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. 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.
Sarah Corbett (2017) Mini Fashion Statements. Craftivist Collective 19 April [includes a MFS kit to purchase and a ‘Why To’ video with Sarah]
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
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.
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.
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)’.
We’ve been working on one of 12 ‘Grand Challenges’ that the University of Exeter runs each year for first year students. The idea is that academic staff introduce first year students from across the university to the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century, through some hands-on learning and with the help of visiting experts (who students refer to as ‘real people’, in my experience).
Challenges this year include Climate Change, Global Security and Mental Health, and the one that we’re running is on Fashion ethics after the Rana Plaza collapse.
There are four ways to find out more, to get involved, and to follow us next week:
1) Our blog
All the background information we’ve put together to prepare for this challenge. The Rana Plaza collapse and its ripple effects, and how we’re trying to appreciate and work with these ripples in the space of Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping centre, where we’re be occupying 2 disused shops and its main square for 4 days next week.
Today, we started to play with the Fashion Ethics Trump card game we’ve made for, and with, Fashion Revolution Day.
We ended up tweeting some #fashtrumps selfies and a step by step guide for anyone who wants to join the #fashtrumps conversation.
We present to you here: some examples of #fashtrumps selfies, those guiding tweets and a twitter box that will show the ones that you have made…
Give this a go!
Its aim is to encourage its players to think about their clothes and fashion ethics, a topic that’s more important than ever after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April last year.
It’s a playful way of encouraging some serious discussion about who and what we are wearing.
Here, we want to showcase the new FRD pack – which was published yesterday – and to provide a match report that will give you an idea of how the game can be made and played in your classroom, home, shed … wherever you play cards!
Like others, I was in two minds. They say first impressions count; but if I’d gone with mine Timmerman wouldn’t have got the credit he perhaps deserves. He begins with a trip to Honduras. It’s brief, the entire experience based on a quick opportune chat with a random worker called Amilcar outside the factory gates. Was Timmerman taking this seriously or just using the motive as a holiday? Where was the in-depth exploratory enthusiasm needed to give the topic of social injustice, well, justice?!
This set the theme for the style of the book throughout. Drive-by ethnography to put an academic spin on it. Timmerman didn’t immerse himself, get involved, recognize the importance of the little bits of everyday that make up the patchwork of life. The chapters were brief reflecting the lack of depth into places: I was left wanting more. I started to become irritated with his light-hearted, fun, immature approach. He shouldn’t have taken the people out to a theme park, he should have bought them food, or some educational supplies. Short sighted. Selfish. It was a very negative first impression.
I contacted Timmerman when undertaking this review. He is such a genuine bloke. I felt guilty for my negative and maybe ‘aloof?’ stance on his work. I’d fallen into the academic trap: I must be critical, I know best! I gave him a second chance… it was an easy read. It wasn’t challenging, why should it be? I’d actually enjoyed reading it, after all.
Timmerman was funny. He injected his happy-go-lucky humour into his experiences. Considering the pessimism associated with his topics, I wasn’t left feeling depressed and helpless. He accepted the enormity of the problems and went, albeit naively, and did his best in the situations encountered. Ultimately, his written style allowed for a wide target audience, furthermore it conjured debate. Was this the right way to go about things?
In a forthcoming followthethings.com page that I researched and wrote with other Exeter Geography undergraduates, you will see for yourself how Timmerman’s style opens a space for discussion and debate. With discussion and debate comes an increase in awareness. Is that not the most important thing to come out of his work? Is the content (and perhaps it’s flaws) merely by-the-by?
Give the book’s second edition a read and see what you think (it is the same as the first but with some added chapters which I will discuss in a minute!). Apart from the overarching issue of style that I have highlighted, you may find like me that Timmerman’s little observations and thoughts stand out to you, academically and/or personally. For example, his decision to pretend to be an underwear buyer rang with ideas of covert research and the associated morals that go with it. Timmerman himself says on the issue: “He’s just trying to make it in this world, I’m completely wasting his time” (p.37).
Timmerman’s ability to capture poignant moments was a highlight of the book for me really overriding my first negative impressions. At the same time, he managed to bring the people of his experiences alive and make them human. He made me think what choices I would have made; would I have given Arifa the $20? What’s my view on boycotting?“To buy or not to buy that is the question” (p.117).
As the book progresses, so does he. He writes of his experiences with a more reflexive attitude. Perhaps it’s important that as the reader you develop with him. First impressions don’t have to count. You enter the book as naively as Timmerman enters his journey. So with him you begin to develop your own personal debates. Personally I enjoyed grappling with myself alongside Timmerman about what it means to be Western- what should I do about it, should I even think about it at all!? “Perhaps we are both better off not thinking about the other’s life”. Conscientious consumer vs. deliberate ignorance. “Can I afford to worry about a garment worker in Bangladesh…?” (p.238). Indeed. Grappling with my moral conscience continues…“It’s unnatural for producer and consumer to meet” (p.67).
Had Timmerman done some background reading here? The assumed naturalness of our commodities, our clothes just appearing on the well socked racks of the High Street…fetishization…invisible human labour…
In this updated and revised second edition, he opens with admitting his flaws in brevity; “I’ve always felt this book was missing something”- turns out he simply ‘chickened out’ of asking the meaty questions! “I think deep-down I didn’t want to know the realities of Amilcar’s life, so I didn’t ask…” In fact he even says that if it weren’t for the complete silliness of him giving Amilcar his T-shirt in the first place, Amilcar wouldn’t have remembered him at all! So his naivety did have its place in the end.
The updated version contextualizes consumerism in the economic downturn and the far reaching effects, from American garment workers to those in Mexico. He tried to get an update of the individuals we met in the first edition. However, although Amilcar’s story created some excitement, the other updates were rather brief and somewhat lacking excitement. I suppose the fact that he could not trace the couple in China at all was if brief on paper, poignant in other ways. Like they were lost forever and it was the tidal wave of capitalism and consumerism that had engulfed them. Two individuals disappeared into the masses…
Overall, the updates for the second addition were perhaps necessary for closure. Timmerman is to be applauded for his enthusiastic uptake of a big idea and for his ability to open spaces for debate. The book is not an instruction manual; it does not lecture the reader nor drill into them the author’s opinions. For this reason they are an important step towards raising a public awareness of our power (or lack of) as consumers.
Ellie Bird / 5 October 2012