As I began preparing and gathering items for our Thanksgiving feast this year I listened to the Ezra Klein Show podcast on “The Case Against Loving Your Job”. The guest, Sarah Jaffe, was talking about whether we need to revisit how much of ourselves we devote to our jobs – whether we need to love them. And yet much of the conversation inevitably drifted towards the hot topics of inflation and where all the workers have gone.
For the past several months I’ve found myself grated by how the media talks about inflation – lumping together everything from the shortage of used cars to wage increases in the service industry. One of the ideas that came through on this podcast, that I often think about, is how hidden the work is that goes into what we purchase and how miserable, underpaid and sometime dangerous so much of it is. I wonder would that pair of pants made in Bangladesh be as appealing if we got to see where those pants were produced, how the worker was treated, how the factory impacted the town? Maybe, maybe not. Would I rush to purchase that sewing textbook on Amazon if I could see the worker racing across the fulfillment center, monitored by Amazon and implored to skip bathroom breaks to achieve higher Time On Task rates?
The podcast also reminded us what it means for all the people in the service industry to have to keep showing up and providing service with a smile during a pandemic, understaffed, at risk of death or permanent bodily harm. Covid has allowed so many of those workers to reflect on the low wages they make for the tough and dangerous jobs they do and what that says about how much value and respect our society has for the individuals that work those jobs. Later I found myself attending the first movie at a theater since Covid. I looked around at all the people that have to show up to work understaffed at a crowded indoor facility and all the maskless people enjoying themselves and how those workers must feel.
It is these feelings and reflections that motivate me to be very intentional about valuing the people behind the goods and services we depend on. I invite you to join me as I set the intention to value the people behind the food and services we purchase around Thanksgiving this year. Can we be really present and grateful to that person who works at the butcher, or who restocks the shelves or who made something for our dinner, or who cleaned the restaurant where we bought that pie? How about the person who picked the cranberries, or who cared for the turkeys? As we pick up each item, can we think about all the people behind these items? Can we be really grateful to them? Perhaps this recognition and gratitude is a radical act of defiance for an economy that implores us to blindly spend our money with no regard to the people and places it impacts.
I think about this all as I build our womenswear workshop. What kind of jobs do we want to create? More humane jobs. Jobs that allow people to have energy for their life outside of work – hobbies, their family. Jobs that allow people to be healthy and happy. And ultimately a job that doesn’t take up so much of a person that they don’t have space for other parts of themselves. And that is what you are supporting here. The idea that we can build a business that creates a valuable, novel product for women and jobs the support human dignity in a community that needs them. And we do so while creating a product that you love and value enough to pay us what it costs to produce it in an environmentally friendly and humane way.
Are there enough people who will pay what it costs to know that you can come by and see it made and feel proud of where your clothing comes from, where your hard earned dollars go to? I imagine a time before a business relied on philanthropy to show how good they are, when we gave money to good people who we trusted because we could see them running an honest business in our community while making a good that we really value. And I wonder – is there a part of us that can feel when there is something good behind a product we purchase – is there a part of our subconscious that knows? Will it feel better when more of our money goes towards businesses that are working to make the world look more sustainable, abundant and equitable?
Sometimes I feel that the business concepts make it so complicated – we are not willing to rethink how we are making our products, what our company’s jobs look like, how much pollution is created by our products so instead we are going to give some portion of our earnings to charity. I always feel like asking the CEOs of those companies whether everyone at their organization is paid enough, gets decent benefits, if they are investing in being more sustainable, how about the cleaning staff – are they paid enough to live and eat nourishing food? And then, if they have so much money left over – yes then please do donate to a needy cause – but not because they aren’t will to do the real work of making sure the day to day operations of their business is good for people and their communities. Would they proudly open the doors of their business to their clients?
And it is such a long, hard road getting from where we are with cheap goods and services, gross inequality and the hidden job circumstances upon which it all rests – the kitchens, the fulfillment centers, the factory farms, to a place where we can feel really proud of what we are buying and what we are producing. On our way out to the theater from West Virginia across the border to Blacksburg, Virginia – I saw dilapidated porches piled up with cheap things. The family could not afford to repair the roof but they had more cheap things than they could fit in their home. I think about the honesty of this image – a community in need of quality jobs while cheap goods spill out onto people’s porches. We have a long road to walk back to quality goods, towards a future with quality jobs and businesses that make great strides with sustainability. But we will walk that road nonetheless. Because we must. Thank you for your tremendous support in helping us get there.
Happy Thanksgiving. I am so grateful to you and your support for our vision.
Go, fight, win.
P.S. Founder’s Circle letters with ship next week. Woohooo! You will love them.