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My jeans’ metadata may outlive the company that sold them

I buy clothing in sudden bursts of need. I do this because I wear things past the point where I probably should not, and then rush to address the gap so I don’t look strange on a Zoom call or at the grocery store.

This is to say that quarantine has melted my brain.

Speaking of melted brains, I recently succumbed to the siren call of an Instagram dropshipped jeans advertisement. What can I say? I was in a bad place and vulnerable, doomscrolling, and needed a few new pairs of pants.

The jeans are—as you could have guessed—not of great quality. I’ll still wear them until I can’t. I also took the time to check their label, and in doing so further solidified my feelings on how much working in tech has also contributed to melting my brain.

I’ll spare you a photo of the area where my undercarriage is placed for eight plus hours a day. Here is an illustration of said label instead:

A simple illustration of a clothing label. The text reads, 'JeanCo™. 317-932771 (113-05). 34x32 inch. 54% Rayon, 26% Cotton, 20% Polyester. Turn inside out, machine wash cold, mild detergent, warm iron. Made in Bangladesh.'

The jeans’ label included the following information:

This is metadata, information about information. And its inclusion is a totally normal and helpful thing! The clothing you are currently wearing most likely also has a label with this sort of information on it.

Gateway or toll bridge?

What I’m surprised about is that you don’t need to do anything past buying the pair of jeans to have access to their care information. This surprise, in turn, communicated to me exactly how much tech has irrevocably damaged how I think.

Unlike the tech industry, some opportunistic, profit-maximalizing-for-the-sake-of-maximalizing process has yet to insert itself in the garment-producing industry to intercept this aspect of it.

Similarly, some growth-hacking, hustle-grinding, unintentional Goodheart’s law-manifesting dingus has yet to come along. It’s a numbers game until someone places a gateway to get between me and learning how to take care of my clothing as a way to generate metrics, harvest my personal information, and sell me more things.

Surprise specifically manifested as expecting to see a QR code with no other information on the label. If your brain has not been broken by working in tech the way mine has, allow me to explain this.

A smart company that sells jeans does not actually sell jeans. Using the QR code would enable the company to be able to capture data about:

Visiting this URL would also be an opportunity to:

Then there are second-stage aspects of this kind of product strategy, things like retargeting, shadow profiles, data brokerage, and other less-than-savory, gray legal area practices.

This is all before you get into considerations such as how this all intersects with companies like Meta, the parent company of the company that served me ads for the company that sold me those jeans.

Meta is a company that is obsessed with extracting, repackaging, and selling as much personal information about you as they can. They also dabble in facilitating election misinformation and genocide, but that’s a whole other thing.

What I need versus what you want

The QR code would serve as an intentional barrier between information I want and the company that holds it: How to properly wash, dry, and otherwise care for my jeans.

This barrier’s purpose would also be advertised to me as an enhancement for my experience, despite my feelings on the matter. I can already see the marketing copy in my mind:

“It’s so easy and convenient. All the info you need and more, just one tap away! No more squinting at a tiny label!”

Granted, I could look up this information up elsewhere online. However, the larger point is that I’m surprised that some opportunistic individual has hasn’t already enacted this predatory idea. And I’m depressed that I’m surprised.


The other bit to think about is dropshipping companies don’t last all that long. They exist to buy a product manufactured wholesale, entice you with some clever advertisement, make a profit, and then cash out. It’s also not as easy a job as people make it out to be—many crash and burn before they can become solvent.

Instagram is littered with “going out of business” ads from these kinds of companies, which is both a statement of truth and also a psychological manipulation tactic. You never know if the other end of the transaction is one or the other, or a combination of the two.

The text, 'Store closing. 75% off limited time offer' placed over a photo of a man riding a motorcycle at great speed through the woods. In front of the man is a rough cutout effect to show a black leather jacket with a built-in cotton hood. The text is set in a edgy typeface vaguely reminicent of the Metallica band logo. On closer inspection, the man on the motorcycle appears to not be wearing the advertised jacket. Screenhot of an Instagram advertisement.

My question then is: What happens to the care instructions in a situation like this? The average lifespan of a website is short. The actual pair of jeans themselves are poised to outlive the website that sold them to me—especially if you take care of them the way they’re supposed to be taken care of.

The information can be lost if it only exists digitally, and is not physically included on the label. You might be able to capture it on The Internet Archive, but that doesn’t seem like the best use of their finite resources.

A sufficiently motivated individual might also be able to figure out what manufacturing company produced the clothing sold to the dropshipping company before it folded. They could then see if care information could be retrieved straight from the source. However, this will mean making requests outside the usual channels, likely while also navigating one or more foreign languages.

Absurdity, AI, and archiving

We might not be able to “just Google it” in the uncomfortably close future. Platforms are both dying and going private, and with that comes knowledge collapse.

We’re also about to face an information apocalypse, where approximate answers will become the norm and pre-”AI” information is about to become like battleship steel. This is to say nothing of creating the digital equivalent of Mad Cow Disease.

Perhaps a key detail in some regurgitated, amalgamated quasi-answer will be missing. I’ll then ruin my jeans, the other clothing I wash them with, the washing machine itself, or a combination of all three.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll even advise me with great, unknowing confidence to turn my washing machine into a vat of chlorine or phosphine gas.

You could also write down the instructions somewhere. Perhaps creating your own personal archive of how to maintain every single thing you own is the smart, if time-consuming play. Also be sure to print it out from time to time!

It’s also just a goddamn pair of jeans

I mean, it’s also not about the jeans.

This is how I now think. This is the thought process that kicks in when I look at a something as mundane and everyday as a pair of pants.

The one-two punch of three years of social isolation, combined with working in tech for so long has shaped my thought process into something quietly horrific. I don’t like what I’ve been conditioned to become.

I don’t want to reflexively ideate about hypothetical productized exploits to objects we take for granted. I also don’t want to think of potential ways to build from those extractive exploits, and then all their constituent downsides.

I also wish I wasn’t so painfully aware of how tech’s promise has failed to deliver in so, so many ways.