So, there's a new kid on the Awareness Day block, and she's called Fashion Revolution Day (@fash_rev, #insideout). We LOVE that, finally, there's a campaign that doesn't ask us where in the world our clothes are made, but who made them - and under what conditions.
When I chose Shanghai as our manufacturing base back in 2011, I'd been living here for two years already and wanted to create higher-paying garment jobs in my community. I knew it was going to be tough to explain that China is my "made local," and that Made in China does not always = junk. I wanted to defend the talented tailors who were sewing our belts at a living wage.
I was totally unprepared, though, for just how deep-rooted our assumptions and prejudices about offshore production can be. In a talk I gave last month at an amazingly fun TEDxShanghai Salon, I mentioned how I once made a sales presentation to a retailer who loved the belts... until she read our "Proudly Made in Shanghai" label and declared them trash. (Ouch.) I understand the desire to support our our own countries' economies by manufacturing at home, but the truth is, garment workers everywhere in the world - Dhaka, Shanghai, Vancouver - deserve dignity and upward mobility at work. I'm very grateful to Fashion Revolution Day for encouraging us to as "Who?" instead of "Where?", and, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to the five tailors who are currently leading the Flatter:Me manufacturing team. (They're super camera-shy, but I'm working on getting their permission to post a portrait or two!)
Sun Hong Mei (孙红抺) and Yun Li Xiu (云礼秀)
...sew the adjuster and buckles onto your belts. They're both from Anhui, a nearby province that millions of Shanghai's workers call their "老家" or "original home." Sun Hong Mei has been working at the studio longest, and has no plans to leave Shanghai - she says there are more opportunities in the city, and wants her 9 year-old daughter to get an education that will allow her to go to university when she's old enough. I was charmed when Yun Li Xiu, a woman of few words, told me that she likes to sew next to the studio's windows so she can hear the birds outside. She has a son back in her hometown, and is saving to buy him an apartment so (in her words) he can attract a nice girl in a few years.
Liu Zhong Xian (刘中贤) and Wu Ling Hua (吴玲华)
...are responsible for sewing on Flatter:Mes' labels. Sewing the four seams around the brand labels is the toughest part of making our belts, and takes a steady hand. Liu Zhong Xian is really shy but surprised me recently by asking to hear the Chinese versions of our labels' slogans (ie. "Someone's looking gorgeous, as usual"). Wu Ling Hua is always called "Wu Jie," or "big sister Wu," because she's a few years older than the other women. She's very dignified, and very exacting with her seams... no crooked wash labels on her watch.
Gu Cai Yin (顾彩英)
packages the belts. This involves stickering the back of the buckles so they don't come apart in shipping; folding each Flatter:Me in just the right place; and generally making sure every single belt is fit to sit on our retailers' shelves and put in the mail to you. We call her "Gu Ayi," or "auntie Gu," because she's a motherly woman in her fifties with two grown children - in China, her seniority commands respect.
If you have any questions for the team, let me know so I can pass them on; I'll do my best to post the answers that the ladies are comfortable sharing. And now... it's up to you today. Please help us spread the word about Fashion Revolution Day by wearing at least one item of clothing (may we suggest a belt?) inside-out. For once, you are 100% justified in taking a selfie - tag that sucker with #insideout and @fash_rev. And, for a single Thursday, notice all those tags and seams that were sewn in by a real, live person.
We don't know it all, and we're learning as we're going. The goal of ethical manufacturing is ambitious and often hard-to-define, and we'd love to hear your perspective on this newfangled awareness day. What do you think about asking "who" instead of "where" in learning about clothes' origins? Please share in the comments!