Sunday, May 31, 2020

What has become of the people who made our clothes?

In 1984 the late governor Mario Cuomo borrowed the title of Charles Dickens's 'Tale of Two Cities'  to call attention to the deep rift in New York between the Haves and the Have Nots
Yesterday, his son, the CNN host, Chris Cuomo, dusted off his father's words to remind Americans that there are two Americas. This was in the wake of the video-documented murder of the handcuffed, black man, George Floyd, through the actions of police officers in Minneapolis. It was an impassioned speech to remind the Haves that America cannot be a peaceful and happy place until that gap between the Two Realities is closed. 

Racism is the gap: the alienation of the Have Nots by the Haves. The myriad processes of alienation/discrimination occur at all levels of society, locally, nationally and internationally, many of which are such a 'normal' part of daily life that they become invisible to the Haves who are often not aware of perpetuating them.

The Western fashion system is one of these 'normals'. Perpetuating it is as easy as purchasing clothes produced by the exploitative production system. And every single one of us does that, even when demonstrating against racism.

It is the business of the RCDF to make the racism in fashion visible, to raise awareness, to enable change for the better. The first step is creating awareness that fashion's definition and function was created to highlight and celebrate the difference between the Haves and the Have Nots locally, nationally and internationally. 

Those who had the power to define fashion divided the world into 'those with fashion' and 'those without fashion'. The former were white people of means in Europe and North America. The latter were peasants, tribals, the poor, people of colour.  They didn't have fashion, they just wore clothes. Fashion became something to aspire to, to show off capability and 'advancement'. Today those 'fashion have nots' are the same ones who make the clothes for the 'fashion haves'. And today they are suffering because the production system has been shut down by measures taken against Covid-19.

I heard today that those who lost their jobs in the textile factories in Pekalongan, in Central Java, have not been able to find new work. They face hunger. I hear the same is happening in India.  I invite our readers who have first-hand knowledge of one or more of these workers to share their stories. Please tell us what is happening to these people (mostly women) who produced our clothes. Their life of dependence is perilous. Will they find a way out of this life-threatening mess? What are the options they are choosing? What will be the new order in the post-covid world? How can we strategize to close the fashion gap?

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