Friday 13 June 2014

Fashion On The Frontline

Cambodian garment workers, caught in a struggle against government forces and vested outside interests, have found a new way to voice their demands for fair pay and decent working conditions. Last month, they staged a fashion show with a difference.

Following protests in January that led to the shooting deaths of five workers by police, a group from the United Sisterhood Alliance decided it was time to show the world not just the injustices and abuse, but how they're coping with the pressure on a daily basis. A fashion show was an ideal way to highlight their bravery and ingenuity in the face of oppression.

The show, Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality, was a mix of fashion, performance art and dance. Factory-made Western brands were modelled by pretty models, and the event culminated in fake riot police rushing the stage and "shooting" one of the girls on the catwalk. The message couldn't be clearer--fast fashion comes at a heavy cost to those on the factory floor.

Heather Stilwell, who has been working with the United Sisterhood Allance and cut the video of the show, says:
"The event may have seemed like a harmless way for the women to express themselves, but when you’re standing up for yourself, even a fashion show has its risks. A few of the organisers actually missed the majority of the show, as they were outside negotiating with police to allow the event to continue. Thankfully it was allowed to go on, as many of the workers had given up a few of their evenings to rehearse – coming to the venue straight from their shift at the factory and sleeping there overnight. It seems like whenever these workers make a gain, something new gets thrown at them, but it’s the organisers’ hope that as more women see their coworkers at events like these, more and more will be willing to speak up about the ugly reality they face."
That's our hope as well. These garment workers want nothing more than to be treated fairly and paid a living wage. When these simple requests are met with riot shields and rubber bullets, it's time to stand up and ask what's going wrong.

Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality from Heather Stilwell on Vimeo.

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