Watch out for this new film coming to UK cinemas in 2017.
Moving through the corridors and bowels of an enormous and disorientating structure, the camera takes the viewer on a descent down to a dehumanized place of physical labor and intense hardship. This gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India might just as well be the decorum for a 21st century Dante’s Inferno. In his mind-provoking yet intimate portrayal, director Rahul Jain observes the life of the workers, the suffering and the environment they can hardly escape from. With strong visual language, memorable images and carefully selected interviews of the workers themselves, Jain tells a story of inequality, oppression and the huge divide between rich, poor and the perspectives of both (source).
Reviews and interviews
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)’.
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’.”
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.
In 2011, we spent three weeks making things out of Lego with our summer interns.
We started off by the live tweeting of our Lego Maersk container ship and ended up re-creating scenes from different followthethings pages in Lego.
This week, we ran a Lego Lab at the Annual Conference of the Geographical Association in Guildford, in the UK. We have found Legoing to be a fantastic way to imagine and appreciate the relations what our site describes, and also to discuss the issues it contains in toy form.
We’ve also asked people about their favourite things, what they like about them, to imagine someone somewhere who made them for them, and then to write down what they would say to that person if they had the chance.
So, what happens when you combine these two approaches: ask people to think of a favourite thing, imagine who made it, and then Lego that imagination?
That’s what happened on the last day of our summer 2012 Lego Lab, when 11 year-old Ruby did this for her favorite dress. We asked for one scene, but she made the stop-frame animation – pictured above – of the whole commodity chain. It’s quick…
This is one way to imagine an answer to Fashion Revolution Day’s 2014 question: who made your clothes? And we’re publishing it today in advance of the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. 24 April. Try it yourself!
At the Fashion Revolution Day advisory board meeting last month, we made the rash claim that we could find out (roughy) who made your clothes, through the kind of ‘Follow it yourself’ research that we do. We decided to take as our starting point a tweet by FRD’s founder Carry Somers.
It’s great when you get an email out of the blue. Especially if it’s from a former student whose ‘follow the thing’ dissertation is available from your website. And especially if it is, to date, its most viewed example of original student work on the site. Fred was a BA Geography student at the University of Birmingham. I’d supervised his dissertation. He’d enjoyed researching and writing it. Then he graduated and went off into the ‘real world’… but why’s he back?
He returns my email, eventually. He says it’s good to hear from me, especially so given how eager I am to get back into this writing malarkey.