Lexicon 97: distressed & distressing evolutions continue

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Distressed and Distressing Evolutions continue

Go on a video journey with six young fashion-conscious Brits who not only journey to some of the countries and communities of clothing manufacture, but who also participate in the manufacture, the community, the joys, the challenges, the complex lives of workers by being workers having to provide for themselves off the regular salaries, living as part of the communities, learning that even notions of exploitation are more complex than they'd realized. We are so connected that jobs begun as outsourcing of jobs in one place become essential to lives in other (at least initially) less prosperous locations, those low wages, pittances to some, are making a difference in impoverished lives elsewhere —those jobs are as needed there as here or wherever you are.  

Clips from the 6-part series with two videos exploring the impact of outsourcing opportunities on India's emerging youth middle-class, and the resulting growing divide between the economic classes.  The last video offers a glimpse of outsourcing within the US from the former industrial mammoths of the midwest to the better hospitality the south is extending to the corporation.




Georgina Briers is struggling. It is late in the evening, but the 20-year-old is hunched over a dilapidated sewing machine in a New Delhi workshop, unsuccessfully trying to stitch a seam in a garment. 

"I can't do it," she tearfully moans. "It's not possible. I'm too hot." 

All around her, rows of Indian workers glance up momentarily to see what the fuss is all about, before returning to their frenetic stitching. 

Still crying, Georgina slumps back and groans. "This is how I imagined a sweatshop to be," she says. "Dirty, smelly  -  it's absolutely horrible. It's my idea of hell." 

For someone whose idea of eternal damnation would previously have been a week without a shopping trip to Primark, Topshop or H&M, it is no surprise that Georgina is finding the work punishing.


Sweat shop

Lesson learned: Tara Scott, Amrita Singh, Richard McIntyre, Mark Steadman, Georgina Briers and Stacey Dooley swear they will avoid high street fashion after working in India's sweat shops as part of a four-week experiment


She is used to buying new outfits and accessories on an almost daily basis. 

But before this experience, she had never spared a thought for how her clothes were actually made. That made her the ideal candidate to take part in a unique TV experiment. 

For four weeks, instead of buying clothes, Georgina would instead be making them. 

With six other British youngsters, she was taken to India as part of a new BBC series, to experience first-hand how her throwaway High Street outfits are made. 

What she learned there shocked her deeply. "I thought it was going to be a holiday," says Georgina. 

"I thought we'd be eating some really nice chicken kormas and seeing some interesting things. 

"I didn't think the conditions would be so bad."

Working up to 18-hour days in soaring temperatures, being shouted at by stressed supervisors and  -  in one workshop  -  having to sleep by their sewing machines, Georgina and her fashion-obsessed companions lived like lowly-paid garment workers for a month. 

Their first appointment was at one of the more prestigious workplaces, Shahi Enterprises in New Delhi. 

Each morning at 8am, six days a week, 4,000 workers clock on at this massive warehouse, where they turn out 10,000 garments a day for British High Street chains such as French Connection, H&M and Marks & Spencer. 

Although it is far from a sweatshop, the regulations and pace of work came as a massive shock to the young Brits. 

Sweat shop

While this factory worker is protected by international labour laws, others are not so lucky


Sitting in a line of 30 workers who produce the firm's total of 300 garments a day, every detail of their lives was timed and controlled. 

Ordered not to rise from their machines or go to the toilet without permission, they clashed with the no-nonsense supervisors, who were appalled by their lack of discipline. 

After training, they took their place in a hangar-like room of roughly 1,000 workers, where some were expected to sew collars (one a minute) and others sleeves (two per minute). 

And like their Indian co-workers, they were forced to survive on wages of less than £2 a day  -  enough only for the most basic of goods. 

"After our first day's work we needed some toiletries, so we went to the market to buy them," Georgina explains. 

"I tried to buy a small deodorant, but it was more than a day's wages, so I couldn't. And that was one of the cheapest items." 

Other trials followed. After work on the sewing line proved too difficult, Georgina was summarily demoted to the lowlier-paid position of garment ironing. 

Here she was expected to iron 50 shirts an hour, but, unable to keep up, she was demoted again to the lowliest position on the factory floor: shirt buttoning. Her wage was now a meagre £1.50. 

"It was a real shock," she says. "I thought I was going to be good, but the work was so hard and so skilled that I just couldn't keep up. 

"You see all the Indian people working so hard and being paid so little for it, and it makes you feel so ashamed." 

For the Indian workers lucky enough to land a job in one of the larger factories such as Shahi Enterprises, working hard is a matter of survival. 

Earning on average the equivalent of £1.50 to £1.75 a day, it is usually just enough to feed and clothe themselves and their families. 

They would never be able to afford the clothes they are helping to make. 

All across India, such clothing factories are thriving. But in order to compete with other low-cost manufacturers such as China, these businesses must keep costs down. 

This means low wages for their workers and, for those that outsource to smaller "back street" operations, primitive conditions and relentlessly long hours. It was a wake-up call to the six British guinea pigs. 

Mark Rubens, the TV programme's executive producer, says: "There was this realisation that as clothes have become cheaper, young people in the UK are buying more and more items and then simply ditching them without a second thought. 

"We wanted to see how these young people would react if they could not only see how their clothes were made, but actually experience what it was like to make them."

Some coped better than others did with the experience. 

Embarrassing temper tantrums on the factory floor, constant tears and endless moaning about how difficult everything was seemed to mark the experience of some of these young Brits, with one fashion photography student storming out of the factory after a few hours because the work was not "creative" enough. 

It did not take long for the Indian people to make known their displeasure at these young people's lack of discipline and respect. 

At the home of Lalita, one of the workers some of the group stayed with, she spent the first night taking them to task. 

"Nobody liked your behaviour," she told the group as they sat on her bare floor. 

"You were sitting on the tables and swivelling around on your chairs. If you want to understand our culture, you can't do this. Like when you were crying, you went outside. 

"You have come to see the Indian culture so you must live like Indians." 

Initially, Georgina seemed to be one of the worst offenders. 

Admittedly, the garment-making life would tax any of us blessed with a comfortable Western existence. 

But Georgina seemed uniquely ill-equipped to face such harsh conditions. 

Like so many British youngsters of her generation, she was accustomed to getting whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. 

Back in England, what she wanted most of all was clothes. "Before I went to India, I loved the fact that I could buy something really cheap on the High Street, wear it once and then chuck it away," she says. 

She splurges thousands of pounds on clothes, with most of her time outside her job in sales spent shopping, socialising and living well beyond her means. 

Her parents, who admit they had spoilt her, invariably picked up the bill. "I made it too easy for her," says her father, Dean. 

"I would say she was one of the most selfish people I know," says her mum, Gillian.

"She never thought of anybody else." 

Selfish, spoilt and sheltered  -  it was becoming clear even to Georgina that changes needed to be made. Which is why she agreed to take part in the experiment. 

The opportunity came after she had "forgotten" to pay her rent for two months, and was forced to move back to Burton-on-Trent from the high-life in London. 

"I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and the way I was treating my parents was out of order," she says. 

"I couldn't seem to stop. I was a spoilt princess, but I wanted to change. So when the chance to go to India came along, I jumped at it."

After her initial difficulties, Georgina threw herself into the work, and made a particular effort to get to know the Indian people she was living and working with. 

She recalls one particular moment as a turning point, which, ironically enough, took place in the sweatshop she had been dreading working in. 

She says: "It was when we were at one of the smaller workshops where a lot of the workers sleep beside their sewing machines. 

"I stayed up after the others had gone to bed and spoke to this guy who had been working since he was 15. 

"We ate together, and he told me why he had to work so hard, that he had to support his family. It was a real revelation for me. 

"The Indian people all love their families and have respect for them and work so hard to put food on the table.

"And here's me, buying all these clothes, disrespecting my family and just being really selfish. It made me look back and cringe." 

Stacey Doley, a 21-year-old shop assistant from Luton, had a similar experience. 

Before the trip, she had free reign of her mother's credit card and would run up huge bills for designer clothes and holidays. 

"We went to Mumbai and stayed in the biggest slum in Asia," she says. 

"We found young children working in a sweatshop which was a complete shock. 

"We couldn't find out who they were making clothes for, but just coming across something like that completely stops you in your tracks. 

"Not only does it make you think twice before you buy that £6 dress, but it makes you realise just how unbelievably lucky you are. I still love shopping, but my attitude has completely changed." 

Since their return to England, both young women have been involved in fundraising for a child refuge centre they visited while in Mumbai, with Stacey raising more than £650 to pay for an English teacher to teach at the refuge for a year. 

Georgina says the four weeks spent in India have changed her life. 

"I'm much happier now," she says. "Before, I was worried about how I looked all the time, but I've got more perspective about things now. 

"I still love shopping, but I don't spend as much. I'm careful with my money. 

"Some of the people I talked to had so many dreams and aspirations and they were willing to work so hard, while I've thrown away so many opportunities. 

"When I came back I realised that if for nobody else, I owe it to them to work hard and make something of myself." 

She even seems open to the idea of returning to the workshops. 

"I'd do it again," she says. "But this time, I'd rather not sleep on the floor." 

Read more:



& outsourcing, cotton, and some harvesting of distressed and distressing evolutionary wardrobes: 

an extendable lexicon



(episode of 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock) pt.1 

(from liveleak)




(episode of 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock) pt. 2 

(from liveleak)



Outsourcing Greenville is the story of what happened when the world's largest refrigerator plant outsourced to Mexico leaving 1/4th of Greenville, Michigan residents unemployed. The factory had been a fixture of the Greenville community for over 100 years until Electrolux uprooted the plant in March of 2006 to move production to Mexico where they could pay workers wages as low as $1.57/hour. This story is told through the voices of employees and the president of their union as they attempt to face the future in a season of difficulty and change.


T-Shirt Travels

(from PBS Global  Voices)

The story of how secondhand clothing, given away as charity in the west, ends up in Zambia, Africa.


The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global 


(from UCTV)

Georgetown business professor Pietra Rivoli reveals the economic and political lessons from the life story of a simple t-shirt. From a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory to a clothing market in Africa, Rivoli investigates compelling questions about the politics, economics, and history of modern business and globalization.


White Gold - The True Cost Of Cotton

Fashion Victims? Up to one third of Uzbekistan's workforce is made to labour on cotton farms; denied ownership of the land they work, and forced to labour without reasonable wages they are unable to opt out of cotton cultivation -- those who try are subject to violence, imprisonment and intimidation. 

Tens of thousands of children are forced to pick the cotton harvest each year. Crucially, the suffering caused by this industry comes at the hands of the government. It is the Uzbek state, not the country's mafia that instigates the abuses connected to the production and sale of cotton turning its people in to a slave nation.

For more information please visit www.ejfoundation.org 

The Environmental Justice Foundation is leading an international campaign to end human rights and environmental abuses in cotton production, and to promote organic and fairly traded cotton.

In Uzbekistan, tens of thousands of children, some as young as seven, are taken out of school and forced to work in the cotton fields for little or no money during the harvest. The period can last up to three months, during which older children live in dormitories or classrooms under harsh conditions. The combined effect of exhausting work, a poor diet, lack of clean water and exposure to toxic pesticides has a dramatic impact on health.

The cotton industry has also caused an ecological
disaster. The Aral Sea, once the world's fourth largest inland lake, providing the region with fish and water, has shrunk to 15% of its original size. The salinity of water and soil has increased, and as desperate farmers apply more water to their fields, they exacerbate the problem. This leads to infertile soil and areas of salty desert contaminated with pesticide residues.


Where your cotton t-shirt comes from

(from  wwf











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