: She Made Jeans for Americans. When They Stopped Shopping, She Turned to Sex Work #WorldNEWS This piece is published in partnership with The Fuller Project. After Anna tucks her five children into
She Made Jeans for Americans. When They Stopped Shopping, She Turned to Sex Work #WorldNEWS
This piece is published in partnership with The Fuller Project.
After Anna tucks her five children into bed each weeknight, she walks out the door to a grass patch behind her home. The former seamstress searches for the flat, heavy stone under which she’s buried her uniform for tonight: a camouflage miniskirt.
For five years, the 30-year-old mother stitched Levi’s jeans at a garment factory in Lesotho, a small landlocked country within South Africa. The salary wasnt much; she occasionally had sex with a male colleague for an extra a month to support her family. But as the garment industry, one of the country’s largest employers, crumbled during the coronavirus pandemic, she found herself on the end of mass layoffs. In April of this year, management announced that the factory would be closing, due to reduced orders from U. S. brands and other pandemic-related issues. She was let go in August.
A week later, she turned to sex work full time.
“I don’t want my husband to know, so I leave home dressed normally, and then I change into a short skirt that shows my thighs,” she says. “My children don’t have clothes; I don’t have food. I have to do this. ”
Anna, who asked to be identified by her middle name only for safety reasons, is one of over 6,000 garment workers who recently lost a job with the Nien Hsing group. The Taiwanese company—Lesotho’s largest garment sector employer—owns five major factories, three of which have closed in the past 16 months. Nien Hsing has been a major supplier to Levi’s, Kontoor Brands (owners of Wrangler) and the Children’s Place, but the company has reduced production amid COVID-19 pandemic headwinds.
In a country whose faltering economy relies heavily on the garment sector, the U. S. is the largest recipient of Lesotho’s clothing exports. A mostly female workforce—roughly 90% are women—once stitched denim for some of America’s most famous brands. Many are single parents and their families’ main breadwinners.
Globally, garment workers like Anna face continued pandemic-era fallouts from disrupted financial markets, upended supply chains and clogged ports. As the virus kept consumers at home and shuttered shops, people bought less, and Western fashion brands canceled or delayed billions of dollars’ worth of orders.
At garment factories around the world, staffers, the majority of whom, like Nien Hsiens staff, are female, were laid off or sent home without pay. Since the start of the pandemic, some 1. 6 million garment workers have lost their jobs in seven Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign.
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