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The Adventures of an Undercover Underwear Buyer

by Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing?

In my global quest to answer the question "Where Am I Wearing?" I picked my favorite items out of my wardrobe and traced them back to where they were assembled. I went to Honduras for my favorite T-shirt, Cambodia for my all-American blue jeans, and China for my flip-flops.

In Bangladesh, I tracked down the factory that made my Jingle These Christmas boxers. Here are a few glimpses from my experience, including one case where I almost lost it.

1. It can be hard to keep it together

"So, I hear you are interested in women's panties."

Salehin magically whips out a pair of sea-foam green granny panties and splashes them down across the desk between us. They're see-through. I've just taken a swig from the skinny can of Coca-Cola that was given to me when I arrived at the office. I fight hard not to spit it all over Salehin and his granny panties.

jingle-these.jpg"No... I'm interested in boxers," I pull my boxers out of my bag, "like these." I B.S. my way through a discussion about my underwear: how they were printed, what their thread count is. The sad thing is that I don't know squat about any of this and still Salehin salivates at the thought of doing business with an American buyer.

I experience a mix of emotions: nervousness-- that I'll be caught in the fib; exhiliaration-- because he's actually buying the fib; and guilt-- again, because he's actually buying the fib.
"We can make those," Salehin says. "We can make anything."

2. The factories aren't as bad as you think

Asad leads us past a high table with neat stacks of cloth. The factory is clean, exits are marked, and fans maintain a nice breeze. The conditions seem fine. They are much better than I had expected, and I'm relieved.

Today they are making T-shirts, but I'm assured, they can produce almost anything, including underwear. There are eight production lines, and each consists of 40 people-- none of whom seem to be children or "malnourished Bangladeshis whose growth has been stunted." There is no chatter, just thimping needles and quick hands. I wonder if their hands move that fast when their boss and some foreigner aren't looking over their shoulder.

As with Asad's lazy eye, I try to pretend the workers aren't there. I'm a garment buyer. I'm not interested in workers. I'm interested in the products they produce.

3. Kids don't make your clothes (but they do work)

In 1994, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, under pressure of the boycott and the damaged image of the Made in Bangladesh label, required the factories under their power to fire all children under the age of 14. The widespread use of child labor in the Bangladeshi apparel industry ended. But it's of little consolation because heart wrenching levels of child labor continue. According to the 2002/2003 National Child Labor Survey, 93% of working children work in the informal sector in Bangladesh. While there are a small number of kids making our clothese there, there are 4.9 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 holding other jobs down.

Monday's Entry: 9 Things You Should Know About the People and Places That Make Our Clothes

Go out and buy Kelsey's fascinating new book today at Amazon.com. (Seriously, it's great!) And if you want to see what Kelsey's been up to today, check out his website whereamiwearing.com.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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