Child Labour, redefined

When I was a child, my mother had a thriving small business designing hand-painted silk scarves. When she was preparing for the One of a Kind Show, my sisters and I were all called into service. My favourite job was ironing the finished scarves, for which she paid me ten cents apiece (according to memory, the work was all voluntary). Being flat, the scarves were easy to iron and it was very satisfying seeing them transform from a wrinkled mess to shiny, smooth silk. It was pretty good work for a ten year old.

When I started Red Thread my children were too young to help, and as they’ve grown I’ve been reluctant to exploit their childlike industriousness. But they’re proud of this business that occupies their home: they and their friends are, after all, my target demographic, and many of their classmates profess to dreaming about becoming fashion designers.

With the Spring One of a Kind Show just one week away, I have many racks of bright new dresses in my house. This past weekend was set aside for tagging, and my youngest daughter Georgia, just turned 6, was raring to go. A good friend came over to help, and Georgia voluntarily worked alongside her for hours, absorbed in the task of putting the little stickers on the back of each hangtag. I was moved by her focus and patience, and am starting to reconsider the value of satisfying work for children who enjoy it. She was an enormous help, and she knew it. I wonder how long it will be until she demands a living wage for her efforts…

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