Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Slaves to Fashion: Today´s Sweatshops

I am reposting an essay I have written about the down side to the fashion industry.  There are many issues about which a responsible designer should be aware:
For more info see:
Sweatshop Journal and Sweatshop World

Fashion can be exciting and glamorous. It is creative. It communicates who you are and expresses how you are feeling. It helps you seduce or reject those around you. Fashion is fun and beautiful. But fashion has its ugly side. “Fashion” is an industry whose main purpose is to attack and manipulate our self-esteem in order to raise profits. In fashion our self-worth is based on what tag is sewn into our jeans, anorexia and bulimia is rampant, environmental issues and animal rights take a back seat and around the globe human beings are forced into slave labor in order to rapidly produce for the demands of the masses; our demands. When one truly understands this, it should make you think twice about how much you really need a new shirt or pair of pants.

Buying from the big name brands is no guarantee that you are not supporting slave labor. Big labels usually outsource work to sewing factories. One example can be found every day in the garment district of Buenos Aries. A very common strategy in Argentina by independent sewing houses is to send representatives to other countries; Bolivia is quite popular; to recruit desperately poor people, promising them work in Argentina for a "fee". Since they don’t have money to pay the "fee" they are told that they can work and pay the fee and other costs off in installments. Most often uneducated and unaware of their rights, the workers arrive and are literally forced into slave labor. Paid nothing and not allowed to leave the factory until the "fee" is paid off, they sleep, eat and work next to their sewing machines. They receive no medical care in spite of extreme repetitive stress injuries, are exposed to extremes in temperature and excessively long work days and are watched over carefully to avoid fraternization and solidarity among laborers. Women must often endure sexual harassment as well.

A few years ago a fire broke out in one of these slave factories, in the Caballito neighborhood of Buenos Aires. A family of six died, four of whom were minor-aged children. You may be asking: “What were children doing living in the factory?” A sad fact is that it is quite common for single, poor mothers; lured by false promises and dreams of a better life; to be indebted not only with their own "fee" but by that of their children.

Until recently big name clothing brands have had an "easy out" from responsibility, claiming that they "just didn´t know" what their contractors were doing. But that is changing now that certain laws are holding them responsible for what their contractors are up to. We as consumers also play a big role in this problem and should hold ourselves accountable morally. By allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the rapidly changing fashion industry we quickly feel “out of style”, we demand lots of clothes at cheap prices and which cater to the “style of the month”.

A responsible designer will consider the "human" factor when deciding to mass produce. A responsible consumer will learn to live with a little bit less clothing and not be driven to desperation for fashion. Why not even learn to make your own clothes?

For more information on this topic there is an interesting article: "Globalization and Clothes" which touches upon the lesser known side of the fashion industry. For a look into the modeling industry see "Girl Model".
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