Thursday evening in San Francisco, students, designers and leaders in the industry gathered at California College of the Arts for the premiere of Made in Sri Lanka. The documentary, filmed during our learning journey to Colombo, Sri Lanka, follows CCA and Parsons students as they travel to factories that make clothes for brands like Beyoncé’s Ivy Park. What they find is a culture shock of the poverty, sexual harassment, and fear that female factory workers are subjected to on a daily basis. Most of these women, around the same age as the students, are working 12 hours per day and living in unsafe housing communities.
A packed house of attendees emotionally moved by the short film were eager to get involved in the conversation. Presentations were lead by keynote speakers Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss and Company; Lynda Grose, Chair of Fashion Design at CCA; Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake; and two of the CCA students who attended this learning journey, Mallory McDaniel and Misha Abbas.
Abbas, originally from Pakistan, and McDaniel who had never ventured outside of the United States before this trip, reflected on their experiences:
Mallory McDaniel, Fashion Design Student at CCA
“The whole trip was an emotional rollercoaster. There was so much beauty on one side and so much hardship on the other. I was struck by the stark contrast. At first I felt completely overwhelmed. But meeting people like Ashila from Stand-Up Lanka, women who were passionate about organizing and making a difference in these workers lives. That was really a turning point in the trip for me.”
Misha Abbas, Fashion Design Student at CCA
“Columbo in general reminded me a lot of Karachi, where Ayesha and I are both from. Between the busyness, the colonialism that’s still there, and the patriarchal systems that are present. It was interesting going into the factory spaces and seeing how patriarchy plays out. Seeing men in dominant positions watching over women. It was emotionally toiling. I am excited to see women’s movements intersect with labor rights groups in places like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In coming back I am thinking hard about my part as a designer and how I can support and move these things forward.”
Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake also touched on the fact that we are simply buying our clothing too cheap: “There was a moment when we counted how many workers it took just in the cut and stitch process. We counted about 40 on the assembly line. At the very end was one woman who was sewing a tag on the top and the tag said 8 pounds ($11). We stood and just looked at that price tag for a long time. This visual of all these people working so hard to bring that top to life. How could it only be 8 pounds?”
Following the film premiere and panel discussion, attendees mingled with refreshments and delicious pakora appetizers, took turns behind a Juki sewing machine to experience the high frequency of the garment worker assembly line, pinned their “made in” shirt tag locations on an interactive map and previewed sustainable apparel designs by McDaniel and Abbas.
We spoke with a number of the inspiring audience members for our #humansoffashion series about their thoughts on the industry, what they took away from the film, and why they think transparency and sustainability in the fashion space is important:
Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss and Company
“If we really are talking about communicating who we are through fashion as a feature of social identity we need to take ownership. The decorative elements of fashion are driving overconsumption. Instead of buying a cheap false identity, make it authentic and truly personal. Make the mending process fun, invest in your garments — making them last longer.”
Tashi St. Aude, Student at CCA
“Fashion affects people in ways that we don’t even realize. My dad is from Haiti. Haiti used to have a thriving local garment industry. Now they are on the receiving end of our waste and are are being flooded with the garments we donate. They are getting so much that its hurt their own industry and their economy is wearing thin. We are responsible for this carelessness. As a designer I’m trying to take our waste and remake it into garments that we can reuse and take it apart when someone is finished with it.”
Camille Forde, Student at UC Berkeley
“I’ve seen the statistics and heard the horror stories about the lives of garment workers, but this film short drilled into the systemic issues that these women face on daily basis. They are courageous and we can learn a lot from them. The film left me speechless, yet ready and able to take action.”
Lynn McLeod, a marketing consultant who worked in a US-based textile factory in the 1970’s.
”I remember we used to have collections like Fall, Spring, and Resort. I grew up on the East Coast where every Fall you would put away your summer clothes and bring out your winter clothes. I don’t think anybody has this concept of seasonality now, it’s just constant. The thing that really bugs me are the shopping hauls on Youtube– they are just disgusting. The fashions themselves are basically t-shirts with no detail, no fit. They are just junk. Back when I worked in the industry most things were made of cotton or wool and had a lot more details, princess seaming, pockets and buttons.”
DOn’t MIss OUt
You can also share the Sri Lanka film trailer and help make the invisible woman who makes our clothes visible. Together we can #remakeourworld.