Visual Activism & Artists/Designers

The poor working conditions of production workers in the garment industry is a global issue of concern. Production workers do not receive fair human rights. Production workers are working in unsafe conditions, are receiving very low wages, and often have very minimal communication with the fashion brands that they are producing garments for. There is a wide range of activist groups, campaigns, and corporations that are protesting and advocating for these production workers in developing countries. Balsiger explains these activists as people or groups who ‘’raise awareness of labor abuses and companies’ responsibility for them. These activist groups often directly target and publicly expose firms to make them acknowledge the problem and change their policies and practices’’. (Balsiger 1).  Along with large formal organisations, artists and designers also contribute to the campaign for equal human rights and ethical fashion. The forms of visual activism are immense, common methods can include protests, campaigns, social media hashtags, and flashmobs.

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Fig. 1. Fashion Revolution. The 2 Euro T-Shirt. 23 Apr 2015. Social Experiment. dailymack.com.

An organisation called, Fashion Revolution, conducted a social experiment titled, The 2 Euro T-Shirt. This experiment is an example of a form of visual activism conducted by a group who are activating for fair human rights for garment production workers. A vending machine selling white t-shirts was placed in the middle of a busy street. Before the public could complete their purchase they were shown a short clip that illustrated the conditions in which the t-shirt was produced. Once the short informative video had ended, the public was asked whether or not they would like to continue their purchase or donate their 2 euros to charity. The purpose of this visual activism experiment was to see whether society would still buy an item of clothing after being confronted with the conditions in which the garment was made. Eight out of the ten participants donated their 2 euros to charity.

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Fig. 2. Derek Henderson. Velma Rose – Assistant. Jan 29 2014. Photograph. Karen Walker. Oyster.

New Zealand fashion designer, Karen Walker produced a campaign and eyewear collection called, Visible. This visual activism campaign is an example of an ethical designer showing their audience that they care and acknowledge their garment production workers. This collection was completely unique as Walker partnered with the United Nation’s Ethical Fashion Initiative. Walker’s aim for this collection of eyewear was to make the production workers behind the scenes visible to her buyers and target audience. Walker achieved this by promoting her eyewear through portrait photography captured by Derek Henderson. Walker had her production workers based in Kenya, model her latest eyewear collection to produce honest and compelling images that would provoke her buyers into reflecting on the fashion industry. The model captured in figure 2 is Velma Rose, who is an Assistant in the production industry based in Kenya.

 

WORKS CITED:

Balsiger, Philip; Johnston, Dr. Hank. The Fight for Ethical Fashion : The Origins and Interactions of the Clean Clothes Campaign. Farnham: Taylor and Francis, 2016. Ebook Library. Web. 29 May. 2016.

“Exclusive: Karen Walker’s ‘Visible’ Campaign | Fashion Magazine | News. Fashion. Beauty. Music. | Oystermag.Com”. OYSTER. N.p., 2014. Web. 30 May 2016.

‘’The 2 Euro T-Shirt – A Social Experiment’’. Online Video. Fashion Revolution. Youtube. 23 Apr 2015. Web. 29 May 2016.

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