At 14, I Worked in a Sweatshop. Here’s What I Think of Fashion Week.

This Kentucky fashion designer from Honduras wants us to be more sustainable

A photo of models walking in Jason Wu’s show during NY Fashion Week in September 2020.
A model walks the runway for Jason Wu Sping/Summer 2021 fashion show at Spring Studios Terrace during New York fashion week on September 13, 2020. Photo: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Over time many of us — some as young as 13 years old — developed respiratory problems from the dust or from the foul-smelling chemicals we used to dye fabrics and acid-dip denim jeans.

The factory complex looked like a prison: tall stone walls and security guards checking IDs. Inside, 15 or 20 different companies produced clothes for American retailers. Each day, we’d be assigned a task — like sewing a T-shirt’s left sleeve — which we’d repeat over and over until the production run ended. We’d work in a dozen or so lines of 10 or 15 women, producing up to 7,000 items a day, with no bathroom breaks or lunch breaks. If we held up our production line, we’d be fired.

Photo credit: Matt Parker and Tatiana Aristizabal

I can’t look at a $5 T-shirt on sale in H&M or Walmart without thinking about the hands that made it and the time it took to stitch the fabric.

Moving to America helped me see the injustice I’d been living through. I realized that in this country, even those who are struggling have far more than most Hondurans. I came to see American affluence as a kind of illusion: people flocking to buy cheap, low-quality products that simply couldn’t be manufactured without relying on low-paid, exploitative labor. In Honduras, as in America, people take to the streets to demand change when they suffer injustices — but it was only by coming to America that I could begin to perceive my own place in a global supply chain founded upon systemic injustice.

Credit: Sarah Estes

Fashion designer, radio host, community organizer, and activist. Originally from Honduras, and now based in Lexington, Kentucky.