The term “fashion” is an international phenomenon popular for its association to famous designers, clothing lines, models, fashion week in Milan/Paris/NYC, etc.
All champagne and glamour aside, does anyone think of fashion in terms of its transnational effects like production of resources, human labor, and the impact on the environment?
Through the production process of a typical pair of jeans we will provide an alternative look at the fashion industry.
1. Polyester– around 15% of material used in certain denim.
- The largest producer of polyester is India which works close with the textile industry.
2. Spandex– around 5% of material used in certain denim.
- China is one of the largest spandex manufacturers in the world.
3. Indigo dye– primarily used to dye most denim.
- Most dyes (now synthetic) are produced by German BASF SE, the largest chemical company in the world which has production plants all over and has begun expanding to Asia, particularly China and India.
4. Cotton– around 90% of the material used in jeans.
- The largest cotton producers are China, India and the United States. The majority of their production is consumed by their textile industries.
- Case Study:
- Indian Cotton Farmers
- The multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto, as well as other companies such as Bayer CropScience have taken over the seed market in India. Thus, cotton farmers are forced to buy their genetically modified patented cotton seeds (seeds with the built-in pesticide known as Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] and built-in resistance to Roundup, a herbicide also sold by Monsanto) at a price much more expensive than they can afford.
- As a result, farmers have no other choice but to buy the GM seeds from these companies on credit, which often requires them to sign a contract to mortgage their land to the seed companies or other loan-sharks.
- After a year or two, when they fail to make payments due to bad weather, fluctuations of food prices, they lose their land.
- This has resulted in the suicide of about 19,000 Indian cotton farmers just in 2010.
- Indian Cotton Farmers
The 2005 documentary China Blue, by Micha X Peled and Song Chen the producers, takes us into the life of 17 year old Jasmine, a Chinese girl working for a denim manufacturing company in Southern China.
This documentary emphasizes the issue that, a large majority of those who move out of their homes and their provincial lives, are women. Women represent a plurality of the population around the globe that is affected by globalization and outsourcing economies that are trying to develop.They are affected publicly through working conditions as well as privately being the primary nurturers of the family who tend to younger siblings or children, cook for their male counterparts and educate. They are removed from homes at an early age which often forces these young women to seek false identifications so that they can receive work permits, a sad comparison to what in our society has turned into a growing “fake ID” culture of America’s youth, that allows those underage to enjoy alcoholic beverages and a night on the town legally so to speak but rather illegally.
“Ever since my older sister started high school I knew I should start looking for work.” -Jasmine
I guess the notion of leaving home to find work at age 16 or even 14 baffles most in American society because this job is not bagging groceries at your local Albertsons but rather, at a factory, hundreds of miles away where snipping lose threads, flattening wrinkled pockets and ironing pant legs becomes an almost 24 hour routine in life. Aside from small moments where workers eat, do chores and sleep (often 1-2 hours a night) these women are used, until even clothes pins do not keep their eyes open. Jasmine is the second child to her parents, a mistake in Chinese society seeing that the law is one child per couple (or per marriage). Her parents had hoped for a son so since she could not grant them that pleasure like many others, she leaves home in search for a job to eventually send money home and help her family.
Through the experiences lived in this film as a concerned public as well as source, we can ask ourselves, why is it important to study fashion? and what aspects of this issue reflect on a transnational scale?
Mr. Lam- denim factory owner
Jasmine- thread cutter
|Creative/ Written Expression: Mr.Lam, the Lifeng factory owner, speaks very generously about himself and his factory, almost like using the documentary as publicity for his business, which is very ironic given that sweatshops are generally looked down upon. According to Mr. Lam, the hardest part of his job is managing the workers so one way he deals with this challenge is through calligraphy. He practices calligraphy for several reasons, one being because “it soothes the heart and soul” which helps him be more patient and refined. Another reason is because he believes it helps his corporate image look more “high-class.” Lastly, he uses calligraphy to “motivate” his workers by putting banners around the factory, which we see in the documentary is seen by the workers as invasive of their space.Superior/ Inferior Complex:Mr. Lam has a lack of empathy for his workers, despite the fact that he was once a laborer himself. He views the workers as subhuman, and refers to them as “low caliber” highlighting his superiority. He also states that “you can’t teach them work ethics, it’s beyond them,” which is remarkable given that they work for ridiculous amounts of hours (sometimes up to 23 hours) to make orders on time- if that’s not good work ethic, I don’t know what is.The fact that most factories hire women because they’re docile and obedient is perhaps a window into the cultural gender expectations of China- we might speculate that Mr. Lam’s opinions about his workers comes from a misogynist perspective- which can be seen in his way of managing the workers as not letting them “get out of control” which falls into the role of the man being the head of the family.Subject to the Demands of the Global Market: Although Mr. Lam adopts an elitist position in relation to his workers, he must obey the demands of the big corporations and has little agency in that playing field. He complains about international retailers selling his denim for ten times more than what they payed for it, meaning they reap the most benefits. When he is under pressure from companies he reduces worker’s pay on top of not paying them on time. The workers thus become the scapegoat to his problems, which is apparent when he states that the workers take advantage of him and his company because they take the free midnight snack they provide when they work overtime- mind you that this overtime is often unpaid and the other meals are taken out of their paycheck.||Creative/ Written Expression: Waking up at the crack of dawn and calling it quits often not until the next morning, Jasmine begins a new life in the Lifeng Factory. She brings a journal with her, where she writes daily activities and events within the dormitory that she lives in as well as on the production that impact her personally. She also uses this journal as a form of escape where she creates imaginary stories that lift her mentally out of the distress in her current situation into an empowering fantastical world. These words are dreams and desires that she knows are out of reach but are ever more important to maintain her sanity.Superior/ Inferior Complex: Through the lifestyle of the factory worker, we see the lack of value the employer places on the workers. Being forced to work for 23 hours on some days, which is detrimental to anyone’e health, is representative of the worthlessness and indispensable nature of the workers. Almost confined to the walls of the dormitory, we can see the daily activity of going to the canteen to get a meal for the day that is described as “tasteless Cantonese food,” and the sadness expressed because they have no where to eat so they eat in their rooms. During this lunch break the workers usually wash their clothes and do other chores to have more time to sleep once their shift is over.Subject to the Demands of the Global Market: In producing massive amounts of denim for different clients: both brand names or big warehouses as well as companies who outfit their employees. Food costs and other suspicious fines are deducted from worker’s pay so that the manufacturing company can make its shipments and deals more affordable and profitable, leaving the worker with an equivalent to 37$ a month. These women are enraged and object such unfair deductions however, under Chinese law they cannot protest or strike the rules within the factory leaving these women without rights to protect them.|
Peled the author of this film, demonstrates in an artistic manner a comparison between Jasmine and the owner of the Lifeng factory how closely they relate in large part because of their culture and surroundings but at the same time emphasizes the great divide between them both mentally and physically. Particular takes that reflect Jasmine’s situation within the factory and her love of writing are contrasted with scenes that display Mr. Lam’s self absorption and passion for calligraphy along side the sole concern of making a profit. There appears to be a large gap between Mr. Lam and the workers in terms of communication and relatedness that is primarily based on assumptions. The juxtaposition of both players reveals the crude reality that arises as a result of the demands of the global market and the cultural transformation geared towards capitalism.
Just by looking at the materials and human labor we can see that a pair of jeans is much more than just a pair of jeans. Woven within the fabric is the labor of Indian cotton farmers, the petroleum used to create the synthetic materials, the huge profit margins that multi-national corporations make, and the labor of a 16 year old, third-world country girl. Thus, fashion is transnational in nature given that it is inextricably linked to various parts of the world and then packaged and advertised with Euro-centric ideals and sent back out to the world.