In the summer of 2020, Geographies of Material Culture, the undergraduate module behind our website, was totally reorganised for online teaching and learning. As detailed in our recent post announcing the launch of its public archive, it brought together 10 ‘follow the thing’ films and 10 followthethings.com pages about their making, discussion and impacts.
This module was also redesigned – from the selection and sequence of these films to the content and appearance of its website – to try to decolonise its pedagogy. Over the past couple of years a brilliant decolonising network has taken shape at our university with all kinds of exciting initiatives involving staff and students all over the place. The changes made to our module were informed and inspired by this wider movement. Some were generic strategies for decolonising a module and others were more tailored to the module, its materials and its aims. Module leader and followthethings.com ‘CEO’ Ian has been trying to channel his white privilege through anti-racist education for over 20 years now (see this from 2000). But this felt like a step change for his research and teaching about the ‘follow the things’ genre of commodity activism which simply asks ‘Who made my stuff?’
If you check the module’s public archive, you will see how the following decolonising strategies helped to shape it. There were five aims:
- to disrupt the ‘white saviour complex’ of ‘guilty’ Northern (white) consumers wanting only to shop more ‘ethically to help exploited (POC) workers by trying to shift responses to ‘who made my stuff’ filmmaking ‘from guilt to solidarity’ (Young 2003).
What’s the role of labour rights NGOs in mediating relationships between brands, workers and governments? How do they make a difference to the lives and working conditions of the people who make our things? In this ‘Labour Behind the Label’ video, a labour union president from Bangladesh visiting the UK provides some answers…
It’s Fashion Revolution Week this week. To mark this, we’re showcasing our favourite examples of cultural activism which have supported its #whomademyclothes call to action. On Monday, we showcased the Guerrilla Projections of documentary photographer Ismael Ferdous. On Tuesday, we showcased the gentle Shop-dropping activism of the Craftivist Collective. And yesterday we showcased the power of Disobedient Objects like Fashion Revolution Germany & BDDO’s €2 T-shirt vending machine.
Today’s post focuses on a strategic impact documentary called the True Cost. This aims to unravel fast fashion’s grim and gritty supply chains in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse. It juxtaposes scenes of fashion models strutting catwalks, YouTube shopping hauls, footage of Black Friday shopping chaos, TV news footage of garment workers sewing clothes in cramped factory spaces, talking head interviews with factory workers and owners, farmers, former corporate executives, academic experts, famous activists and ethical fashion royalty, brands working ethically, key people from NGOs like War on Want, and champions of free market economics.
What’s distinctive about the True Cost and the impacts that it has had is that it was crowd-funded, released via iTunes and Netflix, and tries to channel its audiences’ concerns to ‘do something’ through public screenings with panel discussions, its website and associated social media. This film enrolled its audiences from its crowd-funding forwards. It was a conversation, a collaborative ‘do something’, from the beginning. Despite its lack of mainstream funding or cinema listing, the making, reception and impacts of this film in relation to the Fashion Revolution have been nothing short of stunning. We’re posting this today because CEO Ian is on a True Cost panel in Portsmouth tonight. It’s a textbook example of the emerging genre of strategic impact documentary.
Judith Hefland & Anna Lee (2012) Put movies in the hands of movements. in Andrew Boyd (comp.) Beautiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution. New York: O/R, 164-5
Kate Nash & John Corner (2016) Strategic impact documentary: contexts or production and social intervention. European Journal of Communication 31(3) 227-242
It’s Fashion RevolutionWeek this week. To mark this, we’re showcasing our favourite examples of cultural activism which have supported its #whomademyclothes call to action. On Monday, we showcased the Guerrilla Projections of documentary photographer Ismael Ferdous. Yesterday we showcased the gentle Shop-dropping activism of the Craftivist Collective.
Today’s post shows how disobedient objects can contribute to the Fashion Revolution. In this case, Fashion Revolution Germany and BDDO took a shopping experience with which people are familiar- inserting money to buy something from a vending machine – and introduced information about who made these things at the point of sale.
What happens when people are asked to think about this then? That was the experiment. Buy, boycott, donate? What would you do? How is your choice structured? The debate was lively. This video was the viral hit of Fashion Revolution 2015.
Olivia Boertje, Jo Ryley, Alec James, Tori Carter, Becky Watts and Rachel Osborne (2016) The 2 Euro T-Shirt – A Social Experiment. followthethings.com
Catherine Flood & Gavin Grindon (2014) Disobedient objects. London: V&A Publishing
It’s Fashion Revolution week this week. Today is the fourth anniversary of the deadly Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, Bangladesh. We’ve been working closely with Fashion Revolution almost from the start, our CEO Ian being a member of its Global Coordination Team. followthethings.com brings to Fashion Revolution a keen interest in cultural activism, its creation, discussion and impacts, This week we will be sharing each day a form of cultural activism that has made significant contributions to the movement.
Today’s post shows how photographs from the Rana Plaza site in the hours and days after the collapse were used to engage consumers and shame brands and retailers who refused to acknowledge that their clothes were being made there at the time. In this 2014 TED talk, Bangladeshi documentary photographer Ismael Ferdous talks about those he took on the day and what he did with them when he took them to New York. Guerrilla Projection is the activist tactic. This is moving, inspiring, troubling work.
Samantha Corbin & Mark Read (2012) Tactic: Guerilla Projection. in Andrew Boyd (comp.) Beutiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution. New York: O/R, 52-53
Hannah Harris Green (2014) Photographer Ismail Ferdous On Documenting the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse. The Aerogram 15 May
It’s Fashion Revolution Week this week. Last year’s headline, viral #whomademyclothes smash came from Germany. A vending machine apparently dispensing t-shirts for only 2 Euros in a Berlin square. If you put your money in, you had to watch a video showing the sweatshop conditions in which they were made. Twenty seconds in, you were presented with an option to buy the t-shirt or donate your 2 Euros. You were also filmed. With your permission, your reactions were included in a short film that was posted on YouTube on 23 April 2015. To date, over 7 million people will have seen your reactions, the expressions on your face, and joined the often heated, occasionally funny and carefully reasoned conversation in the comments below, and elsewhere online.
At followthethings.com, we turn the thousands of comments all over the internet into a digested read, a single conversation. Reading this you might get a sense of how successful this experiment was, and what made the video go viral. You might also think what you might have added to the conversation. What is the experiment showing? What’s it not showing? See what you think. Here.
Highlights from the conversation: Continue reading
We’re involved in running a session at the Royal Geographical Society (Institute of British Geography) annual conference this summer whose aim is to bring academic fashion experts into dialogue with the Fashion Revolution movement. We’re asking how fashion research can contribute to what is becoming a worldwide movement for a more ethical / sustainable fashion industry in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013. We’re looking for academic research from any discipline that can contribute to Fashion Revolution’s five year planning. Here’s what we’re doing. Please get in touch with Ian, Lousie and/or Alex to discuss any ideas. The deadline for abstracts is Friday 12th February.
– Call for papers –
Scholar activism and the Fashion Revolution: ‘who made my clothes?’
The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex on April 24th 2013, which crushed to death over 1,000 people making clothes for Western brands, was a final straw, a call to arms, for significant change in the fashion industry. Since then, tens of thousands of people have taken to social media, to the streets, to their schools and halls of government to uncover the lives hidden in the clothes we wear. Businesses, consumers, governments, academics, NGOS and others working towards a safer, cleaner and more just future for the fashion industry have been galvanised.
One of our former interns, Eeva Kemppainen, now works in Helsinki for the pro-Fair Trade NGO Eettisen kaupan puolesta (Pro Ethical Trade Finland). In 2014, she published a paper in the Finnish journal Natura about ways in which she tries to engage students in humorous critiques of consumption and advertising. They examine, then cut up, rearrange and/or scribble on magazine adverts. They try to subvert their messages so that the information that they hide is made visible. What they produce are what’s called subvertisments. Here Eeva describes how she organises subvertisement workshops, and showcases some of the work that students have produced.
A couple of weeks ago, we attended the Geographical Association (GA) conference in Manchester. This is a conference for geography teachers, student geography teachers and the people who train them. We talked to many who taught their students the geographies of trade through researching their own clothes. We went to a talk where Hannah Campion, a newly qualified teacher, explained how she sparked her students’ curiosity about these geographies using some of our teaching resources. With the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse only a few days away, we are publishing what she said…
A £4 t-shirt
My name is Hannah Campion. I am an NQT at The National Church of England Academy, Nottinghamshire. My fascination around the Geography of my ‘stuff’ developed from undergraduate study of commodity chains, commodity fetishism and Cook’s (2004) ‘follow the thing’ approach at the University of Nottingham. An assignment during my teacher training course on ‘Fantastic Geographies’ gave me the opportunity to bring this controversial issue into the classroom, to enable pupils to investigate and to develop a curiosity around the lives of our everyday commodities. The initial scheme is a 5 lesson sequence unveiling and unpicking the life of a plain white £4 t-shirt from production through to consumption. In 2014, I was asked to display my work at the Geographical Association conference in Guildford as part of the Ideas Zone exhibition. Since then, I have written an article for Teaching Geography (Campion 2015) and presented a Teacher-to-Teacher session at this year’s GA conference entitled ‘Behind the seams: global connections in the classroom (KS3)’.
Last year we co-ran the Idea Zone at the Geographical Association conference in Guildford. We filled a table with Lego for delegates to recreate scenes described on our website. We set up a card table to make a play our Ethical Trade trump card game. And a Nottingham PGCE student called Hannah Campion brought along some lesson plans, teaching materials and student work showing how she’d used our site and classroom resources to develop a lesson series about ‘The Geographies of my Stuff’. She was asked if she’d be interested in writing a short paper about all of this in the GA’s Teaching Geography journal. It’s just been published, and here’s an extract.
“… My five-lesson sequence was developed for year 8 and followed on from a year 7 unit, ‘The Geography of my Stuff’. I wanted to develop students’ ability to investigate and critically reflect on the hidden connections which link them to often distant global communities, and to empathise with the people who live and work there. To do this, I chose a familiar but often untraceable commodity which students could easily identify with – a plain white T-shirt. … In the first lesson we used a ‘who, what, why’ starter, with images of horses, clothes and the Rana Plaza factory collapse to stimulate students’ curiosity. … Lesson 2 introduced the £4 T-shirt as the commodity to be investigated. After we had covered the role of the first link in the chain, the cotton farmer, the main activity required students to explore, in groups, ‘How much of the £4 should x get paid?’ … Lesson 3 focused on manufacturing and worker conditions. The enquiry question was: ‘Who was to blame for the Rana Plaza collapse?’ … Having helped students to step into the shoes of ‘others’ and investigate the structures and processes of the clothing industry, in lesson 4 we focused on the ethical standards of global retailers. The class was divided into two groups, representing H&M and Primark … [and] students played the Top Trumps game to compare multiple retailers. … [Finally] The assessment activity was to produce a newspaper article … entitled ‘Behind the seams… the story of a £4 T-shirt’.”