Tag Archives: fashion

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)

What?

  • 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 // 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

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. 

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.

WellMade2

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.

 

POLL // Child labour in the fashion supply chain

Child Labour

(Update: The video embedded below is seemingly no longer available to view online. The video depicted a number of children working in India, sewing clothing for the H&M and Alexander Wang collection at machines in a factory. At the end of the video, one boy declared how happy he was to work on this line. To be clear, the video was not real, it was a spoof.)

Have you seen this satire on the H&M x Alexander Wang collaboration?

fairtradefashion from Peter Schwarm on Vimeo.

The spoof, produced by Dandy Diary and filmed in Mumbai, was meant to connect Alexander Wang’s reported association with garment worker grievances to Dandy Diary’s perception of manufacturing practices in H&M global supply chains. In 2012, Wang was sued by former employees claiming to have worked 80 hour weeks without overtime pay, in a garment factory in New York.

We are interested in your thoughts on child labour * in fashion and apparel production, to assess your need/want for related educational resources.

For this reason, we’d be grateful if you would consider completing this short poll:

*For the purpose of this survey, ‘child labour’ is defined in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition:

 

“work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. 

It refers to work that:

We strongly urge you to click here for more information on child labour from the ILO.

ATTEND // WEAR 2014 (Updated)


wear2014_rgb_320x110fta2014_twitter_profile_500px_white

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

 

 

READ// Women in Clothes

Cover Images

We first caught wind of the epic collection that is Women in Clothes via Facebook from Zoe Welch, who contributed to the project.

Most wonderfully, you can read through participant survey answers online!

Although the book is now published, the project survey itself is still online, which we think would make an awesome classroom activity!

Edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, Women in Clothes captures the voices and stories of 600 contributors from across the world.

Through interviews, conversations, surveys, diagrams and drawings, and with original contributions from a wide range of people, including established artists and writers like Miranda July, Molly Ringwald, Eileen Myles, Mona Kowalska, Rachel Kushner, Roxane Gay and Sarah Nicole Prickett, Women in Clothes will explore the multiplicity of motives that inform how women present themselves, and what style means (Women in Clothes)

Women in Clothes

The Editors of the book sat down with Jian Ghomeshi for an interview on the CBC, click here to check it out. The spirit of the book, according to Shapton, comes down to connections with strangers (Leanne Shapton, on CBC Radio).

So looking forward to reading this!

 

Images via the Women and Clothes Facebook page.

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

university-of-the-arts-london-college-of-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

Resources // NPR’s Planet Money Makes a ‘Simple’ T-shirt

Planet Money showing just how little the industry has changed.

Planet Money showing just how little the industry has changed.

 

Planet Money:

What would you like the people who buy this t-shirt to know about you?

Doris Restrepo, Garment Worker, Medellín, Colombia:

What is behind the T-shirt: It’s a world.

NPR’s Planet Money has released a five chapter series on the production of a conventional t-shirt. This series is an excellent educational resource and is perfect for ‘flipping’ into a short course on our international fashion system. The videos and accompanying articles would also make a fantastic addition to any of SA’s educational resourcesparticularly the SAGE module where we traced the international production of a hypothetical t-shirt from the farm to the landfill and beyond into it’s second-hand life.

Introducing: Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt from NPR on Vimeo.

Inspired by Pietra Rivoli‘s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade, Planet Money actually hired the Georgetown Professor as an advisor for this series. Needless to say, I highly recommend the The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy as further reading to help gain even deeper insight into the value chain of a ‘simple’ t-shirt. 

This series is an absolute must for anyone interested in the fashion supply chain as a whole and the political, economic, and social issues that surround the production of clothing.

Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt: The world behind a simple shirt, in five chapters