexual abuse.

But Mehlam is quick to highlight the bright side, saying, “There are real, existing, working alternatives that oftentimes get ignored due to this unfair assumption that we have that affordable clothing is contingent on the exploitation of others.”

We should support these ethical alternatives and, in doing so, fight inhumane production practices. As UT students, we have this opportunity.

On our campus, there are more than 1,300 student organizations, 13 colleges and 170 major programs. You don’t have to own a math department shirt to recognize that an incredible number of T-shirts are being produced every year for our 51,000-plus students. We are in a prime position to purchase T-shirts from ethical manufacturers and should take advantage of this opportunity.

Mehlam suggests Alta Gracia Apparel, a company which ensures ethical practices at every stage of production. For custom T-shirts, TS Design produces locally made, environmentally conscious clothing.

Ultimately, however, Melham encourages students to “take an active research interest” in the brands we purchase from. He also says that “those brands that do promote a more sustainable way of life are very vocal about it.”

So if you’re a leader or member of an organization, spend some time researching the T-shirt brand you purchase. If you have contact with your department or program administration, talk to them about it. Are the T-shirt brands transparent about their production process? What do independent monitoring organizations say about them?

“Students often misunderstand the role and the power they have in order to affect these decisions, and I think that its very easy for us to fall for this idea that there’s nothing that we can do to change where our clothing comes from,” says Melham.

As students, we do have this power. We can decide to align our purchases with our beliefs.

The University of Texas upholds responsibility as one of its core values. The decisions we make when we purchase our shirts have a global impact. We are responsible for these decisions. If we choose to use T-shirt brands that uphold ethical values with their workers and their materials, we can have a positive impact on the world, not tomorrow but today.

Let’s not just talk about our ethics and beliefs; let’s wear them.

Palmer is an English senior from Coppell.