Wearing Despair

Photo: Luc Forsyth for IndustriAll Global Union

Photo: Luc Forsyth for IndustriAll Global Union

Are our shopping habits hurting people on the other side of the world?

This is a question that more and more Westerners are thinking about. While most of us would never be supportive of slave-like work conditions in theory, the issue becomes blurry when it presents in the form of our clothes. We don’t sense the burden when we’re clicking through clothes online (Wow! $10 maxi dress….score!) or stocking up on school uniforms for our kids at places that won’t break the bank. In many ways, we feel that we’re being good stewards of our resources when we shop for the best prices on clothing. And yet….

The issue is complex. How are these clothes so affordable? At what cost? Often, clothes are cheap when the labor is cheap, and “the labor” is a multitude of human beings spending grueling days in garment factories. Often in SE Asia. Often in Cambodia.

We read and hear horrifying reports of workers fainting and dying in these working conditions, overextending themselves in every way to make enough money to survive and support their families. We don’t see this. It doesn’t often make headlines here in the U.S. What we see is an inbox flooded with subject lines like “Clearance Sale!” and “Spring Must-Haves!” at prices our wallets agree with. And yet…

There are stories like this. And this. What can we do with these stories? How can we stop this from happening to our brothers and sisters halfway around the world? We can shop responsibly. It isn’t as tricky as it sounds, either. As actress Ashley Judd famously declared, “I don’t want to wear someone else’s despair.” We don’t want to, either.

Consider the source of your clothes, and opt to support workers paid living wages and afforded good working conditions. Our byTavi line is the perfect place to shop, because not only are our seamstresses paid fair trade wages, they’re being cared for on a spiritual and emotional level as well.

Let’s use our dollars to lift others out of poverty rather than driving them deeper into it.


Pha Net


Working at byTavi with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, both of whom live with her husband and her, since June 2011, Pha Net, 24, enjoys sewing, especially the quilted purses. She appreciates the variety and stability of the work. Pha Net also spends her weekends beading dresses.

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Living in the Kandal province with her husband and three sons, 32-year-old Sophea was introduced to the byTavi seamstress program by her friend Tavi. Like Tavi, Sophea is HIV positive and is now thankful to have work to help pay for her family’s living expenses. She enjoys making the ID wallets and has worked in the program since April 2012.

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A mother of two, Sokea, 28, relies on her steady byTavi income to help make ends meet. She enjoys making quilted purses. Having worked at byTavi since May 2012, Sokea has learned new skills while working alongside her sister at the workshop. She is grateful for her steady salary.

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Since June 2011, Lita, 20, has enjoyed working at the byTavi workshop with her sister-in-law and mother. She lives with her parents, her brother and sister-in-law nearby. Quilted purses are her favorites to make. Having the extra money helps her household. Lita also enjoys making skirts in her spare time.

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Dara, 44-years-old, began working in the byTavi program in December 2010 after her daughter-in-law Soriya invited her to join them.  She lives on the Woman Island with her husband and four grown children and worships at the Memorial Christian Church there. Because of byTavi’s employment, Dara has been able to save to build a home. Her favorite items to make are the nested cosmetic bags and the quilted purses. She is grateful to CGI for hiring her.

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Peakdey-Jian_forwebHer neighbor introduced 27-year-old Sopheak to the byTavi program, and she began working in April 2012. Sopheak appreciates the weekly income, which helps support her husband, father, two brothers, sister, and niece. She especially enjoys making the elephant coin purses. In her spare time, Sopheak enjoys sewing shirts and pants for others.

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Vanny, at age 51, wondered if she could find a job that would provide for her family. After discovering in 2010 that byTavi had opened a workshop nearby, she asked the director if she could join the group. Since July 2010, Vanny has enjoyed the weekly salary and making the nested cosmetic bags. Her family is grateful for her skills and income.

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Davy, 40, is grateful for CGI’s income to help with her medical costs. Those she lives with—her husband, her brother, her sister and husband, along with two nieces and a nephew—appreciate the extra income, too. She enjoys making the various styles of handbags, especially the quilted purses. With the workshop near her home, Davy knows the caring heart of the CGI staff has made her life better.

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Thy Da


At 57, Thy Da felt she was too old to find a job, especially one that would pay well. But when she inquired at byTavi, they welcomed her to the staff in January 2011. Thy Da likes having money to spend on her husband, her daughter, her son and his wife. She especially enjoys sewing the nested cosmetic bags. When she’s sewing at home, Thy Da enjoys making pants.

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