Tuesday, November 11, 2008

(Monday's thoughts)

So I asked my lecturer/seminar leader about my essay plan.
It was properly done, but to me it felt as flat as a bottle of Coke left open.
He told me to wait until next lecture's material is properly explained next week.
(Oh, OK... I'll wait.)

This week's cultural studies seminar on the persistence of sweatshops was one I had been waiting for since the term started. It is refreshing and a lot more grown-up to have fellow students sharing their thoughts on the issue with an academic slant and less on the sweatshops-are-evil-let's-eradicate-them bent. Maybe it's because we've been immersed in the subject of fashion for some time we have come to understand that it's not because of fashion itself sweatshops exist even today; it's the desire for obtaining possessions that turn obsolete sooner in the eyes of society that drives the hunt for 'value fashion' and keeps Primark, Topshop, M&S et al in flush business despite general economic setbacks (recession, if you like.) And it's precisely this desire for all things new that makes us less willing to spend more on quality pieces on the basis that we will throw the soon-to-be offending garment away in a year or even a few weeks. Despite this attitude, clothes are still made/produced in a very similar sequence. So eventually the value savings are subsidised out of production costs: fabrics, factory overhead, labour. The icing on the cake rests on the fact that branded goods are produced back-to-back with seemingly commodified mass items, often in the same factory - no need to call names here. Even if brands are caught in the publicity of how dubious their supply chain is, they have the easy option of whitewashing their hands and award their contract onto another subcontractor/manufacturer down the road from the one they left.

I also want to point out that the Fairtrade/organic label refers to how the textiles in a garment was acquired: how it was grown/collected and processed into cloth. What it doesn't refer to is how the said textile is then processed into clothes. So, buying Fairtrade/organic may guarantee the wellbeing of the farmer that grew the cotton for your shirt... but what about those who cut and made it up?
My dislike on the Fairtrade/organic garments movement arises because it is being increasingly used as a branding feature by being represented as 'good', 'clean' and 'politically correct' to the consumer whilst hiding what could be flagrant abuse of workforce. I'm very sceptical on the issue, and therefore do not buy Fairtrade or organic products by rule. (On a tangent, I prefer free-ranging eggs over caged ones, though, because they justify the extra 20p for half-dozen by their better flavour.)

Since this is a blog, and not a medium on which I would write an unannotated academic essay, I shall take a different approach on the issue.

I have bought and worn things from Primark.

Not because I want to say "it costs me so little to look good."
Not because I plan to throw away my clothes after three washes (the general consensus for a £1.50 Primark tank-top is to throw it out since almost nobody in their domestic sensibility owns an £600 coverstitch machine to fix the unravelling seams.)
Not because I like the aesthetic sensibility.
I had to get outfitted for a job pronto, and given the meagre pay, blowing hundreds of pounds on a spiffy black shirt-and-trouser combo isn't on my definition of being reasonable.

Exercising ethical judgements then becomes a luxury statement - you can afford to be ethical with your clothes because you can afford to do so.
What do you think?

Other than that, I talked with said lecturer about doing a dissertation (instead of a collection) for my final year. He was happy with my expression of interest, but I will still need the blessings of my course leader if it was about to happen. Ultimately it boils down to what I want to do after I graduate: research or manufacture?

I don't have the answer for now.

He also said that I'm like this enough to do well on a dissertation (given my background and past track record). Which sounds v. flattering on first instance and grows darker as I looked up its meaning. Theoretical! Hrm. A certain Mr picked me not based on my essay, though, so there must be something else he is seeing. More hhhhrrrm.

Which brings me to the point...
Architects have their practice and write their manifestos into books that end up on academic reading lists of architecture students (seven out of 14 for Kingston Uni.) And who exactly wrote the articles on academic reading lists of fashion students? A considerably smaller posse (around 3 out of 19.) No wonder the general public sees fashion studies as a coffee table-style pursuit of the impulsive.
What is preventing practising fashion designers from publishing 'meatier' books? And what can be done to overcome this?

...with this post, I think I have done justice this blog deserves.
Comment away immediately, readers ^__^


johnorford said...

i am sure u have maids that are paid about $50 a month and work long hours.

and yet you don't think of it as sweatshop pay or particularily tough conditions.

it's an imperfect world. people in indonesian are dirt poor and desperate for work. they work for nothing as maids, builders and in factories.

the thing with clothes is, they're the closest we in the west come to spying another far harsher world, and we find it hard to comprehend.

sure there are just plain evil factories, but for the most part they help poor ppl put meals on the table for their families, which can only be good.

Devi said...

What is preventing practising fashion designers from publishing 'meatier' books?
Cos most people take fashion for granted. Just take a look at jeans nowadays. We all know that jeans is pop icon and age manipulator, but do we really know that once it was just a working attire for cowboys and mining workers? Or that bohemian style once was a statement of the gypsies against settledness? Ok I need to stop now, I'm not a historian LOL. You tell me ;)