Category Archives: Events

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

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).

WATCH // Modern Slavery: Are we complicit?

photo (5)


Earlier this month I was invited to participate in a panel on modern slavery at the University of Edinburgh, organised by the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

The panel addressed a lot of issues, including the (potential) impact of consumer boycotts and buycotts. I called on consumers to remember they are more than consumers, and to also consider/imagine alternative ways to support workers.

The event was recorded, and I’ve embedded it below for you to check out.

During the discussion, I mentioned a website I had used to calculate ‘how many slaves’ work for me. I mentioned this was an interesting tool to help consumers think through linkages, but also voiced concern that context was lacking. I realise that I never mentioned the actual name of the site, so in case you’re interested and not already familiar, here it is. Bangladeshi labour rights activist Kalpona Akter shared some thoughts on this tool with Design and Violence last year, here.

On the panel with me was Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, Karen Bowman, Director of Procurement at University of Edinburgh and Mei-Ling McNamara, a PhD Student in School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at University of Edinburgh. Chairing was Michelle Brown from the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

We would love to hear your thoughts on modern slavery in general, but also in the unique context of the global fashion and apparel industry. Please share in the comments, or with us on Facebook or Twitter.

WATCH // Udita (Arise): a film on garment making in Bangladesh


Udita Poster


On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers were killed and thousands more were left injured. These workers were producing garments for consumers in Europe and North America.

We have now marked the two year anniversary of the collapse, yet the ILO trust fund established to support victims and their families remains nearly 3 million dollars short.

Rana Plaza was not the first industrial accident of its kind in Bangladesh, and building (and fire) safety is not the only challenge faced by garment workers.

Udita, the latest documentary from The Rainbow Collective, brings together footage capturing garment work in Bangladesh, collected over a five year period.

The Rainbow Collective premiered the film in East London at the Unite The Union Community Centre to a packed house on 24 April, marking the 2nd anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse.

Udita Trailer (full documentary below):


Udita asks its audience to listen to the testimonies of workers and organisers. No simple solution is presented. No judgements are passed. Viewers are left to draw their own connections.

Thanks to The Rainbow Collective for making Udita free and accessible.

Please watch and share through your networks.

Udita (full documentary):

Note: This blog post was also published on Routes blog, with permission. 

ATTEND // Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance


This past weekend, I headed to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh to check out the exhibit Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance.

I’m so glad I did. The show challenges current assumptions of beauty by exploring how perceptions of body image have changed over time:

“The theme of body image is central: the historic paintings have been approached both as a means of challenging current perceptions of physical beauty, and as inspiration for a more diverse and emotionally considerate practice on the part of today’s fashion designers.” (National Galleries Scotland)

Leading the project is the Programme Director for Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) at the University of Edinburgh, Mal Burkinshaw, and Dr Jill Burke of the School of History of Art. The work is the result of a collaboration between National Galleries of Scotland and ECA, and has been in the works since 2012, when the project first launched.

The exhibit runs until 3rd May 2015, but if you’re not near Edinburgh, you can read more about the project here, and here. I’ll upload some photos to our Facebook page to check out as well.

ATTEND // WEAR 2014 (Updated)


WEAR 2014 hits Toronto, Canada, November 3rd and 4th, 2014 (updated dates).

The event, presented by Canada’s Fashion Takes Action, offers keynote presentations and panel discussions from industry stakeholders on the following themes (updated themes):

  • Creating Shared Value & Profitability Through Sustainable Business Practices
  • The Evolution of Social Standards & Systems; Navigating Change
  • Make Fair, Buy Fair; Responsible Supply Chain Practices from Design through Delivery
  • Supply Chain Transparency; Tools and Trends in Visibility & Risk Management
  • Innovation, Impact & Perception: Telling New Stories



EXHIBIT// Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics

Canada’s QUEEN of fashion, Jeanne Beker, is guest curator for an upcoming exhibit at The Design Exchange on the intersection of politics and fashion!

The exhibit covers political fashion from 1960 to the present including a paper dress covered with Pierre Trudeau’s face during the Trudeaumania days, fur coats splattered by PETA, skinhead fashion, and a few pieces from Jeremy Scott’s Arab Spring collection.

Here is Jeanne Beker chatting with the KING of radio, Jian Ghomeshi (big fans!), on Q today and doing an AMAZING job discussing fashion theory, elucidating on the deeper meanings behind fashion, and even adding a few points on second-hand clothing, consumerism, fast fashion, cultural appropriation and thoughtlessness within the fashion industry:


This exhibit is definitely on our #fashionbucketlist next time we’re in Toronto! Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics runs from September 18th – January 25th, 2015.

Fashion in Fiction 2014 Conference: Style Stories and Transglobal Narratives, Hong Kong


Friends, Nadira will be presenting some of our most recent research at the Fashion in Fiction 2014 conference at City University of Hong Kong on Friday, June 13th. Our research will be presented under Panel 2.5: Sustainable Fashion and Ethical Fashion Brands in Practice. 

The theme of the conference is ‘Style Stories and Transglobal Narratives’ and the agenda is packed with a great line-up of presenters, including Efrat Tseëlon.

Take a look at the schedule and let us know what you’re interested in learning more on – we’ll see if we can gather some data for you.

The conference runs from 12-14 of June, with an event on the 15th.

The online catalogue is available here.

And if you’ll be in HK for this event, drop Nadira a line!

Call for Papers: Symposium on Contemporary South Asian Youth Cultures and Fashion


On 25th and 26th September, 2014, The London College of Fashion will host a symposium to explore contemporary South Asian cultures and fashion in relation to youth.

Suggested themes include:

  • fashion and consumer cultures
  • fashioning youth in cinema /television/music/magazines
  • dress cultures, gender and sexuality
  • fashion, politics and faith
  • South Asian fashion trends and culture in the diasporas
  • dress and fashion as resistance and defiance
  • fashion, media and technology

The deadline on the call for participation is fast approaching: March 30th.

Click here for details, via The South Asianist Blog

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