Every so often you have an idea that you've been meaning to jot down and then suddenly you stumble upon a project that not only encompasses everything you was thinking but executes it so well you end up kicking yourself for days. After months of toying with the idea of ethical labels for clothing*, SEAMS is a perfect example of this.
In 2003 Adriana Parcero, designer and instructor at Art Center College of Design, created the SEAMS line of clothing. This project interweaves fashion and social justice by exposing the crisis of sweatshop exploitation prevalent within the international garment industry.
The devil is in the details as Adriana physically maps (by sewing) sub-standard production costs onto the clothing. Then, via the garments 'info-label', she articulates the state of the garment industry in Japan, the United States, China and Bangladesh. By using the language and look of fashion and glamour shot photography the entire line is tightly wrapped in a easy to download catalogue. She has created slick and easily understandable social commentary about the world of haute couture and the lack of real social responsibility.
*yeah Nicole your post brought back bad memories on yet another unfinished project....
This can't end well. I think the most like effect of this (if it has any effect at all) it to close down a factory in Bangladesh or wherever because (1) they don't pay their workers as much as some Western consumer would like, and (2) they can't afford to pay them any more; ERGO, the factory doesn't get any orders, it closes, and all the people get fired and go back to living in mud huts.
Every nation has to go through developmental stages to reach the next stage. That's just how it works. You can only leapfrog if you have the money to do it with, and you only have money if you work hard as whatever people will pay you to do.
No job = no money = no investment = no leapfrogging.
Literacy in Bangladesh (a nation of 144 million) is 41%. Do the math. 85 million people in Bangladesh need a job that doesn't require knowing how to read or write. Teaching them how to read, even if you could start on all of them today, would take years, and if they didn't work they'd all starve before they learned. Guess what? Operating a power loom is something an illiterate person can do. So is making shoes.
If this SEAMS were aimed at making sure that no one was enslaved, and that everyone was earning whatever the market wages are in their country, that would be fine. But that's not what this is. Imposing our beliefs as to what people in other countries SHOULD earn will only ensure they don't earn anything (or that some of them earn it, but a proportionate number are fired to make up for the loss). It's simply economics.
Is the sweatshop model, as you described, actually a good thing? Quite frankly I'm still unsure and have debated this a number of times, which is why I'm interested in the debate.
I'm not sure is SEAMS is imposing a belief as to what someone should earn as to what we are willing to pay. The garment trade is a very cut throat business with manufacturers willing to up and leave at the first sign of fluctuating currency or rumors of unionization of factories.
Secondly your comment about workers being fired and 'going back to live in mud huts' is sadly not true. Many times the labor costs are so poor that there is little escape from the cycle of poverty that is pervasive in the industry. The reality is that if leapfrogging is to really make a difference it will be the utilization of technology so as to enable communities not to be confined by this economic reality.
We can replicate the arguement to many things, sustainability for instance, where many designers have decided not to use a material because it is not 'green'. In doing so the slowdown in production causes a community to lose their jobs and in turn their children can no longer go to school. illiteracy rates go up as does the rate of poverty... many end up leaving the community in hope of finding work in the city... and we all know how those stories turn out.
Finally while it is true that many people in the world do not know how to read and write and that we won't solve the issue of sweatshops overnight, real change is a slow and gradual process and in need of a prod now and again. SEAMS is just that, a gentle prod.