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
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.
This is one of the questions that drives our work at followthethings.com. We tend to find our answers – yes, no, maybe, depends, etc… – in the user-generated comments on video-sharing websites like YouTube and in the comments on newspaper reviews. We’re currently wading through thousands of comments on a 2015 ‘follow the fashion’ film called The True Cost, and came across this powerful video response. We’re giving a paper about the True Cost and fashion activism at a conference next month. There’s an argument in the literature that work like this makes prescriptive arguments about responsibility that are so infinitely demanding they can generate a sense of powerlessness in consumer audiences. This doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for this viewer. Watching this film was a powerful experience. For us, this kind of response changes the question that’s asked. Now it’s ‘how do ‘follow the things’ documentaries affect their audiences? What vocabulary can we develop to describe this? That’s what we’re working on.
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
Animation and humour can play powerful roles in trade justice campaigning. Perhaps the most well known example is the peanut who criticises the regulation of world trade in The Luckiest Nut in the World. See our page on that film here.
One recent example of this genre was launched In March 2013 in Switzerland. To make public the findings of their report on the sourcing of raw materials by Swiss chocolate manufacturers, Swiss NGO the Berne Declaration (aka Erklärung von Bern) commissioned animators / filmmakers Kompost to imagine what Chocolate Bunnies would do if they knew more about themselves. As Kompost state:
Easter in Switzerland is a busy time for the chocolate industry. Billions of delicious chocolate bunnies are produced by the grand masters of chocolate. Unfortunately, still many Swiss chocolate companies and retailers are producing their chocolate under exploitative conditions; a third even refuse to make a statement to this issue. EvB, a Swiss NGO responsible for fairer globalization, tries to put an end to this with the help of these ads.
The two commercials Kompost designed, directed and animated, show the EvB-chocolate bunny trying to take his life, as he simply cannot live knowing these shocking facts. With the help of a hair dryer and a hotplate, the chocolate bunny tries to melt his sorrows away. His attempts however fail, and he is left with the bitter reality.
‘If only they could see the truth.’ ‘We can help them.’
Yesterday, Greenpeace announced that:
After ten months of #PeoplePowered activities and behind-the-scenes haggling G-Star finally committed to eliminate all uses of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020.
G-Star joins corporations like Levi’s, Zara, Victoria’s Secret, H&M and Nike who have already agreed to do this.
The imagery conjured up in the Greenpeace campaign is vivid:
They say you can tell next season’s hottest trend by looking at the colour of the rivers in Mexico and China. That’s because global fashion brands like Calvin Klein, GAP and G-Star Raw are using hazardous chemicals and dyes to make our clothes. These chemicals poison our rivers, and traces of these hazardous chemicals also end up remaining in many of the garments people buy.
But it’s even more vivid if your campaign video is an animation. That’s where those words come from, and this is its ‘Detox Fashion’ video. Bubbles are popping. Worlds of production and consumption are coming into view.
At followthethings.com, we’re fascinated by the ways in which animation can be used in trade justice activism. Our favorite examples so far have been Emily James’ “The Luckiest Nut in the World” (our page with the film embedded is here), Melanie Jackson’s “A Global Positioning System” (watch this here, and read our page on it here), and ‘Make Fruit Fair: the Movie” (in a previous blog post here).
What is that animation can offer a campaign, that a film including ‘real people’ cannot? Check out our Nut and GPS pages above, and read this, for some answers…