Ethical fashion : the human stories driving a fashion movement

Finn, Angela L. (2007) Ethical fashion : the human stories driving a fashion movement. In Fashion in Fiction : A Transdisciplinary Conference, 26-27 May, 2007, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, NSW. (Unpublished)

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This paper examines and compares two stories, the novel Helen Fleetwood (Elizabeth, 1841) and the film China Blue (Teddy Bear Films, 2005), in relation to the Ethical Fashion movement. In 2005, more than 50 designers from around the world took part in The Ethical Fashion Show in Paris. This movement dictates that designers ensure that their garments are produced in an ethical manner, rather than support the ‘sweatshop’ environments of some industrialists determined to make a profit at the expense of workers rights. The momentum of the Ethical Fashion movement suggests that it is possible for fashion to be ethical, desirable and profitable in the 21st century.

In 1841, after extensive research, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (using the pseudonym Charlotte Elizabeth) began to write about the atrocities of the factory system in industrialised England. Her novel, Helen Fleetwood, is one of the earliest examples of this kind of work, providing the reader with an extensive insight into the life of English factory workers in the mid-19th century. The story is about the Widow Green and her orphan dependents who are led, through circumstance, to leave their rural home and take up employment in the cotton mills of Manchester, with the hope of having an independent existence. Instead they discover the realities of factory life – extremely long hours, unsafe conditions, poor wages and a steady decline into extreme poverty.

In his film China Blue (Teddy Bear Films, 2005), director Micha X. Peled tells an alarmingly similar tale set in 21st century China. This ‘docu-drama’ (a recreation from actual interviews and diary entries) tells the story of ‘Little Jasmine’ who leaves her family’s farm to pursue an independent life in Southern China’s manufacturing district. It is not long before the realities of modern factory life are revealed to the teenage ‘heroine’ – crowded dormitories, long working hours, arbitrary fines and wages that do not compare with those of workers in the Western world.

While much of the human story remains unchanged, there have been significant improvements in technology and safety in the last 165 years that result in the reality that not all clothing manufacture is performed in ‘sweatshop’ conditions. After a recent visit to a manufacturing plant in China, consultation with peers in the industry and having worked in the Australian fashion industry for many years, the author compares these stories with her own experiences.

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ID Code: 40657
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: fashion , ethical fashion, fashion manufacturing, industrial revolution, sweatshop labour , textiles manufacturing, literary accounts
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > DESIGN PRACTICE AND MANAGEMENT (120300) > Design History and Theory (120301)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > DESIGN PRACTICE AND MANAGEMENT (120300) > Textile and Fashion Design (120306)
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2007 Angela Finn
Deposited On: 13 Mar 2011 23:02
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2011 06:20

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