Take a look in your wardrobe. How many of the labels in your clothes say made in Cambodia? Today 97% of our clothes are made overseas. Amongst the shanty houses, hotels and bustling markets of many Cambodian cities and towns are factories that run around the clock to feed the demand of the fast fashion model for western brands. Workers are underpaid and overworked, the conditions of many of the factories would not pass western standards, yet working in a factory is still a career that many young women aspire to in the hope of a better future.
The fashion industry is slowly starting to change. San-Francisco based brand Remake is one such company that is helping to reshape the future of fashion. Style and ethics go hand in hand, and they set a high standard for the labels that they showcase. Dedicated to making slow fashion the industry norm, Remake works to improve the wellbeing of workers and the environment worldwide. How do they do this? As well as providing customers with a stylish range of 100% transparent brands, they also raise awareness through their maker journeys and stories. One such story is Made In Cambodia.
In collaboration with cinematographer Asad Faruqi and Levi Strauss Foundation, Remake sent three young New York fashion designers from Parsons to Cambodia for a life changing journey to experience the day-to-day lives of the invisible women that make our clothes.
Allie Griffin, Anh Le and Casey Barber spent 3 days travelling around Cambodia gaining insight into the positive and negative effects of the industry. They began their journey visiting Tonle, Cambodia’s first zero waste brand to see how fashion can be used as a force for good. They provide at-risk women with a living wage, good working hours and health care. Learn more about Tonle here.
On their second day they went south to the capital Phnom Penh to a denim factory that operates for all sorts of brands including Simply Vera by Vera Wang and J Lo. They witnessed hundreds of women working cramped over their units amongst noisy machinery, the spraying of harsh toxic chemicals and piles of fabric.
“As soon as our tour ended my brain was overwhelmed with what I had just seen; how could one pair of jeans sell for $20 and have had so many hands work to produce them; the math behind where the money goes does not scream fair at all.” – Casey
On their third and final day the girls met women who work in sub-contracted factories in a school 2 hours from Phnom Penh, where they would all be safe to talk openly without the police stopping their meeting. The meeting was hosted by Solidarity Centre. Amazingly the women who met them had bravely sneaked out labels from the clothes they were making. This was dangerous for them to do as they risked their wage, jobs and safety, but they all did it in the hope that viewers of the documentary would use their buying power to change the future of fashion. Brands that use these illegal sub-contract factories include Zara, H&M and Tommy Hilfiger. It’s not only low wages that are the problem in sub-contract factories. Some of the women told of management forcing them to take pregnancy tests. If they were positive the were immediately fired.
“I wanted a better life for myself and my family so I took this work at a subcontracted factory. But life has become harder. I get paid per 12 pieces, but if there’s even one single error in the batch, I don’t get paid at all. I used to make a new design every 2-3 months. Now, it’s two to three new designs per month. The designs are more complicated but we get no training. It’s harder to meet the quota. Sometimes I cry because I fear I won’t meet the quota and get paid. I hope you will help me and my colleagues by spreading our stories to the world. You being here, listening, makes me hopeful.” – Char Wong
Watch the short film Made In Cambodia here.
Cambodia is a country that despite its governmental corruption, poverty and bloody past it’s people are welcoming, warm and always have a smile on their faces. It is thanks to passionate individuals such as Allie, Anh and Casey and brands like Remake that we can change and better the lives of the Cambodian women that make our clothes. Film like Made In Cambodia not only raise awareness, but also educate and inspire the future designers of our industry. If you have watched, learnt and liked this film, please do share it with your friends, colleagues and family. Together we can be a force for change.