2013 Projects
From Assembly Line to Runway: Fashion’s Unheard Voices
Thelma Young

Those who produce the world’s clothes are regularly treated as invisible segments of the industry, mere extensions of the machines they operate. Or they are viewed as victims who must endure horrific conditions. Global attention surged at the end of 2012 when 112 people died in a garment factory fire in Bangladesh. However, public attention and political will faded, even though conditions remain dire in thousands of factories around the world. This project seeks to be a model of how workers on the other side of the world can become active commentators and participants; not to be pitied, but to be seen, valued, and understood. The website will be an important step in bridging the fashion world, with those at one end of the production line speaking to those at the other end. By amplifying the voices of factory workers and making them fashion commentators, there is a greater chance of creating more social consciousness, as well as an increase in global dialogue.

I started researching the situation of factory workers in 2005 and heard from them about the long hours and abuse they faced. Then from 2008-2010 I lived in a community of factory workers on the Thai-Burma border and it was there I realized how many of the young people who work in factories in the global south are creative forces themselves who often care a great deal about fashion and how they look. They would create their own clothes, sewing traditional textiles into new modern patterns. They would pour over fashion magazines and had a lot to say about who wore what. Some of the biggest fashionistas I still know are migrant workers.

My aim is to work directly with those in a lower class who have little access to technology and show how they can be equal narrators in the global economy. It will be more than a Facebook post or a tweet, and instead feature regular high-level commentary in the fashion field. The goal is to have it be a fashion blog total run by factory workers that is respected on par with other western mainstream fashion new sites.  Moreover, the site will be more than a series of disparate stories; it will feature content similar to other fashion blogs such as local street wear, reflections on fashion shows, brands, etc. There will also be a diary section where the workers can write about their life, whether it be about their working conditions, their family, a movie they like, or what they want to do in the future. It will create a non-antagonistic way for people in various levels of the fashion world to engage one another about common concerns. I hope that through participating in this familiar conversation that the fashion world will embrace these workers and an important mind shift can occur. Furthermore, the project can serve as an exploration of a possible model that could be replicated in other industries and fuel a surge in business conversations from the bottom-up.


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