Q&A: An author travels where his clothes take him

Courtesy Kelsey Timmerman
Author Kelsey Timmerman in Honduras, wearing the shirt that started it all

Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing, didn't need much of an excuse to travel—an old T-shirt was all it took for him to set off on a trip to Honduras, in search of the people who made it.

Timmerman ended up traveling through Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China. We picked his brain for a little advice. For more info, check out his website.

Q: Tell us about your book. How were you inspired to write it?

A: I had this T-shirt with Tattoo from the TV show Fantasy Island on it. Remember Tattoo? He was the short fella that would holler, "De Plane! De Plane!" Anyhow, around Tattoo's smiling mug was the phrase, "Follow Me To My Tropical Paradise." I was curious where Tattoo's tropical paradise was. I looked at the tag; it read Made in Honduras.

I thought: What if I went to the countries where my clothes were made and met the people who made them? Where was I wearing?

I thought I should know a little something about the people who make our clothes. I piled up my favorite items of clothing on the floor, checked the tags, and hit the road.

Q: What's your best tip for travelers going to foreign countries—like really foreign countries?

A: Trust someone you meet, but be weary of anyone who approaches offering help.

Q:How do you make sure you're experiencing a place as a local would?

A: That's easy. Experience a place with a local by your side. Make friends. Go to the local university and just start chatting up students. They're usually pretty open to talking with a foreigner.

And play. I always travel with a Frisbee. I'm like the international ambassador for Ultimate Frisbee. Nothing bridges the language gap like the universal language of play. Some of the best local friends that I've made are the result of games of cricket, soccer, and baseball.

Q:Did you discover any locations you'd like to go back to?

A: I loved Bangladesh. The people there are some of the most genuinely friendly folks I've ever met. I treated 19 kids and an old man to a day at an amusement park, celebrated the Bengali New Year with supermodel Bibi Russell, and took a three-day trip on a paddleboat south of Dhaka. I would like to go back and hang out with the friends I made, make some new ones, and do other things that don't involve underwear factories.

Q:So what do you wear when you travel, and has that changed since you wrote this book?

A: I would prefer to wear shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops, but find that folks in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia, regardless of how sweltering the heat, wear long pants and collared shirts. Since I'm often doing things like setting up interviews or going undercover as an underwear buyer, I follow suit.

I'm a big fan of Patagonia. In their catalog and on their website they list where all of their products are made and even have a feature on their site called the Footprint Chronicles that follows a product from field to factory.

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