Why Fashion Can’t Be About Survival

On March 30, 2018, on the same stage where Dr. Martin Luther King once spoke at Parsons School of Design, Remake premiered “Made In Sri Lanka”, a film that tracks the journey of 4 Parsons School of Design and California College of the Arts students to Sri Lanka to uncover the human costs behind mass production.

As guests filled the auditorium, I was struck by the short called: Targets playing on loop. The short, created by Parsons fashion students, loli Tzouka and Yimin Deng who went to Sri Lanka, captured Yimin and loli’s attempt to sew sleeves at the same efficiency target rate that they saw set for Sri Lankan workers. Unsurprisingly, they failed to reach the expected target output.

“Here we are at a fancy school like Parsons that teaches us how to sew for four years. We thought, lets try to meet the production targets set for workers. What we wanted to show with this video is that these targets are impossible”, stated Yimin.

The over 400 guests who attended the premiere on a rainy New York evening were also met with provocative photos shot by Yimin and loli during their Sri Lanka journey.

Images shot by Yimin Deng and Loli Tzouka during their Sri Lanka journey. Photo by Alexis Watts.
Images shot by Yimin Deng and Loli Tzouka during their Sri Lanka journey. Photo by Alexis Watts.

In another corner, we found Timo Rissanen, Assistant Professor Fashion Design and Sustainability, wearing a slogan tee stating: “Not Made in a Sweatshop”. Timo was manning a map where guests pinned where their jackets and tops were made. A stark reminder of the many continents and human lives that our clothes touch before they get to us.

After checking their jackets or shirts, most for the first time, Guests pinned where their clothes were made. Photo by Alexis Watts.

Fashion AS A Force for Good

Timo opened the evening reminding everyone of how timely this conversation was, with it being 5 years since the fall of Rana Plaza. “Often seeing the underbelly of the fashion supply chain can be overwhelming. Remake and Parsons are aligned in our vision to come from more of a place of hope and what we can do about the wicked problems that plague this industry. We are committed in our focus to make fashion a force for good”, he noted and went on to introduce the night’s keynote, Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss and Company.

“I can think of no better person than Paul. He is one of the most iconic and successful designers of our time that is committed to sustainability. Paul has been integral to developing front-end methods for applied sustainability in the design process including his recent WellThread x Outerknown collection and won awards for his recent collaboration with Google for the Jacquard jacket that breaks ground in wearable technology through a durable, touch-sensitive fabric”.

Paul called out the grossly excessive nature of the fashion industry and called designers and consumers, all of us, to action—asking everyone to be curious, values-aligned and resourceful when it comes to fashion. As consumers, we have the responsibility to understand where our clothes come from, to buy what we need, and to start sharing the love. Or, As Paul put it, “We have a tremendous backlog of resources in our closet so start shopping out of your own wardrobes first and share what you can.”

After Paul’s inspirational talk, we watched Made In Sri Lanka and listened to a lively panel discussion with loli, Yimin, Ayesha, the founder of Remake, and Yvonne Watson, an Associate Professor of Fashion at Parsons. All were participants on Remake’s journey to Sri Lanka.

I was particularly struck by something loli said,  “Why do we have to have people surviving fashion?! This is not war.” loli shared how woman after woman that she met in Sri Lanka consistently told her “We are surviving”. She learned that some of the women working in the Sri Lankan garment industry had to turn to prostitution to make ends meet, because of an unexpected expense, such as a toothache or a death in the family.

As the panelists spoke, particularly the young designers, you could hear their transformative experiences come to life. You knew that meeting the makers, had forever changed their perspective.

DOn’t MIss OUt

Missed the amazing night in New York? You can watch the live stream here or email us to catch the film tour in San Francisco, LA, London or Amsterdam.

You can also share the Sri Lanka film trailer and help make the invisible woman who makes our clothes visible. Together we can #remakeourworld.

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