MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Journey of a Planet Money t-shirt January 20, 2014

animal spirits planet money t-shirt

In the beginning of December, NPR’s Planet Money did a great piece on the journey of a t-shirt. This was funded by more than 20 000 people through their Kickstarter campaign.

Ecouterre wrote a nice synopsis of the 5 movie chapters that make up the Planet Money story.  The journalists followed the t-shirts from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to the spinning of the yarn in Indonesia to the cutting and sewing in Bangladesh (women’s shirt) or Colombia (men’s shirt), back to Miami and then to Brooklyn to be printed and shipped to the new owners. Along the way they highlight the machines that harvest the cotton and make the yarn and the fabric, the people who sew the t-shirts, and the boxes that ship the shirts around the world.

I’ve read some rebuttals about the martini drinking squirrel t-shirt. By the way, there is actually a cool story behind the animal spirits design, and there are lots of people who didn’t like the design or pink color. But I think the bigger questions are more important: TS Designs asked why Planet Money didn’t follow a Made in the USA t-shirt, and Lyle Estill wondered why the reporting didn’t include the real costs of a cheap t-shirt: the cost to the environment, and the cost of people dying in the process of making our cheap clothing.

My favorite rebuttal is Stephen Colbert interviewing Alex Blumberg from Planet Money. I think he asked good questions (“Are we helping these people (the garment workers of Bangladesh) or taking advantage of these people?”) that doesn’t have easy answers. Alex Blumberg doesn’t seem to know how to answer the question of sweatshop labor either. The Planet Money piece tries to spin the cheap labor in Bangladesh ($80 per month payment for garment workers for 6 days of work per week) into not-so-bad, since people at least have some job with an income. But I totally disagree.

A while ago I wrote about Kelsey Timmerman’s book “Where am I wearing?”, where he went to the factories where his clothes were made, and through his stories, introduced us to the people who work there. He had a similar argument than Planet Money has: some job is better than no job. But I wonder if a job where you have no rights, no contract, no time off, no health care, can really be a good thing?

A couple of years ago, my husband visited one of his students in Bangladesh. In the capital, Dhaka, he saw garment factories with giant signs saying “No child labor”. But people told him that it is well known when the inspectors will be there. On those days, the children just don’t show up for work.

It is stated in the “Cotton” part of the Planet Money story that the USA is the largest exporter of cotton in the world, and that this dominance is because of the technology used by the USA farmers. Having read The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, the book that inspired Planet Money to do this investigation, I think government subsidies are also a big part of this picture. American cotton is artificially cheap because of subsidies, which prohibits other countries to grow cotton crops and compete on the world market.

I wish the Planet Money piece showed us not just the way (most of) our clothing is being made right now, but the way it could be. Made in the USA, organic cotton, fair trade certified clothing, fair labor factories, water-based inks: there are so many better options than a $2 t-shirt (see the explanation of costs at the bottom of the boxes page). Better for the environment, better for the people who make it, better for us who wear it.

Maybe Planet Money should do a follow-up story. And find a better t-shirt designer (hint-hint).


World Words makes a splash March 29, 2012

World Words App

Check out yesterday’s article about MotherTongues and others using Kickstarter for crowdfunding, in our local paper the Holland Sentinel, and another MotherTongues article in Elemental Project – a positive news site. The news about World Words is spreading!

MotherTongues + you = Minga (you carry me)

Gracias / Dankie / Obrigada!
4 days left in the Kickstarter campaign, and quite a long way to go. I’m holding my thumbs, or crossing my fingers, or both.


JCPenney’s #epicfail and better options September 3, 2011

This week the internet was abuzz with JCPenney’s kids t-shirt (for girls 7-16) that read: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me”. They pulled the t-shirt after outrage from parents, and everybody got on the bandwagon to say what they think about it. Anderson Cooper added JCPenney to his RidicuList.

A few weeks ago I was part of a #momovation Twitter party, and met Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals. She spreads positive empowering messages for girls through t-shirts and other gear. How exciting to see her become part of the conversation around JCPenney, and get some good business out of it. I love it!

The whole debate about degrading t-shirts (for kids and adults) made me think about the reasons I started MotherTongues. There are very few t-shirts for adults in the marketplace today that I will wear: I don’t want to be an advertisement for an athletic brand, and I don’t want to wear profanity. That excludes a lot of t-shirts. Thus the positive, uplifting messages from cultures from around the world on MotherTongues t-shirts. I love my job!


Walking a labyrinth – World Labyrinth Day is May 7, 2011 May 6, 2011

Filed under: Relevant news — Michelle @ 6:10 pm

I love the calmness that settles into me when I walk a labyrinth. To me, it is walking meditation. My kids love to run a labyrinth: the experience fills them with joy and laughter. My sister walks labyrinths barefoot. A friend walks it without paying attention to the lines. Another loves sitting down when she gets to the center. Everyone’s journey is different: there is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth.

i am on a journey
walking on the path of my life
a path full of twists and turns
a path over mountains, over rivers, through deserts
a path of discovery; finding my true self
a path that leads me to inner peace
a path that fills me with silence:
the song of my soul
– Terry de Vries

A labyrinth is a single, winding path that leads you from the entrance to the centre: it is different than a maze that has twists and turns where one can get lost. A labyrinth is a sanctuary: a safe and sacred place where we can reconnect with ourselves.

People come to walk labyrinths for many reasons and in many different ways. It can be walked to connect with nature, to let go of a hectic schedule, to reduce stress, to still the mind of thoughts, to let go of the past, to heal grief or trauma, to answer specific questions, to resolve conflict, to find inner peace, to live more consciously, to set goals, to increase productivity, or to become more creative. Read here for more ways to use a labyrinth, and to learn about the history of labyrinths.

World Labyrinth Day this year is Saturday, May 7. The Labyrinth Society says the day is designated to bring people from all over our planet together in celebration of the labyrinth as a symbol, a passion, a practice and a tool for healing and peace.

Everyone is invited to “Walk as One at 1”: walk a labyrinth at 1 pm in your local time zone. You can also use a finger labyrinth if you can’t find a labyrinth close to you.

There are only right ways to walk a labyrinth. Find a labyrinth in your area, and find your way of walking!

Ps. Remember that MotherTongues sells several t-shirts with labyrinth designs!


MotherTongues is now a member of 1% for the Planet August 29, 2010

Filed under: Relevant news — Michelle @ 11:34 pm
Tags: , , , ,

MotherTongues joined 1% for the Planet, pledging a portion of its sales to support non-profit organizations focused on sustainability. This is in line with the MotherTongues philosophy that embraces living in community with each other and the earth.

“MotherTongues is a great addition to the network. By signing on to 1%, it shows they’re really walking the walk in their sustainability efforts,” says Terry Kellogg, 1% CEO. “They’re using generosity as a tool with which to build their business and enabling valuable environmental work along the way. We’re excited to welcome them to the 1% family.”

Members of 1% contribute one percent of revenues directly to any of the approved non-profit environmental organizations in 1%’s network. Non-profits are chosen based on referrals, track record and environmental focus. Over 1,600 non-profits worldwide are included in the 1% program.

“We’ve been averaging at least one new business member a day, and have exceeded over 1,200 members in 38 countries, and a network that has funneled over $50 million of critically needed funds into the hands of environmental non-profit groups to date,” comments Kellogg.

“We are thrilled by the support we have gained as it proves the environmental ethic is tricklingupward to larger corporate entities. The shared belief that you can do well as a business by doing the right thing with respect to the environment is clearly apparent. There’s a paradigm shift happening here and it’s happening organically.”

About 1% for the Planet

Started in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, 1% for the Planet is a growing global movement of over 1,200 member companies in 38 countries that donate 1% of their sales to environmental organizations worldwide. Each day, more than one new business joins the 1% for the Planet movement. As a network, the 1% community has become a global frontrunner in funding the work of environmental groups around the world.

About MotherTongues

MotherTongues believes we construct our society through the language we use and the stories we tell. Seeking a community where peace and justice reigns, where cultures are celebrated, and where people, relationships and the earth are nurtured, we print such meaningful words from around the world on fabulous people-friendly and earth-friendly products. All t-shirts, scarves, bags and aprons are 100% organic cotton, made with fair labor.


South Africa 20 years later: 2 beautiful letters February 6, 2010

This week (February 2) it was 20 years since FW de Klerk’s famous opening of Parliament speech in which he announced that Nelson Mandela will be released (which happened 9 days later). I can still remember watching the speech on television (I was in college) and realizing that this is an amazing speech signifying a whole new era for South Africa.

Here are 2 beautiful letters written recently by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to FW de Klerk commemorating the event. My favorite part is in Tutu’s letter: “If the second of February were to become an annual holiday I would propose it should be called Ubuntu Day. South Africa would tear down its Berlin Wall, you said, because South Africans were dependent on one another – all of us.”

Read and enjoy!

Letter from Nelson Mandela to FW de Klerk

Letter from Desmond Tutu to FW de Klerk


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