Centre for Chinese Contemporary Arts, Manchester

Wednesday 25 February 2015 , 6.30 – 8.30 pm
Jasmine Suite

This informal evening offered  an introduction to the World Factory project – an investigation of global consumer capitalism through the lens of the textile industry, from the heart of the industrial revolution in nineteenth-century Manchester to the world behind the ‘Made-in-China’ labels on our clothes today.

Three expert speakers with different perspectives on the global textile industry  discussed the relationship between production and consumption patterns in China today, and Manchester’s clothing and textile history, before the conversation was opened up to the wider audience. There was also a live demo of the digital World Factory shirt – where we trialled our phone app by scaning the barcodes on the shirt – this revealed the people and processes behind how each shirt was made.

Our speakers included:

Sara Li-Chou Han –  PhD Candidate and guest lecturer in sustainable fashion at Manchester Metropolitan University, upcycling designer and formerly a co-founder of the Stitched Up sustainable fashion collective

Amanda Langdown – Senior Lecturer, Fashion, Illustration with Animation at Manchester Metropolitan University with an interest in sustainable development

Lena Simic– performance practitioner, co-organiser of the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home and Senior Lecturer in Drama at Liverpool Hope University


For a taste of the topics covered please click on the following text Thoughts from the Cafe Conversation at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester




World Factory: considering consumption symposium, 13 January 2015

World Factory:  considering consumption on Tuesday 13 January 2015 2 pm at  Free Word Hall, London At Free Word we engaged with speakers and audience in a conversation about what alternatives to consumer capitalism already exist, and what we might dream of. The speakers included:

Julian Kirby   Friends of the Earth, Make It Better Campaign
Stella Hall   founder and programmer of the the Festival of Thrift
Lyla Patel   – head of education at TRAID, a charity that works to stop clothes being thrown away
Jenny Chan –  Sociologist and expert on labour conditions in China
Kate Fletcher –  London School of Sustainable Fashion, Craft of Use project

To listen to our speakers presentations simply click on their names below:

This symposium formed part of a residency at Free Word supporting the writing of the World Factory theatre production. The idea behind METIS’s World Factory discussion events: We have committed from the start of the project to the idea of ‘research in public’ – creating a series of public events in different kinds of spaces, where we investigate a particular aspect of the topic. Through inviting experts to share their views in an intimate, but public, forum, we aim to both share our process and catalyse a wider conversation. Previous events include cafe conversations at both the University of Cambridge and The Junction in Cambridge. As part of their commitment to researching the project ‘in public’ METIS collaborate with other organisations to host events in which invited speakers share their perspective on the World Factory phenomenon.

Pulse: the shirt and the shop

Following on from a week in residence at Tower Ramparts in April, METIS returned to the shopping centre as part of Pulse Ipswich.

METIS occupied a unit at Tower Ramparts through the day on Saturday 7th June 2014. A visit to the shop, as well as including a cup of tea, offered a range of material to consider:

  • A wall of opinions, that visitors were invited to contribute to, about what matters to people about what they wear. These thoughts, opinions and stories have been collected since Pulse 2013, and some can be found on pinterest

  • A rail of clothing, made (and bought) in many different places, but repaired in Ipswich, illustrating a strong culture of make do and mend that was uncovered in Ipswich during the April residency, accompanied by a video of interviews with Ipswich makers and menders

  • A presentation of the World Factory Shirt and Digital Quilt, allowing visitors to try out the scanning technology and view prototype footage from the first factory visit, see the video telling the story of the shirt and learn about the Digital Quilt, METIS’ public research platform

World Factory – Makers and Menders from Zoe Svendsen on Vimeo

Alongside the artefacts presented in the shop, visitors also had the opportunity to be involved in events. Lucille Acevedo-Jones wowed visitors with her ‘minimal sewing’ re-purposing of four shirts into a beautiful statement dress that made use of shirt features like buttons and collars. METIS conducted a game of chance that had been created in response to research uncovered about factory management practices that allowed players to enact a factory management scenario. Jill Carson of the Wedding Dress Agency, and Danuta Tabard of New Wolsey Theatre’s costume department, gave a masterclass in how to sew a shirt, in conversation with Simon Cantrill, of Great British Sewing Bee fame.

Later that afternoon, the team repaired to New Wolsey Theatre to host another cafe event. Simon and Zoe spoke of their journey so far with World Factory, and Bianca introduced the Digital Quilt to an Ipswich audience. Expressing the team’s growing interest in not just where clothing comes from, but what happens to it once it’s been made and sold, Lucille was invited to demonstrate her re-purposing skills again, demonstrating just how simple construction can be when you use the building blocks provided in existing clothing.

Embracing the premise of doing research in public, Zoe started a discussion with Simon Cantrill about Bradford’s industrial heritage, with particular reference to his family history. Simon explained that an abundance of water in Bradford meant it was an ideal place for the textile industry to thrive both from rivers providing power to drive machinery, and from the prevalence of rain providing the ideal damp atmosphere for wool to be processed and made into yarn. Simon, who works at Bradford’s industrial museum, talked about the impact of industrialisation, and the gradual de-skilling this initiated, to the present day, now that Mill workers are much less knowledgeable, essentially servicing machinery rather than understanding how cloth is constructed. On a lighter note, Simon kept apologising for a lot of jargon introducing the audience to job titles that were largely unfamiliar: his birth certificate has his Dad identified as a Warp Twister, and Simon’s very first job at the Mill was as Greasy Percher.

The audience again proved themselves a font of knowledge, with information about clothing factories that were once sited in the East, the recycling of fabrics of different compositions, and speculating about gender politics in the fact that de-skilling in factories threatened jobs and industry on a much greater scale than pit closures in the 1980s, but was much less a public concern as the industry was mostly populated by women.


To call World Factory: The Shirt a steep learning curve is no exaggeration. Zoe and Simon had to learn what was in a ‘technical pack’, and have had to hone their negotiation skills to start to understand the cost of manufacturing the shirts (and the factors might surprise you). Most recently, whilst in residence in Ipswich, plans to gather measurements of men passing Tower Ramparts shopping centre took an unexpected direction.

Zoe and Simon quickly decided that the shirt would have to be one size, to keep the minimum run as low as possible, and in recognition of the fact that the shirt is more art object than fashion garment. But determining this single size is a complex matter: sizing is a closely guarded secret across the global textile industry. So they decided to create their own, and consulted Ipswich tailor Coes about what measurements to gather.

shirt measurements

All that was then needed was willing participants – a group of men happy to be sized up by METIS’ tailor-for-the-day. Surprisingly, though Ipswich residents have, over the last year, been very generous in sharing their opinions about their clothes, their buying habits, and their understanding of manufacturing conditions, there was a great deal of reticence about being measured.

Having a few weeks to reflect on this apparent reluctance has prompted some interesting speculations in the METIS camp. None of the team, we realised, are used to being measured – and we suspect that this unfamiliarity is common. We no longer expect our clothes to be fitted to us, but instead conform to the range of sizes that are available to us. Being out of the practise of being measured makes the act strangely intimate, to say nothing of the association that measuring has with self-improvement – the pursuit of a more shapely body – which is an industry that is intricately linked to that of the textile industry.

At the risk of romanticising the past, it’s interesting to wonder about the impact that a shift to mass manufacture has had on our attitude to clothing. Is fast fashion – an inclination toward disposal, and a regular renewal of the contents of a wardrobe – a symptom of owning garments that weren’t made especially for us? Would active involvement in the creation of our clothing, ensuring just the right combination of colour, fabric and fit, mean that we kept hold of things for longer? If our measurements were viewed as something to fit things to, rather than something to change, would we ultimately be happier?

We’d love to know your thoughts, about being measured and about your experience of made-to-measure clothing. Please leave a comment below, tweet using the hashtag #measureme or email us

The Digital Quilt in a Pop-Up Shop, Cambridge

28 Hands Make Light Work: Café Conversations 15 May 2014, at 6.30pm

Everything OK with your Starter?

A conversation about clothes, capitalism, and creative responses opened with a welcome from live art duo Hunt and Darton, our hosts at their POP-UP café, 36 Bridge Street, Cambridge, CB2 1UW Hunt and Darton fed us a (quick) three-course ‘meal’ of live art. We could choose the dishes, but when it came to the Mains we were told that Thoughts were off and were given Laughs instead. However, as the evening ensued our Guest Speakers: Mark Sumner – Sustainability; Retail & Fashion, University of Leeds (biography here); Katelyn Toth-Fejel – Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion (biography here); and Lucy Walker – Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge (biography here), brought thoughts back centre stage.

Sharing what we’re learning as we’re learning it

METIS’ co-directors Zoë Svendsen and Simon Daw kicked off the conversation by contextualising the World Factory project and communicating the METIS team’s desire to do and share its research in public.

LAUNCH of the Digital Quilt

Bianca Winter, METIS’ digital producer, and David Russell, Director of Cambridge design and technology company The Fusion Works, followed this with the launch of the World Factory Digital Quilt. The Digital Quilt makes the project’s research available in bite-sized chunks. Bianca explained that information is not indexed, so can’t be searched, but instead a journey is taken through it, panel by panel and explicit links encountered. In a world full of choice, the digital quilt presents just four options to help the user to move between panels – up, down, left or right – manifesting the research as spatial patchwork. David noted that typically people might employ a Wiki technology to present research information, but METIS wanted to avoid a text heavy format and opted for a more visually led framework.

Drilling Down

Lucy Walker responded to the presentation of the Digital Quilt by drawing parallels between the METIS research and the work of archaeology – the shared ‘drilling down’ and excavation-like exploration. Following Simon’s presentation of the World Factory Shirt at the beginning of the evening, Lucy suggested that technology such as that of the Digital Quilt and the Scan facility of The Shirt could be employed to great effect in many museums, enhancing visitor experiences.

Do you know where your clothes come from?

Mark Sumner who recently joined the School of Design at the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Sustainability, Retail and Textiles, following a period as Sustainable Raw Materials Specialist for Marks & Spencer, began by asking us all whether we knew where our clothes came from and whether we took a real interest in their origination? He spoke about the textile industry as a fragmented industry where many businesses are linked together in soft ways and where if the consumer neglected to take an interest the process of manufacture would remain abstract. However, he acknowledged that pressure was increasing on businesses around the world and though a large number were still not looking beyond the next season, many were looking at ways of doing things in a more sustainable way. He also noted that some of the best factories he’d seen were in China and some of the worst in Europe, suggesting that problems in the industry were not necessarily as geographically far removed as we might like to think.

What happens to your clothes after point of purchase?

Katelyn Toth-Fejel, artist, designer, natural dye specialist and research assistant for the Local Wisdom Network at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London spoke about what happens to clothes after they’ve been bought, how we care or fail to care for them, and where they end up. She noted that the things that stay in people’s wardrobes are not always those that are best made or the most durable, but rather the garments that people feel most emotionally attached to. Mark spoke about how he spent the first 10 years of his career at M&S looking at how to make products that would last longer, but how he realised that there was no point to the potential longevity of an item if people were to wear it for a bit and then throw it away – the full life cycle of a piece of clothing, however long or short, needed to become more sustainable.

Opening the conversation up, the group discussed the fact that one million tonnes of textile waste is produced each year in the UK. Some of this ‘waste’ is given over to re-use and sent, for example, to countries in Africa. But, it was asked, what impact does this action have on local industry in those African countries? Local production is undermined, while some in the UK are made wealthy.

Mark raised the point that we tend to think of Cotton as a ‘good’ material and yet it takes 10,000 litres of water to grow a kilo of cotton. For those living a life of subsistence, just 10 litres of water will sustain them in all of their activities for a day.

The rising cost of cotton and wool was discussed and the question that businesses in supply chains face of whether to raise prices or look for savings elsewhere. It was acknowledged that it was difficult for retailers to raise prices knowing that if they did, consumers would go elsewhere.

Katelyn noted that whichever direction we looked in, the industry appeared complex and that single most helpful thing we could do was to simply use less, emphasising that global consumption is currently far outstripping any eco-efficiencies we are achieving.

While someone in the audience said they felt they couldn’t compete with the industry of mass manufacture when it came to making a jumper, another ended the night by suggesting on a rather more positive note that instructional videos and information on the internet were in fact making it easier for people to pick up and employ making skills.


Dr. Mark Sumner
Mark has recently joined the School of Design at the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Sustainability, Retail and Textiles. He is currently developing research themes for reducing waste and the circular economy for clothing; mapping the environmental impacts within textile supply chains; consumer interaction with sustainable apparel; the role of design in delivering sustainability for clothing and textiles.

Prior to joining the university Mark was the Sustainable Raw Materials Specialist at Marks & Spencer for over 6 years. Mark led the development of strategies & policies to identify how M&S could reduce the impact of its products and supply chains across the full M&S product portfolio including clothing and homeware. Supply chain projects included improving transparency and traceability, dyehouse efficiencies and improved chemical compliance, and the creation of innovative and sustainable products.

During his time at M&S he delivered M&S’s first closed loop cashmere & wool coat, their most sustainable suit, chinos and overcoat as well as the ground breaking ‘shwopped’ coat. His first 10 years at M&S was as a Technologist in various buying teams and was responsible for product development, supply chain management, innovation and quality management.

Before joining M&S Mark completed a BSc Hons in Applied Physics from the University of Leeds, which was followed by an Engineering Doctorate from UMIST for Textile Engineering where he developed a new process for colour application to wool and cotton yarns.

Katelyn Toth-Fejel
Katelyn Toth-Fejel is an artist, designer, natural dye specialist and research assistant for the Local Wisdom Network at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London. This international research project, originated by Kate Fletcher, explores the ‘craft of use’: the skilful, cultivated and ingenious practices employed in our use of garments as a potent tool for the redefinition of our experience of fashion beyond the thrill of purchase.

Katelyn is also a director of the brand Here Today Here Tomorrow with a studio and shop in East London. HTHT showcases a complexity of approaches to sustainability of fashion and accessories, encompassing handmade craftsmanship, skills sharing, durability, use of waste and organic materials, natural dye, fair trade production, localism, and user behaviour.

Katelyn is from Portland, Oregon in the Cascade Range of North America.

Lucy Walker
Lucy Walker is an archaeologist and landscape historian, with a background in fieldwork research in Britain and Italy, adult education, and historic landscape tourism. She is currently a visiting scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, and part of the Troina Project – the study of changing cultural landscapes through time in a mountain zone in the north-east part of Sicily.
Lucy is also developing a practice using archaeology and museum collections as prisms to explore contemporary issues. As Associate with the Pacitti Company Think Tank, she is working with community groups, artists, writers and scientists on the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service ‘Unlocked’ programme. She is a member of ArchaeoLink, an organisation set up to enable communities to benefit from their archaeology and historic landscapes, and a founder member and chair of the Steering Group of the HLF funded Mill Road History Project in Cambridge.

METIS residency at Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre

Monday 14-19 April 2014

Taking up residence in an empty shopping unit, METIS spent a week developing World Factory, our current interdisciplinary performance project, which explores the global textile industry and our relationship to what we wear.

The METIS team used the week to gather responses and also wider thoughts about our relationship to clothes and the clothing industry. During the week, a web of thoughts, ideas and anecdotes was created in the shopping unit, strung from shirt to shirt with thread, ribbon and lace. At the front of the shop, sewing machines whirred and tea was on offer to all who dropped by.

On Saturday 19 April, artist and researcher Sarah Whitfield joined us to ‘mind and mend’ and share stories of clothes that matter. Her website is here.

Performer Pradeep Jey, with a crack support team from the New Wolsey, was out and about around Tower Ramparts and on the High Street taking the measurements of men in Ipswich. The resulting average size will provide the dimensions for The Shirt to be made in China.

Over the week, at the back of the shop the METIS Team worked on the project as a whole: researching factory management systems, communicating with Zhao Chuan in China and finding out more about the clothing industry at home in Ipswich. We tested our World Factory Factory Management game out with volunteers from the New Wolsey’s Youth Theatre and Young Company: their responses will shape our next phase of creative development.

The outcomes of the residency will be shared as a part of Pulse Festival, Saturday 7 June, when METIS will once again take up residence at Tower Ramparts, offering an immersive experience over the course of a day to the public and festival goers. Later that day, Zoë Svendsen and Simon Daw will present 28 Hands Make Light Work at The New Wolsey Theatre, introducing the World Factory Shirt and demonstrating the bespoke World Factory app, designed to scan codes on The Shirt which trigger videos revealing the story of its making.

Simon Cantrill from the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee joins both events to chat with METIS and the public about his relationship to sewing and his and his family’s experience of working in Bradford’s textile mills.

Thank you to everyone who took part this week!

World Factory: 28 Hands Make Light Work

28 Hands Make Light Work, the third event in our Cafe series, was hosted by Artsadmin on 13th February 2014 as an alternative to Fashion Week, which started the following day.

Zoe Svendsen and Simon Daw told the story of how they came to be investigating the global textile industry, how this was sparked by a meeting with Zhao Chuan, and how it lead to forming a relationship with Madame Wang’s garment construction factory in Shanghai.

Zoe and Simon discussed their vision for a modular performance installation – one that mirrors Zhao Chuan’s own modular work with the theatre collective Grass Stage – one that involves ‘playing’ at being factory management, creating a manufacturing space, facilitating conversation and curated talks in a cafe/canteen space and installing a ’boutique’ that reveals something of the provenance or construction process of the goods within.

The performance installation is intended to be heavily influenced by Zoe and Simon’s participation in the system of garment manufacture. In order to facilitate this, they decided to mimic the system as much as possible, and therefore launched a process to raise capital investment. A pre-sales portal is now live, and investment in 200 shirts is necessary in order to green light production.

Hilary Seaward, chartered account, discussed the process of capital investment, highlighting how we all, as consumers of clothing, invest in companies and brands. The basic level of investment is as Consumer, which is advance purchase of a shirt. Moving on from there, in awareness of the importance of sustainability in the curriculum, the second tier of investment is Donor, which is an advance purchase of a shirt as at Consumer level, and an additional shirt for a school, complete with education pack. Finally, acknowledging the wealth of expertise and the appetite for shaping artistic process amongst many people connected with METIS, we have described a Backer, who will meet the creative team and extend their involvement in the project.

Zoe and Simon then discussed their commitment to public engagement in their projects – not just at the point of presenting a performance, but through the whole process. This commitment is manifest in a public research platform online, called the Digital Quilt. The philosophy underpinning the quilt can be read here.

The final talk of the evening came from Anne Lally, a freelance consultant heavily invested in the work of the Fair Wear Foundation, which has a mission to implement a Living Wage in garment construction factories.
Anne introduced us to the complexities of the supply chain for garments, and in particular to the practice of those beyond the factories in the chain of determining their fee in percentage terms of the cost of construction. In an example provided, an additional $3 paid to the workers in the factory resulted in an extra $15 of costs further up the supply chain – from agents, transport, wholesalers (companies) and retailers. This practice is one of the many reasons that it is so difficult to bring about change in the industry, but Fair Wear Foundation continue to engage directly with companies to find solutions to these problems.

World Factory: A Conversation in Progress

The second in a series of cafe events, Zoë Svendsen hosted an evening of lively discussion as part of the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas, in November 2013.

Professor Dagmar Schaefer, Director of the Chinese Studies Centre at the University of Manchester, and incoming Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, presented a talk on the historical transmission of cultural practices in relation to Chinese silk technologies.

This was followed by Dr. Joe Smith, Senior Lecturer in Environment at the Open University, who talked about the history and geography of the contents of his Grandmother’s wardrobe, based on his chapter, in the Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion, which addresses geographies of care.

There was also a discussion, featuring Professor Maxine Berg, Ruth Pearson, Jennifer Davies and Shirley Magilton, which explored the broader history of global textile production and consumption from myriad points of view.

The event was a collaboration between Hot Numbers, Cambridge Junction, the Cambridge University English Faculty and METIS.

World Factory: Presenting research

Like 3rd Ring Out, World Factory is a research-led project. It explores the China-UK axis of the phenomenon of the mass production of textiles, from the production and global trade of cotton in 19th century Manchester to the mass manufacture of clothing present day China. The project therefore traces shifting ideologies from Marx and Engels’ experiences of Manchester, and their writing of the Communist Manifesto, to the opening up of the Chinese market to capitalist modes of production.

Simon Daw and Zoe Svendsen wanted to share what they had discovered as part of a residency at the National Theatre Studio, in collaboration with theatre director and cultural theorist, Zhao Chuan (Shanghai) and a subsequent residency at Cambridge Junction.

An event at Cambridge Junction in May 2013 was the first in a series of talks sharing the process of research more publicly. METIS have long regarded food and drink as key to establishing an informal but productive conversational atmosphere, so Chinese tea, cake and cava were served to all guests.

A stimulating talk responding to the ideas of the project by Dr Alan Blackwell, Reader in Interdisciplinary Design at the University of Cambridge, provided a non-intimidating environment for members of the audience to respond to the topic offering new insights into peoples’ perceptions of the subject-matter.

World Factory: A Conversation in Progress

Mon 28 Oct 2013

Venue: Hot Numbers café, Gwydir St, Cambridge

Time: 6.30pm

Price: Free


Part of Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas

Zoe Svendsen hosts an evening of discussion on the themes of World Factory.

Professor Dagmar Schaefer, Director of the Chinese Studies Centre at the University of Manchester, and incoming Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, will present a talk on the historical transmission of cultural practices in relation to Chinese silk technologies.


This will be followed by Dr. Joe Smith, Senior Lecturer in Environment at the Open University, who will present a short talk on the history and geography of the contents of his Grandmother’s wardrobe, based on his chapter, which addresses geographies of care, in the Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion.

After this there will be a panel discussion exploring the broader history of global textile production and consumption, and a chance for further conversation.

The event is a collaboration between Hot Numbers, Cambridge Junction, Cambridge University English Faculty and METIS.

Copyright © Metis Arts 2013