For the past weeks I have been working at a garment factory. It wasn't my plan to be doing this, but as things have started opening back up, I decided to keep myself busy (and get that 🍞). Otherwise this is what I would be doing:
So on my first day, I stepped into a warehouse. Keep in mind, I was not told exactly what I would be doing, but it was exactly what I did and did not expect. In a large room there were about 40 industrial sewing machines along the walls. People and tables sprinkled the room. And the noise - it was a deafening banging of jackhammers.
And that was my start in working in the embroidery department. I started being trained how to hoop first. It's basically where you have to place these metal brackets onto the clothing before they go onto the machines. They are a real pain in the booty. You have to use a bit of pressure to snap them on and if they are crooked or not centered on the shirt, you have to restart :(
I was doing this for a few hours straight, and boy, it was tedious and tiring. Not gonna lie, but after my first day I did not want to come back. Take into consideration that this job was the complete opposite of the previous 2 jobs I have had as a tutor and camp staff. I am grateful for those jobs as I actually found them fun.
It was an adjustment doing physical labor, being on my feet all day and not being able to do much socializing. For real, you needed to scream to hear one another even if you were next to each other. It was a joke we would throw around that we were becoming deaf, maybe because we actually were.
Yes, for the time being I did want a job that would keep me socially safe, but try being mute for 7 hours.
Side note: this company did an amazing job at reinforcing safety for employees. Cleaning procedures were frequent (they hired someone to spray some magical liquid everywhere), temperature checks were done before coming in, masks were mandatory, hand sanitizers were everywhere, etc. 👏🙌
Week two. I started working on the machines, putting the hooped shirts on it, pressing a bunch of buttons, troubleshooting if it stopped working, hooping some more shirts and repeating.
I realized this for awhile, but I was majorly being underpaid. From the view that I have not entered college, am working part-time, am starting well above minimum wage, things seem great. But for how much constant and physical work I was putting in these conditions, I felt like I was being underpaid. For reference, I was also making more with my online job and doing a fraction of the work. (T_T)
Wages also became questionable, as it didn't take Einstein to piece together the profit margins my company was raking in. From buying pieces of clothing in bulk, then customizing it with a print, they were able to charge customers ten times the price than what they originally bought them for. Almost all orders were over $200 and could go over $500. And to hear from my coworkers that their raise would be $0.25, $0.50, $0.75 after a couple of months was concerning. And to find out how much the full time employees were making (per hour) was more unsettling. Plus, someone didn't get a raise for 3 years... If wages weren't increasing, then where was all this money going?
By no means I am not pulling this company under the rug. I am thankful for the opportunity it was able to offer to me as well as to other employees. This is just an example of capitalism at its finest. 🤑
What shocked me the most was how long some of the full time employees have stayed working there. 4, 5, 6, 11 and you won't believe it - 25 years. That was a shocker to me. Was I missing something? They were doing the same thing as me. I couldn't stand working after my first day, so how did they let alone do this for years? Was I the one on the wrong page?
For sure I could guarantee that they did not find fulfillment. A blank glaze masked employees' faces as I would walk by them. It was like watching a brain dead zombie wait for time to tick until they could finally be released to freedom when their shift was over.
So I started asking around with these thoughts in my head. One day during lunch break, I conformed the obvious. They were here for the same reason as me - money. But rather than being there out of boredom and for some extra cash, they were there for necessity. To work paycheck to paycheck to support their family. It was the reality, hard truth and sacrifice that many in the world make. I respect that.
But knowing how many years they have been at the warehouse, I asked if they had any intentions of leaving to work elsewhere. A response I received was, "Actually no, I never thought about it". This was followed with the facial reaction of realization and a light bulb above their head.
It was mind boggling. I felt like I was in a time machine. Only, rather than moving forward in the future, I was heading backwards in time.
I was overworked, underpaid, unhappy - a sweatshop worker.
That was the tipping point on my pendulum scale, were we now get to this point ⤵
I sadly only lasted two weeks at the sweatshop, but I am typing that with smile on my face right now. So yes, I quit!
This was conflicting decision to make. Yes, I did feel feel selfish for leaving, viewing it as me just being lazy. I could be making more money, but I wasn't because why? Time. They say time is money. I was using my time at the warehouse to make money, but now given the chance, I should be changing that around. I should be focusing my time on my studies to then invest in my future. To work smarter and harder now, so I will not have to follow the footsteps of my coworkers. I am grateful that I have this opportunity to do so, so I should utilize it rather than wasting it.
Off topic but working here will make me do a double take when considering my clothing purchases in the future, because I firsthand saw how harsh the industry could be. When you are at the clothing checkout counter, you may not think much about it, but did you ever think about the hands that laid on it before you did?
Did I quit after 2 weeks? Yes.
Did I experience something new? Yes.
Did I pull something beneficial from it? Yes.
Would I ever do it again? No.
But in the end, I do think everything happens for a reason. That's also why you need to stay in school kids, or you will end up like me - a sweatshop worker.