ZURICH!

To celebrate the launch of the German edition of Stitched Up, I am going to be doing two events in Zurich:

On 1ST MAY 2017 I'm giving an interactive talk at the TEXTILE MUSEUM ST. GALLEN where we'll be looking at different objects and examining their material creation and significance.

http://www.textilmuseum.ch/lieblingskind-schmuddelkind-ein-kritisches-gespraech-ueber-mode

On 2ND MAY 2017 I'll be at KAUFLEUTEN doing a panel event chaired by Christina Duss of Redaktorin Gesellschaft/Mode. Featuring Swiss Fashion Journalist Jeroen van Rooijen, Freitag Bags founder Daniel Freitag, and Emanuel Büchlin, Chief Buyer for Textiles Coop.

http://www.kaufleuten.ch/event/mode/

 

St John's College, Oxford Uni Women's Lunch

With so much political upheaval and with basic women's rights newly under threat, it was great to be invited to speak at the St John's College, Oxford University Women's Lunch.

Fashion is such a useful means of dissecting what is happening in the world. For example, it is a great way to explore Trump and his policies - how can he possibly reinvigorate US manufacturing when US companies pay Bangladeshi workers $68 a month? Why aren't fashion brands speaking out against his racist policies? Why magazines MUST stop doing photoshoots that denigrate women and people of colour.

At the lunch I was also asked if my hypothetical fashion company would dress Melania Trump, to which I replied: "I'd rather dress the protestors."

Talking race, representation, & Asian Superbloggers with Minh-Ha T. Pham

I've been a fan of Minh-Ha T. Pham's co-authored blog Threadbared for a while so I was excited to hear about her new book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet. Minh-Ha has explored the rise of the 'Asian Superblogger,' a group she defines as elite bloggers who themselves identify as Asian or as part of an Asian ethnic group: 'Identity categories are political and social,' Minh-Ha explains. 'But the bloggers I write about all have described themselves at one time or another on their blogs as Asian or Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, etc.'

Writing within the context of an industry known for its entrenched racism, Minh-Ha argues that bloggers like Susanna Lau (Susie Bubble) have not only forced the fashion industry to accept blogging as a legitimate way to report fashion but also have challenged the racial-homogeneity of the industry.

 

Was there a particular fashion image, an outfit, a blog post, or perhaps a flash of anger that sparked 'Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet' into existence?

Minh-Ha T. Pham  

Minh-Ha T. Pham
 

No, not really. The book emerged as a curiosity about what impact, if any, the Internet has had on the kinds of work, the opportunities for work, and the working conditions of Asian fashion workers. I see the book as updating the conversation about race, gender, and fashion labour from the industrial manufacturing context to the digital informational context.

Also, I wanted to change the cultural perceptions of what an "Asian fashion worker" is. So much of the scholarly and media attention on Asian fashion workers represents them as poor, voiceless victims. And of course in many ways, Asian fashion workers in the garment industry are victimized because of their race, gender, and class.

Widespread cultural perceptions in the West about Asian women's submissiveness and general willingness to endure bad working conditions for little to no pay play a significant role in shaping the deplorable conditions in which they work.

But Asian fashion workers have always also defined their own identities and created alternative working conditions even within the very limited sets of available options they have. (Garment workers who organize unions and openly or covertly protest their working conditions exemplify this.)

Elite Asian fashion bloggers have far more power to represent themselves and to define how/when/if they work. So I was curious how--in this very different context of fashion labor--race, gender, and class are shaping what "Asian fashion work" means.     

 

Personal style bloggers like Susie Bubble and Bryanboy are at the very top of their profession and are hugely popular with the fashion public, so why do they face hostility from parts of the fashion establishment, like journalist Susie Menkes?

This is a key issue in the book. The short answer is that the western fashion industry is still a very white industry. While there are a small handful of non-white bloggers, models, and designers who are quite successful, they occupy a very fraught position as racial minorities in a white industry. They're accepted as a novelty, as the flavor of the week.

As I argue in my book, the resentment that Asian elite bloggers uniquely face comes from, on one hand, being some of the most visible non-white faces and names in fashion and, on the other hand, from out-lasting and out-growing their expected roles as novelties of fashion's digital turn. They're proving to be not just temporary visitors or tourists in the western fashion system but here to stay and possibly change fashion and fashion journalism's racially-homogenous business as usual.

 

How important is representation in fashion? Do Asian Superbloggers have any power when it comes to elevating the status of other 'Asian fashion workers' that you talk about, for example factory workers?

Representation is important but in limited ways. A big reason that bloggers' representational practices are limited is because they're not just expressive but strategic.

Their textual, visual, and sartorial representations are what I call practices of "taste work". Their self-representations are doing work to negotiate the racialized terrain of western fashion in order to be visible in specific ways. To be distinctive but not "different".

This is a tough line to hold and sometimes it involves distancing oneself from racial categories, expectations, and solidarities with those who reflect or might remind others (or ourselves) of stereotypes we're trying to get away from. The bloggers I studied never mention garment workers in Asia or elsewhere. Non-Asian bloggers don't either for that matter.

Any expectation we may that they'd stand up for other, less powerful Asian fashion workers, is just that - our expectation. They're not obligated to and Asian bloggers in particular may have good reasons not to bear those kinds of representational burdens. 

 

 

Dissent against the working practices of fashion corporations seems to be as absent from fashion blogs as it is from the wider fashion media. How much of a challenge is the profession as a whole to the fashion status quo?

I actually see a lot of fashion bloggers explicitly and implicitly challenging "the fashion status quo". Self-proclaimed fat fashion bloggers, modest fashion bloggers, and budget- and eco-conscious fashion bloggers are challenging mainstream fashion's beauty standards, consumerist ethos, and definitions of style.

They're not generally as well known to the western fashion industry as the elite bloggers I focus on precisely because they're not interested in being recognized by it. And their readers are also often located outside of the west or mainstream and outside of western fashion's sphere of influence.

I'd argue, though, that the bloggers I write about are challenging many of western fashion's business practices and assumptions. The enormous popularity of Susie Bubble and BryanBoy's blogs forced the mainstream industry to take blogging seriously whether they liked it or not.

And the success of their blogs show that Asian people (some who are from the West and others who aren't) can be style leaders and trendsetters to western fashion audiences. But again, elite bloggers aren't going to tear down the industry they're trying to be a part of.

The kinds of blog posts they create and their online presence in general are carefully constructed to tow that line I mentioned earlier - to represent themselves as authentic bloggers who are racially different from the fashion mainstream but whose race also doesn't make any difference.

 

 

Transparency: I received a complimentary copy of Minh-Ha's book from Duke University Press.

"We can't let up!"

Michael Lavergne’s book is fascinating because he worked as a fashion and retail buyer for many years and has been very honest about his experiences as a competitive fashion buyer. Lavergne has also ensured that Fixing Fashion provides an in-depth historical contextualising of conditions in the fashion industry and that the book is full of accessible facts and figures. 

This is a chance to hear from a real supply chain insider.  Lavergne describes buyers, like everyone else, as being limited by the systems within which we live and work. On the question of whether fashion buyers have any chance of changing the industry from the inside through their choices, he describes how buyers are “rewarded based on profit margins and are punished for breaking ranks so there is a fear factor at work as well.”

But on the positive side, Lavergne states that “I believe with very subtle shifts of what we measure and how we reward meaningful work can still generate 'growth' and 'profit' but through a different lens of understanding 'value'.” 

In terms of hope for change in the industry, Lavergne  says “In the real world of Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, new models are trying to break new ground, people are talking across stakeholder groups, important brand and country level labour agreements have been struck.”

This does not mean that change will be automatic. Lavergne is clear that “change didn't come through a change of heart at most brands, it has come and continues to do so because of vocal, activist efforts to coordinate directly with those most impacted. We can't let up.”

Lavergne would also like to see universities change how they teach fashion: “Apparel and fashion education institutes have for the most part just barely begun to revamp curriculums with sustainability and ethical business practice content. ‎There's a stark gap in manufacturing and factory level skills now in the West but this was largely self-induced by Corporate fashion interests and global finance.”

In Fixing Fashion Lavergne states that it's not that the public doesn't care about the misdeeds of the fashion industry it's that they 'do not care to know'. He describes ‘awareness and mindfulness’ as important but says that ‘for many who are simply trying to survive, they are an esoteric luxury. Real responsibility lies with government-to act on society's behalf (read: legislation) - and industry to ensure the transparency, health and social norms of supply chain practices.’

For more, check out: http://www.fixingfashion.com

 Transparency: I received a complimentary copy of Michael’s book.

ICA Bookshop: Book of the Year

I've just seen that the Shortlist for the ICA Bookshop: Book of the Year is out and it's made me reflect on last year.

I spent much of November and December 2015 working in Bangladesh and South Africa. Bangladesh was tough. At times it felt like we were just touring from one disaster site to another. Interviewing women who had lost children to Rana Plaza or who had themselves jumped out of third floor windows to escape the Tazreen factory fire was both intense and draining.

I got back to the UK weighed down with stories from people who had explicitly told me they had given me their most painful memories so that I could tell the world what was really going on. It was a weight that didn't lessen until I finally got to tell Shahorbanu's story for the third anniversary of Rana Plaza in April 2015.

Discovering just before Christmas that I had been shortlisted for the ICA Bookshop Book of the Year for Stitched Up came at the perfect moment. It felt like a recognition that people were listening and valuing the stories I had to share.

Winning the shortlist doubled this feeling, though I still suspect it had a lot to do with the fabulous cover design and illustrations by my collaborative fashion illustrator Jade Pilgrom.

This year there is another sparkling Shortlist, testimony to the subversive, the challenging, and the vital stories that so often get ignored and to the hard work it takes to ink them into book form. Do check them out.

This Week's Ones To Watch

A few of my favourite things from this week. (And what a full-on week with the third anniversary of the Tazreen Factory Fire being just days away from the so called 'Black Friday' retail fest.) 

 

Is Ad-Blocking Bad For Journalism?

From fashion websites to news outlets, adverts range from the annoying to the inappropriate. Pop-up images covering the article you are trying to read; brands stalking you from site to site; branded videos playing automatically over stories about Syrian refugees or the Paris attacks.

The counter argument is that money for journalism has to come from somewhere. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) recently found that very low numbers of internet users are prepared to pay for online news. In the UK it’s just 6%, in the USA it’s 11%.

So if revenue is not coming from readers, are adverts the answer? Is the sharp rise in ad blockers going to destroy journalism? Would you stop using an ad blocker if your favourite news site asked you to?

NIC NEWMAN is a Visiting Fellow at RISJ and a digital media consultant. Here he explains the problem with adverts and why even as a journalist he whole-heartedly supports ad blockers. 

QUOTES:

“For the last fifteen years advertising on the web has been a broken model. It has essentially tried to take a particular model that’s worked off line and tried to implement it on the internet, it’s just not sympathetic with the way people like to consume content, so it has essentially interrupted people rather than engage them.”

“I don’t think it’s good for journalism or journalistic organisations to have a poor user experience – ultimately people are going to turn away from journalism completely.”

“It’s much better if we have this crisis now of ad blockers and the advertising industry recognises it needs to change and we see real innovation.”

“People have been serving dumb ads!”