Category: shop dropping

How shop-dropping can contribute to the Fashion Revolution: the Craftivist Collective’s Mini Fashion Statements

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. Yesterday, we highlighted the 2014  ‘guerilla projection’ work of documentary photographer Ismael Ferdous. His photos of people dead and injured by the Rana Plaza collapse were projected on the High Street stores of companies which were refusing to acknowledge that their clothes were being made there. 

Today, we turn to the gentle activism of shop-dropping. It’s the opposite of shop-lifting, where activists leave things in store – in garments’ pockets, for example – to highlight to people who find them, and brands and retailers challenged by them, inequities in their supply chains. For Fashion Revolution Week why not make and leave behind in store a ‘Mini Fashion Statement’? He’s the Craftivist Collective‘s 2016 ‘how to’ video.

Further information

Sarah Corbett (2017) Mini Fashion StatementsCraftivist Collective 19 April [includes a MFS kit to purchase and a ‘Why To’ video with Sarah]

Further reading

Randall Bezanson & Andrew Finkelman (2009) Trespassory art. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 43(2), 245-322 [download here]

Ian Cook et al (2015) The 13 best examples of shop-dropping… ever.  followtheblog.org November

YesMenLab (2011) Shop Dropping Product Labels – by the Yes Lab. Destructibles 7 July

Commodity activism in a transmedia world: our latest publication

There’s an academic publications page on our blog that gives a taste of, and provides access to, our research papers about the followthethings.com project. A book chapter has just been published in an open access e-book that brings together a series of lectures in Switzerland asking if and how social scientific research can transform society. Our answer is a qualified yes.

Cook et al, I. (2017) followthethings.com: analysing relations between the making, reception and impact of commodity activism in a transmedia world. in Ola Söderström, Laure Kloetzer & Hugues Jeannerat (eds) Innovations Sociales: Comment les Sciences Sociales contribuent à transformer la Société, MAPS: Université de Neuchâtel, 50-61 Full Text

What we are keen to find out are what filmmaking, artistic and activist tactics lead to what kinds of public and corporate responses, and with what kinds of impacts on whom. There is an established argument that, when this work is didactic and tries to enroll its audiences through blame, shame and guilt, it tends to fail. Audiences feel powerless, overwhelmed, apathetic, and angry at those making them feel this way rather that at the injustices exposed (Barnett 2010, Sandlin & Milam 2008, Cook & Woodyer 2012). Even the most cursory examination of our website suggests that the elements of, and relationships set out in, this argument are quite narrowly defined. To illustrate this, we offer below a taste of what’s to come from the analysis of the followthethings.com archive. We provisionally outline one engagement tactic, one kind of consumer response, one kind of corporate response, and one kind of impact.

#whomademyclothes? Fazlul Ashraf?

A week ago PhD student Thomas Dekeyser tweeted a photograph of a note found in someone’s Zara jeans. We circulated it at work, and loads of people discussed what language it might be written in and what it could say. We’d found a note on a CD player and found help to translate it before.

There’s a genre of shop-dropping in which factory workers leave notes for consumers in the things they make. Sometimes they’re genuine. Sometimes they’re hoaxes. Sometimes they’re part of activist campaigns. See our post The 13 best examples of shop-dropping … ever for more

This one was particularly relevant for the Fashion Revolution movement, whose core question is ‘Who made my clothes?’ This note could simply be a direct answer. According to Reddit. Or is there more to it?

Thanks to Thomas and to Brad Garrett for the tipoff.

Fashion Revolution call for papers at RGS(IBG) annual conference

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?’

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Abstract

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.

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The 14 best examples of shop-dropping… ever

Our website followthethings.com is designed to bring together and confuse two kinds of ‘shopping’: going shopping for things, and shopping things (i.e. betraying their origins).

Taking new information into stores and leaving it on/in or attaching it to the goods concerned is shopping in both senses of the word. It’s one of the most direct ways of bringing trade justice issues into spaces and acts of consumption. Whether this is done by consumer activists or factory workers, by accident or by design, genuine or faked, it’s called ‘shop dropping’ (sometimes ‘droplifting).

Here’s our list of 14 examples, in date order, with some extras at the end.

1) The Barbies that talk like GI Joe (and vice versa)

Perhaps the most famous example of shop dropping was undertaken in 1993 when the Barbie Liberation Organisation bought a bunch of talking GI Joe and Barbie Dolls, switched their voice boxes and placed them back in store. This video explains everything.

And this handy worksheet shows you how you can make the switch yourself.

2) The letter left in the pocket of a pair of jeans 

In the 2005 ‘follow the jeans’ documentary ‘China Blue’, ‘At the end … [factory worker Jasmine] leaves a letter addressed to one such person in the pocket of a pair of jeans. The film simulates the journey of this letter from the boxes in the port, to the ships that transport them, and finally to the up-scale store that stocks the jeans, implying the complicity of Western consumers in the exploitative dynamics of transnational capital’ (Source: Moll 2007 p.163-4). Read more about this film on our site here.

3) The photos found on a new iPhone

Photos and films taken on production lines to make sure that cameras work are sometimes left on cameras and phones for buyers to find. The most notorious are the photos taken of a young woman in a Foxconn factory in China who became known as ‘iPhone Girl’.  Posted online by the person who bought the phone in 2008, they went viral online, generating arguments and suspicion worldwide. Read more about the ‘iPhone Girl’ phenomenon on our site here.

4) The Killer Jeans pocket labels

In 2011, to publicise its ‘Killer Jeans’ report, anti-sweatshop group Labour Behind the Label encouraged activists to print out and add to jeans in store the label below. They wanted to ‘hid[e] messages in the pockets of thousands of pairs of designer jeans this week to highlight the serious health risks faced by workers making jeans for designer brands including Dolce and Gabanna and Armani’.  Read the story here. Watch a video of this activism in store, here.

5) The Adidas Exploitation price labels

In 2012 War on Want encouraged activists to add 34p price labels to Adidas goods in store to highlight the poverty wages of factory workers making its goods in Indonesia. Read the story here.

6) The film footage found on an HP laptop

Also in 2012, this film was found on a brand new Hewlett Packard Laptop. A TechCrunch post which features this film explains:

It was stored in the My Documents folder and clearly depicts the mundanity of life inside a hardware manufacturing plant. This was taken in the Quanta Chongqing Manufacturing City in Chongqing and the worker seems to be testing the camera on this particular model. Usually evidence of this testing is wiped out. It wasn’t in this case. Essentially, you’re looking at the face of modern manufacturing. He’s not mistreated, he’s not chained to his desk, but he’s building the same thing, over and over again, a prospect not many of us would relish. It’s a mundane view inside a fairly secret world that we as consumers rarely get to see.

7) The letter in the Saks Fifth Avenue Bag

In September 2012, a shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City found a letter and a passport photo in the paper shopping bag in which the checkout person had places her new Hunter wellies. It was written by Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, a Cameroon national who was making the bags while incarcerated in a Chinese prison. In the letter, we wrote “Maybe this bag could go somewhere and they find this letter and they can let my family know or anybody [know] that I am in prison.” Read our site’s new page on this letter here.

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8) The letter in the Halloween decorations

In December 2012 an American consumer posted onto facebook a photograph of a letter found in a box of K-Mart Halloween decorations. The letter seems to have been written by a person who helped to assemble them in a Labour camp in China. It begins ““If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.”  Read our site’s new page on this letter here.

9) The extra price tags in the Apple store

In March 2013 – when this post was first written –  Friends of the Earth in the UK marked the opening of an Apple Store in Leeds by adding ‘price tags’ to the goods on sale. In this case, they were pointing out the ‘price’ paid by rainforests in the production of tin that’s in Apple and other electronic goods.

10) The labels and letter found in Primark clothes

In June 2014, news stories started to appear in the UK about labels like this being found in Primark dresses.

And other examples have started to appear in the news, for example.

We researched this story so far (see our page here).

11) The secret scrolls made & placed in clothes 

In September 2015 ‘Sarah Corbett and other craftivists” set out  “to lovingly handwrite messages onto beautiful paper and wrap them delicately in ribbon to place in clothes pockets in shops, fashion show seats and other secret places for people to find.” In making and placing these ‘secret scrolls’, they hoped, would “encourage people to think about who made our clothes, provoke questions and curiosity of the true cost of fashion, show the world that change is possible and celebrate all those creating a more sustainable future of the fashion industry.” In April 2016, they made this ‘how to?’ Mini Fashion Statements video for Fashion Revolution Day. It’s awesome.

12) The sketch and note found in a shoe box

In November 2015, a Reddit user posted a photograph of a sketch and note found in an unopened box of Naturalizer shoes.

The story, too, was sketchy. According to the Daily Mail, “A customer has found an SOS note in a shoe box claiming it is from a scared Ethiopian factory worker whose family were killed by soldiers. The sketched image of the worker with the accompanying note was uploaded to the website Reddit. It was translated by a user who claimed the worker said they were ‘hungry, sad’, afraid’ and pleaded for help. It also alleged that the worker’s family were killed by soldiers”. The post drew thousands of comments, some suspicious because it was posted on Reddit “the viral site that has a reputation as a source of some of the internet’s biggest hoaxes”.

13) the letter found in a pair of Primark socks

In December, an imgur user posted a photograph of a letter saying “Didnt know where else to put this, my dads just found this in a sock bought from Primark can anyone translate?” People responded, for example, saying “guy was framed for a crime he didnt commit and imprisoned, his wife ended up in mental hospital and his father was murdered”, “I’m Chinese and this letter is legitimately asking for help. You might want to report to police or news media”, “with enough attention it could probably hit the news” and “So if this is real, is there ever a good outcome to something like this?” Click the image below to follow the conversation.

14) The letter found in the Walmart handbag

In May 2017, Christel Wallace bought a purse from a Walmart store in Arizona. Inside it she found tiny folded note in a zipper compartment.  Her daughter-in-law posted it on facebook asking if anyone could translate its Chinese characters.

The result? It says:

“Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China are working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be beaten. Their meals are without oil and salt. Every month, the boss pays the inmate 2000 yuan, any additional dishes will be finished by the police. If the inmates are sick and need medicine, the cost will be deducted from the salary. Prison in China is unlike prison in America, horse cow goat pig dog (literally, means inhumane treatment).”

Wallace knew about the other examples of prisoner notes being found in commodities including one where the author was found by journalists (see above). She hoped that making her note public might have the same results (see here for the original story).

Plus….

After I mentioned the HP laptop video find in class, student Elaine King brought this photograph to class to show me. Her boss had found it in her holiday photos taken with a disposable camera. Elaine had, for some reason, kept it. This seems to be a disposable camera’s eye view of a disposable camera production line. How, why and by whom the photo was taken, we will never know…

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What exactly is shop-dropping and what’s it like to do??

We didn’t know what this type of activism was called, until we found this Yes Men site that tells you how you, too, can ‘shop drop’. And this interview with Cheap Date Magazine’s Bay Garnett, in which the joys of shop-dropping are explained:

We did this thing called ‘Shop Dropping’ where we used to decorate clothes and drop them in shops. So in Victoria’s Secret we’d leave huge granny pants with a sign saying, ‘please take me home, I’m yours’ – it was just fun! The shop people were so disarmed because you’re putting something in a shop; you’re not taking it away. We did one in Prada, and literally the whole of Broadway was looking. We took this huge dress, a really, really disgusting dress, and we got paints and did like big heart and words saying, ‘I’m really lonely’, or something like that. I can’t remember who placed it, it was either me or Kira, but we placed it on Broadway in that Rem Koolhaas building, and it was just so perfectly placed that the shop people couldn’t do anything. There were queues of people looking – it was there for two hours and it was amazing. Because it was really funny. I mean I couldn’t do that now, because I don’t want to do that. But at the time it felt right, it felt really right. We’d also often go into a designer shop and there’d be all these perfect shoes, and we’d get a pair of really old fucked-up Converse, with writing and stuff on the feet, and put it in and then walk out. So you’d leave it there and wait for it to be found, and then take a photo. We’d spend Saturdays doing that (Garnett in Stoppard nd link).

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Some shop-dropping is more deliberate than others, and a popular topic of debate is the truth/hoax value of the ones that seem to be accidental. What we love about them is that they spark our imaginations, and discussions, encourage us to ask what traces of human and other labour we could find on and in our things.

Reading…

Bezanson, R. & Finkelman, A. (2009) Trespassory art. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 43(2), 245-322 [download here]

Biggs, J. (2012) A Unique View Inside An HP Laptop Assembly LineTechCrunch 27 July

Bonanno, M. (2012) Barbie Liberation Organisation. in Boyd, A. (comp) Beautiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution. New York: O/R

Cantrell, A. (2005) Artists drop while they shop. CNN Money 20 July

Cook, I. (2011) iPhone 3G – already with pictures! (aka ‘iPhone Girl’). followthethings.com

Craftivist Collective (2015) Stockholm Craftivists secret scrolls in Fashion WeekCraftivist collective nd

Hart, J. (2014) ‘I found this in a box of Halloween decorations’.   followthethings.com 

Kelleher, W. & Cook, I. (2014) The letter in the Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bagfollowthethings.com

Kelleher, W. & Cook, I. (2014) Cries for help found in Primark clothes (a.k.a.’labelgate’)followthethings.com 

Lambert-Beatty, C. (2010) Fill in the blank: culture jamming and the advertising of agency. New directions for youth development 12, 99-112

Spicer, S., Horgan, A., Rastall, M., Mayers, J., Frost, A., & Donald, R. (2012) China Blue. followthethings.com 

Stoppard, L. (nd) Interview: Bay Garnett. SHOWstudio nd

War on Want (2012) Adidas reels under Olympics ‘sweatshops’ protest” press release. War on Want 14 July

YesMenLab (2011) Shop Dropping Product Labels – by the Yes Lab. Destructibles 7 July

To continue the ‘letters from factory workers’ theme, we recommend this evocative book chapter analysing the content of un-sent letters found in the debris of a deadly toy factory blaze in Shenzhen, China in 1993. These were just normal letters home:

Chan, A. (2002) The culture of survival: lives of migrant workers through the prism of private letters. In Link, P., Madsen, R. & Pickowicz, P. (eds) Popular China: unofficial culture in a globalizing society. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield, 163-188 [download here]

to be continued…

Last updated May 2017