The Queen of Cool & the Sandman: The people who make our blue jeans

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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 Bangladesh for my boxers, Honduras for my favorite T-shirt, and China for my flip-flops.

I also tracked my All-American blue jeans back to a factory in Cambodia. This is what I discovered as I disappeared into endless rooms of workers and sewing machines:

The walls are lined with motorized grinding stones on workbenches. I watch as a young woman picks a pair of jeans from the denim pyramid at her side and starts grinding the cuffs and pockets. She stops to judge the level of fraying and, happy with her job, adds them to a smaller denim pyramid. In a way, this woman is the Queen of Cool. She takes a regular pair of jeans and bestows upon them just the right amount of fraying. She applies the imperfections just the way we like them. She is not a machine. She has a name.

At another station, a man sandblasts jeans with a sand gun. It's noisy and sand piles up at his feet. He wears glasses and something that looks like a blacksmith's apron. The legs of the jeans flop in the sandstorm. These are sandwashed jeans, and this is the sandwashing guy. He is not a machine either.

We enter another vast Blue Jean Land. Kan Chen Chin, the factory's manager, smiles and taps his watch. We've been walking through the factory for an hour, and he probably needs to get back to his business.

"My boss says it is time," his assistant says.

"Time to go?" I ask.

Before she can answer a voice comes over the speaker, and a thousand workers step from their stations. Club music pounds a rhythm in the background over cracking speakers. The voice directs calisthenics. The workers stretch their arms, necks, and legs before shaking them out. The voice stops after a few minutes, and the workers get back to making our pants.

If there were a blue jean machine, it probably wouldn't need a break.

Tuesday's Entry: Adventures of an Undercover Underwear Buyer

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.

December 10, 2008 - 6:57am
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