Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts is part reality TV show and part documentary, featuring six young British "fashion addicts" between the ages of 20-24 who have been taken to India to work in factories and cotton mills so that they (and we) will learn the truth about the conditions in which high street clothes are made. This programme is interesting, but you would have to have been burying your hand in the sand for years to be surprised by what this programme reveals about the clothing industry. It is not really shocking viewing for anyone who knows anything about how and where most clothing is made.
What is shocking is how ignorant, rude, and generally useless the group of young adults from Britain are. I've spent most of the episodes of Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts that I have seen so far shouting in frustration and shame. I am so embarrassed to be part of the same generation. They have definitely been burying their heads in the sand about this issue. Okay, Georgina and Mark haven't really said much about anything. Stacey is very bubbly and a bit silly. Amrita is alright, although she burst into massively inappropriate tears at the first factory. Tara has some respect for the work they have to do but she cried because the woman they stayed with in the first episode realised they were laughing at her house and confronted them about it (!!!).
But any redeeming qualities the others might have are completely negated by Richard.
Richard is 24, runs an ad agency and makes £50,000 a year. He starts the show as one of those "poor people are only poor because they're lazy" types, and spends the best part of the first two episodes moaning about how much more terrible it is for them (the group of British young adults) to be there than for the people who actually spend their lives in this way, because they're not used to it! Seriously! He goes around loudly insulting everything, and almost gets in a fight with an English-speaking Indian in the second episode because he's being so disrespectful. He doesn't start to realise until the end of the second episode that the reason the factory workers haven't gone to university et cetera is that they don't have the opportunity or money and they have families to feed, and only accepts this after a man at the factory explains it to him, repeatedly.
He also sewed sleeves of different sizes and a back and front that were different sizes together as one garment. How do you manage that?
Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts doesn't really try to push you into any conclusions about the clothing industry, and I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it is good that viewers are allowed to make up their own minds, on the other, the lack of commentary means that it focuses on the personalities of the British young adults rather than on the lives of the factory workers. I think it would have worked better with a smaller group.
Apart from horror at the young people of today - I'm only 21 myself, surely I shouldn't be yelling "These kids are so privileged and rude!" at the TV? - I've got one thing out of this series so far: that boycotting in this case is definitely not a good idea. The clothing producers in India would be even worse off without their jobs. I think that instead shoppers have got to do their research and buy brands that regulate the conditions in their factories more closely and pay living wages, and put pressure on companies to look after their workers better.
Programme details follow, but everyone, including those outside the UK, can also check out the BBC's new online fashion magazine, Thread. It's got a fair bit of useful info about ethical shopping and good explanations of terms and organisations, but for more on specific brands, check out Green Is The New Black.
Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts, BBC Three, third programme Tuesday 6th May 2008 at 9pm, fourth & final programme Tuesday 13th May 2008 at 9pm. First episode available to watch online on BBC iPlayer for 3 more hours, second episode for 4 more days. Clips also available on YouTube for UK viewers.