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The holiday-gift moment of truth: ‘Wear’ am I?

After his garment industry world tour, this American can’t see jeans without thinking of Nari in Cambodia, or Christmas boxers without a nod to Arifa in Bangladesh.

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Dhaka, Bangladesh

You’re never more self-conscious of the muscles in your face than during that moment of truth in holiday gift exchanges. You know the moment: You’re holding up an ugly Christmas sweater for all to see, verbalizing “lovely ... cute ... handsome,” but thinking, “too small ... too big ... too ugly ... garage sale.”

For me, there’s now one more step in the process: checking the “made in” label to see where in our world it was made.
In the past I didn’t care where my clothes were made or who made them. Clothes came from grandmas and aunts, and they just magically appeared under the tree.

But a few Christmases ago while looking at a pile of my favorite clothes, I realized how little I knew about where they were made or who made them. Some of the countries of origin I couldn’t even place on a map. What started as a mild curiosity became an obsession, a worldwide quest, and ultimately my book, “Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People that Make Our Clothes.”

I met Amilcar who made my favorite T-shirt in Honduras; Arifa, who made my Christmas boxers in Bangladesh; Dewan and his wife, Zhu Chun, who made my flip-flops in China; and Nari and Ai in Cambodia who make my all-American bluejeans. Now I take a moment to remember the people who make our clothes, the factories in which they work, the families they support, and the reality of their lives.

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