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.

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