RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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225 Scholar activism and the Fashion Revolution: ‘who made my clothes?’ (3): engaging publics
Affiliation Economic Geography Research Group
Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Ian Cook (University of Exeter, UK)
Alex Hughes (Newcastle University, UK)
Louise Crewe (The University of Nottingham, UK)
Chair(s) Louise Crewe (The University of Nottingham, UK)
Timetable Thursday 01 September 2016, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Session abstract The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex on April 24th 2013, which crushed to death over 1,000 people making clothes for Western brands, was a final straw, a call to arms, for significant change in the fashion industry. Since then, tens of thousands of people have taken to social media, to the streets, to their schools and halls of government to uncover the lives hidden in the clothes we wear. Businesses, consumers, governments, academics, NGOS and others working towards a safer, cleaner and more just future for the fashion industry have been galvanised. Originated by ethical fashion pioneers, and drawing in designers, academics, writers, business leaders, policymakers, NGOs, brands, retailers, marketers, producers, makers, workers, consumers and activists, the Fashion Revolution movement that catalysed this change has nexus thinking at its heart. After two years marking 24th April as Fashion Revolution Day, its #whomademyclothes? question for brands and retailers has had an extraordinary social media impact (64 million people used this hashtag on Twitter and Instagram in April 2015, and Fashion Revolution’s online content was seen 16.5 billion times). The Fashion Revolution movement has become truly global, with co-ordinators in over 80 countries. This popular support has given it considerable power in campaigning for change with governments, brands and retailers. Our aim for this session is to bring fashion academics within and beyond geography into critical dialogue with the Fashion Revolution movement, to share insights from their research and to inform the Fashion Revolution’s work over the next five years. In Fashion Revolution’s white paper (Ditty 2015, 25), five areas for further research and thought have been outlined, to which the papers will speak: 1.Consumer research & demand; 2. Policy and legislation; 3. Theorising fashion value; 4. Engaging farmers, producers, workers and makers; 5. Amplifying and supporting NGO work
Linked Sessions Scholar activism and the Fashion Revolution: ‘who made my clothes?’ (1): connecting producers and consumers
Scholar activism and the Fashion Revolution: ‘who made my clothes?’ (2): slow sustainable fashion in practice
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Dressed-up agendas? Transnational fashion-based activism and garment worker rights in Bangladesh
Mary Hanlon (University of Edinburgh, UK)
In response to the Rana Plaza building collapse, Bangladesh witnessed unprecedented partnerships between foreign and local stakeholders working within its garment sector to improve fire and building safety standards and coordinate compensation for victims. In the wake of the disaster, an alternative industry body emerged to campaign for labour rights: Fashion Revolution. Promoting responsible fashion, Fashion Revolution encompasses a global network of fashion-based activist stakeholders campaigning to secure a fashion industry that, in equal measure, values people, planet, profit and creativity. Transnational labour rights activists have long campaigned on issues related to Bangladeshi garment workers, and have historically faced criticism for imposing top-down strategies that lacked appropriate consideration of local contexts. With reflexive analysis as a fashion-activist-researcher, the author explores the interests and agendas driving fashion-activist campaigning post-Rana Plaza to (1) unpack nuance within the responsible fashion movement (RFM) landscape and (2) examine whether fashion-based activism has the potential to challenge conventional forms of transnational labour rights action, leveraging fashion as a tool to achieve social, political, economic and environmental transformations. The paper draws on over 50 qualitative interviews with RFM stakeholders working in Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Bangladesh, as well as online data collected through stakeholder web and social media sites.
'Who made my clothes?' A followthethings.com analysis of Fashion Revolution's cultural activism
Ian Cook (University of Exeter, UK)
Knowing that brands are vulnerable to scandalisation by user-generated content, a new phase of 'follow the thing' commodity activism is currently taking shape. Coalitions of researchers, media professionals and pranksters are reworking old, and creating new, activist tactics to make and share new offline and online content. Corporate public relations experts have had to develop new ways to defend brands from a proliferation of online critics. Small groups of 'follow the thing' activists have been able to create and share new art works, films, spoof websites, commodity-hacks and live actions confident that they will spark lively discussions about ethical consumption, political consumerism, trade justice, living wages, corporate social responsibility and worker health and safety. Emerging in this era, Fashion Revolution has been supported by cultural activists providing consumers with answers to its 'Who made my clothes?' question. Drawing upon remixed online conversations about 2015's most successful examples, this paper will critically interrogate the making, tactics, reception and impacts of a) the True Cost garment industry documentary which screened in Fashion Revolution's UK Arts and Speakers Tour, and b) The 2 Euro T-shirt (a social experiment), a vending machine offering shoppers in Berlin a chance to buy or donate their money after watching a film about the conditions in which its T-shirts were made. The mixed impacts of their attempts to engage consumers through a variation on the classical documentary eposé and a machine hack that playful dupes and films shoppers' reactions will be discussed, and recommendations for future Fashion Revolution cultural activism made.
The role of social media in amplifying consumer awareness and engagement with fashion ethics
Claudia Henninger (University of Manchester, UK)
Patsy Perry (University of Manchester, UK)
Social media provide a global forum for online consumer activism towards brands. Allowing almost instantaneous communication with global audiences, social media help raise awareness of the fashion system's large-scale exploitation of people and planet. The global movement Fashion Revolution, harnessing the power of social media platforms, encouraged stakeholders to question fashion retailers about the provenance of their garments using the #whomademyclothes? hashtag. It rapidly trended on Twitter, being used over 15,000 times within 24 hours of its appearance, and by over 64 million people on Twitter and Instagram within two years. Notwithstanding its impact in terms of viral reach, does #whomademyclothes? communicate sustainability and influence sustainable consumption behavior to mobilise change in the fashion system? Communicating sustainability refers to raising awareness of products or services that address the Triple Bottom Line (social, economic, and environmental issues), and encouraging dialogic communication between stakeholders and organisations. Through content analysis of 35,000 tweets collected during Fashion Revolution Day in 2015, this study evaluates the effectiveness of social media communication in promoting awareness of sustainability and engagement with the key concerns of Fashion Revolution. How effective is Twitter as a space for mobilizing consumers towards more conscious consumption? Does the #whomademyclothes? Hashtag communicate sustainability and create dialogic communication between fashion retailers and stakeholders?
Workers Voices in the Classroom: Producing knowledge of a fashion revolution
Nikodemus Solitander (Hanken School of Economics, Finland)
This paper discusses the various ways that researchers can a) effectively relay workers' voice in the classroom situation b) how they can activate students to be part of co-producing content and how students themselves can engage in dialogues with workers, activists and activist movements, using the case of workers in the fashion industry as illustration. The paper explores what the role and the possibilities of the teacher are to create learning situations and environments where students dare to question truth claims of the established paradigms as expressed through class material, lecturers, and eventually their work colleagues, as they face problems of challenging dominant (Boje and Al Arkoubi 2009). The paper argues, building on the work of Richard Rorty on moral imagination, ie. a 'mindset where we identify and empathize with others not thought of as part of our moral community' (Gold 2010, p. 306). For Rorty a moral imagination allows us to become aware of new ideas and alternatives to our final vocabularies, allowing us to imagine 'what it would be like to stand in another's place and see what the impact would be' (ibid, p. 306), creating a sense of solidarity. The paper presents a number of illustrations of learning methods that is geared towards creating spaces for moral imagination in the classroom that all relate to amplifying or relaying fashion workers' voices in learning situations in higher education.
Discussant
Sarah Ditty (Fashion Revolution)
Discussant