Category Archives: Education

Interview // Artist and activist Robin Pacific, TakeActionFAST campaign

As we mark the 106th anniversary of Triangle (25 March 1911), I wanted to share the work of Canadian artist and activist Robin Pacific. Since 2013 she has been working on a community project to raise awareness on the realities of work and life for garment workers in Bangladesh. In May she is launching TakeActionFAST, a labour rights campaign she has organised with partners in Bangladesh and in Canada (details below).

I first heard of Robin’s work when I was in Dhaka conducting part of my fieldwork in 2015. Recently I was lucky to connect with her and learn a bit more about her work.

Mary Hanlon:  To get started, could you tell us a bit about the F.A.S.T. campaign and how it came about?

Robin Pacific: We are now calling it TakeActionFAST (because the Heart and Stroke Foundation launched their own FAST campaign – cheeky!). In 2013 I received some funds from the Ontario Arts Council to do research on possible art projects about who makes our clothes. I turned the research into a collaborative community project and invited 30 women in groups of three to my house. I cooked for them, and gave a 10 minute talk about art, fashion, globalization, free trade and workers’ rights. Then the conversation just flowed. It was at one of these gatherings that someone came up with the idea for a logo called FAST – FAIR living wage, ADULT labour only, SAFE working conditions and No unpaid overTIME.

The idea for a campaign to tell retailers we will pay 5% more for our clothes if those conditions are met evolved over time and went through many variations. The necessity that I must go to Bangladesh if I wanted to speak on behalf of garment workers there also came about during those dinners.

MH: You’ve partnered with various sponsors and supporters. How did these partnerships come about, and how important was it for you to connect with groups in Bangladesh?

RP: This whole project has been about never giving up, and just relentlessly continuing even when it seemed there was no support. So I just kept e mailing people I heard about in Bangladesh, and at UniGlobal, and various Canadian trade unions. When they didn’t answer I emailed them again. When they still didn’t answer, I phoned them! Eventually the first trip came together. We made art with 100 garment workers represented by The Solidarity Centre/Bangladesh led by Alonzo Suson and Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Centre led by Kalpona Akter. We were very, very lucky to work with these outstanding trade unions. It was inspiring and transformative to meet young women who were risking their jobs—and sometimes their lives—to form a union.

If we hadn’t had the support of these two groups I think our visit to Dhaka would have been more or less futile.

We also were very graciously hosted at a luncheon by then Canadian High Commissioner Heather Cruden, and one of her staff suggested we connect with some survivors of Rana Plaza. This too was a profound experience, and humbling – meeting these people whose bodies and psyches were so shattered.

While in Bangladesh and after, I kept meeting artists, individuals, trade union members, members of NGOs, and I also go a little connected to the Bangladeshi community here in Toronto. All of these connections have immeasurably enriched the work I’ve done.

MH: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?

RP: The biggest challenge I’ve faced, in a way, has been my own despair at all those points when things weren’t working out, when it seemed things would never come together. My challenge is not to take it personally and get discouraged when people aren’t interested, or reject various proposals for exhibitions, etc.

MH: As you move forward, what keeps you inspired? What scares you?

RP: What keeps me inspired is the heroism of the young women and men I met, and also the fact that I fell in love with Bangladesh, the way one does, inadvertently, with the people, the culture, even the insane traffic. I’m committed to social justice, and taking on this one issue and really working on it exclusively has kept me inspired. Also, I did put this on a long timeline. I wanted to accomplish one thing – the TakeActionFAST petition. Along the way I got to do some fun and meaningful art projects and meet so many extraordinary people.

The issue is off the radar of the media completely. This is what I call the Politics of the Aftermath. The media lurches from one disaster to the next, disaster porn as it’s been called, and no one seems to think of the long term after effects on the survivors of these horrific crises. I’m really counting on millennials to pick up the torch. I’m afraid that I’m just too much of an outlier – an artist trying to create a social justice campaign, not really encouraged by the local art world here, and a social justice activist who is an artist, so viewed skeptically, on occasion, by trade union people and activists, because I’m working alone. Everything I’m doing is hope and prayers that I can bridge these two complex communities.


If you’d like to support Robin and the campaign project, or learn more about her work and this community project, check out the project website here.

I particularly enjoyed seeing project photographs and listening to the audio recordings from interviews with workers, here.

While the campaign is live now, there will be a launch in Toronto in May. Here are the event details:

When? May 4 – May 5, 2017, 7 PM-12AM

Where? The Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. West, Toronto M6J 1H3 (at Dovercourt)


  • Online action campaign;
  • Canadian and Bangladesh bands, singers, dancers and food;
  • a pop up fashion market of indie Canadian designers;
  • a ‘Mock Sweatshop’ where participants can sew giant t-shirts with garment workers from Workers United Canada;
  • a Rana Plaza Memorial;
  • and art by and about Bangladeshi garment workers

WATCH // Media Theorised: Reading against the grain


What role does advertising play in journalism? Who funds and controls media coverage? Why is representation so important? How are stereotypes produced and reproduced through the media? Does the medium that we use consume information matter?

And, what does any of this have to do with responsible fashion?

The Listening Post has produced a series of short animated films introducing five media theorists: Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, Stuart Hall, Marshall McLuhan, and Edward Said. Media Theorised is a project that calls for a critical engagement with the media, and is a nice resource to share with friends, colleagues and students.

Many of the entanglements highlighted by these theorists are brought to the surface through the project itself, with respect to how it is shared and consumed, and all of these tensions would make great topics for further discussion: for example, the fact that I am sharing this content with you through a blog post on an English-language website; that the Media Theorized project was itself developed by a media network (Al Jazeera), and that each video has little Google advertisements that pop-up, and sometimes play before the video starts—a  reminder of the role of advertising in media (briefly mentioned in the Noam Chomsky piece); or the fact that you may have found this post through social media, and may be reading this content on a tablet, phone or laptop.

A couple of years ago I briefly shared some thoughts on how one of these tensions plays out in media stories related to labour rights for IANS: sponsored content surrounding responsible fashion, where the lines between corporate interests, corporate social responsibility, and critical journalism (or even bad journalism, for that matter) become blurred. Although I was picking on The Guardian at that time, the takeaway was that a critical lens is needed when reading any and all media coverage related to these issues (including coverage produced on this site).

I hope you’ll find these resources relevant and interesting. I’ve embedded a couple of the animations below. Each film comes with an essay and a downloadable poster – who doesn’t love a good poster?

LEARN // Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada


With International Women’s Day around the corner, I just had to share this excellent resource with you: Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada, a project organised by Linda Briskin, Sue Genge, Marg McPhail and Marion Pollack.

From the project website:

“This project on Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada explores the current climate and attitudes to women, feminism, leadership and equality in Canadian unions through the insights, voices and experiences of women union leaders, activists and staff in Canadian unions.

Undoubtedly unions in Canada have played a significant role in promoting women’s equality. And many share the optimistic belief that organized labour can continue to play a critical part in challenging women’s inequality. Yet evidence suggests that equality issues have still not moved into the mainstream of union culture. Some even point to a backlash, suggested by the decline in women’s participation in leadership, fewer resources for equality organizing, and in some cases, outright attacks on advocates. These are disturbing trends.

Union women fought hard for equity gains over the past five decades.  In the current climate of recession, cutbacks, and austerity, are we now losing ground?”


There are links to loads of resources, including this important short film, originally produced in 1981 by Linda Briskin and Lorna Weir – a wonderful historical resource for teaching.

While the project relates specifically to the labour rights movement in Canada, it is completely relevant to union and labour organising globally.

Image source: Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada

What does it mean to be ‘ethical’ in fashion? And what is everyone wearing? (Poll)

13606828_1058021627620503_2576551059090656025_nIt’s festival season in Edinburgh. Depending on who you ask, the summer is either the best or worst time to be in the city. Festival season, I’ve come to learn, also equals tourist mania. This is only my third summer in Scotland, so the tourist thing doesn’t bother me at all. Besides, the city buzzes with an indescribable energy during the summer months. Not even the rain can dampen my spirits. The season brings the Edinburgh film festival, the jazz festival, the magic (!!) festival, and others, and of course the fringe festival, but it also brings the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival (EIFF).

EIFF is in its 5th year, but this was my first time attending. I was approached to moderate a panel on ‘ethics in fashion’ and was of course happy to help. This was an EIFF initiative to bring together students from London College of Fashion (LCF) and Heriot-Watt University. The students were to design their ideal panel discussion, and Winnie Wen, a graduate student researching responsible fashion and marketing at Heriot-Watt University organised the panel on ethics in fashion.

As we know, responsible fashion — or whatever terminology you’d prefer to use or not use (ethical fashion, eco fashion, fair trade fashion, sustainable fashion, organic fashion, green fashion, etc.) — is a messy topic. It just covers so much ground. So the panel topic I wrote up cast a pretty wide net:

Fashion designers and brands are increasingly challenged to consider the social, cultural and environmental impact of their products; from designing for diversity and supporting labour rights, to protecting waterways and securing animal welfare, ethical considerations in fashion are vast and often interconnected. How can designers and brands engage with their stakeholders to better understand and support complexities at work within systems of fashion production and consumption? Exploring what it means to be ethical in fashion, this panel deals with stakeholder engagement and communication.

The panel was made up of three excellent speakers: Carry Somers, Founder of Fashion Revolution, Anna Telcs of Not Just a Label (NJAL), and Lynn Wilson, designer, educator and circular economy expert.

It was designed to focus on audience Q&A, and the audience was fantastic. The panelists were so very informed, and it felt like the discussion could have gone on for much longer.

Photo by Aleksandra Modrzejewska


My favourite question from the audience had to be the last one: ‘What are you all (the panelists) wearing?’ I love this question because it really drives home the mess of responsible fashion work and activism. Is there some perfect outfit to wear that will absolve us of the issues at work in the global fashion and apparel industry? Well, I say no. For me (today, at least) it’s less about individual consumption and more about education, regulations and the rule of law.[1] But for other advocates and activists, it is all about consumption patterns. And for others still it’s a little of both of these positions, or something completely different. And this got me thinking…time for a poll!

So just for fun: what are you wearing? You can select more than one option from the non-exhaustive list below!

[1] You see I say this now, but every time I go clothes shopping I end up overanalysing absolutely everything until I’ve talked myself out of buying anything at all. Hence the mess that is responsible fashion research and activism…we all still have to get dressed! Nadira and I sure did have fun exploring this tension when we took the Labour Behind the Label Six Items Challenge in 2012. My answer to the question on the day of was boots (Clarks) and trousers (Gap) from the high street, a shirt that was given to me from a friend (I don’t know the brand name), and a second-hand jacket (brand name Aritzia).

LEARN // The WellMade Project

WellMade - Facebook banner image


A three year project that began in 2013, WellMade provides free online resources designed to help brands better support labour rights in their supply chains.

The Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) is lead partner on the initiative, working collaboratively with other partners and associates.


There are currently four specific case studies to assist brands:

(1) “You know those pants we ordered? We need them in a different color!”

(2) “I’m visiting a factory but I’m not a CSR specialist. What can I do to help?”

(3) “We have found labour problems in one of our factories. What should we do?”

(4) “Subcontracting: How can this small group of workers produce so many t-shirts?”

If you’re in Paris, you can catch the project for a free workshop tomorrow (10 Feb) at Texworld.

Follow WellMade on Facebook and Twitter for updates on resources, as well as future workshops and events.

Garment worker wages: select reports on trends and analysis from 2014

ILO 201415 Global Wage Report


The International Labour Organization (ILO) has just released their 2014/2015 Global Wage Report. While the report is not specifically focused on garment worker wages in fashion and apparel systems, it does overview global trends and highlights wage gaps, and I think it’s a good one to read through and bookmark to keep on hand.

With the report, the ILO has included a couple of short video clips explaining key terms, such as real wage and labour productivity, average wage and PPP$.

ILO videos re 201415 Wage Report

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) published three reports in 2014 relating to wages for garment work in the fashion and apparel sector:

Living wage in asiaStitched up 2014

Tailored Wages 2014

And of course, this worthwhile read from the CCC and the Asia Floor Wage in 2009 remains highly relevant: Stitching a Decent Wage Across Borders.

Stitching a decent wage across borders










Click here for the full list of CCC publications.

What resources have you turned to in 2014 for trends and analysis relating to garment worker wages? Share in the comments below, or let us know via Facebook and/or Twitter.


WATCH // The TEN, animations from Textiles Environment Design (TED)


Textiles Environment Design (TED) has launched The TEN in a series of short animations.

The TEN is all about practiced-based action research:

They are not a check-list, but rather they are a framework for creative thinking and action. As ideas emerge, The TEN can be used to develop layers of strategic innovation – a chance to redesign and improve, or simply to communicate concepts and products more clearly. (TED)

And did I mention The TEN is available in Chinese? Amazing.

I’m really loving #10, Design Activism, but be sure to check them all out!





Test your knowledge! And track fast fashion with this interactive Africa study map

How well do you know your geography when it comes to Africa? Unfortunately, many of us need to study up.

This online tool could be a great addition to learning activities on fast fashion supply chains – specifically on second-hand trade.

Add this tool to:

via Africa is a Country

Africa Study Map

Call for Papers // Fashion in Fiction 2014, Hong Kong

I recently ran into Dr. Anne Peirson-Smith at an event and she mentioned that City University of Hong Kong (which happens to be where I’m completing my PhD) is hosting the Fashion in Fiction 2014 conference with the theme Style Stories and Transglobal Narratives. The conference will take place at CityU in Hong Kong from June 12-14, 2014 hosted by the Department of English and the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre.

The conference organizers encourage cross-disciplinary research to address various themes described in the call for papers as such:

“This conference will focus on the material and non-material forms of fashion for a range of professional, commercial, historical, social, cultural and creative purposes. The conference will be international and cross-cultural in order to highlight the largely transglobal, transcultural multiple flows of fashion discourse and to broaden the analysis of fashion beyond a purely traditional Western frame of analysis.”

Possible paper topics include:

• Fashion and/in novels, plays, diaries, short stories
• Fashion and/in films and television programs
• Fashion archives
• Fashion illustration
• Fashion discourse
• Fashion and social media
• Fashion travel
• Fashion and popular culture
• Fashion and cultural hybridity
• Fashion and politics
• Fashion and gender

Click below to see the very detailed call for papers.

Submitted conference papers will be blind peer-reviewed and conference organizers aim to publish accepted submissions either as a journal article or as a book chapter.

Abstract Deadline: February 1, 2014.

Acceptance Notification: February 14, 2014.

More Details: Fashion in Fiction: Style Stories and Transglobal Narratives Call For Papers

Call for Papers // Fashion, Style & Popular Culture

Fashion, Style & Popular Culture seeks academic articles for a Special Issue entitled Latin American / Latino Fashion, Style and Popular Culture.

About the journal: 

Fashion, Style & Popular Culture is concerned with style, fashion, clothing, design, and related trends, as well as appearances and consumption as they relate to popular culture. Scholarship using and/or including: historical, manufacturing, aesthetics, marketing, branding, merchandising, retailing, psychological/ sociological aspects of dress, body image, and cultural identities, in addition to any areas topics such as purchasing, shopping, and the ways in which consumers construct identities are welcome.

Papers from all research methods and disciplines are welcome! Innovative and new popular culture research, scholarship and creative works in the areas of fashion, design, style, the body and consumerism are encouraged!”

Click below for full details in both English and Spanish on the main themes, possible topics and other relevant information:

Fashion, Style & Popular Culture Special Issue: Latin American / Latino Fashion, Style & Popular Culture

Revista de Moda, Estilo y Cultura Popular Edición Especial: Moda, estilo y Cultura Popular en América Latina / Latinos en el exterior

Deadline for submission: February 1st, 2014; act fast!