LINKAGES: Maquiladoras Enchant Rodarte and Fashion Pretends Technology Is Not Its Friend

I’ve been working at a frenetic pace lately trying to toggle between researching and writing a chapter on the relationship between fashion, creativity, and copyright (from a critical race and gender studies perspective, naturally); responding to queries about our exhibition on the fashion histories and practices of women of color (such queries are increasing so YAY!!); and playing Julie the cruise ship director for our impending family trip (we are not going on a cruise).

All this is to explain why this post is full of links rather than original writing. If I had the time to blog, I’d finish this post about Rodarte’s upcoming Fall collection, inspired by the maquiladora workers in Juárez, Mexico. (I have to admit that I missed the news on this collection and only caught up with it when a link showed up this weekend on my personal Facebook wall to a blog post on Oh Industry. So thank god for social media doing its thing!)

As Nicole Phelps from explains, the collection came to the Mulleavy sisters (the design team behind Rodarte) as a brainstorm while on a recent roadtrip from El Paso to Marfa, Texas:

[A] long drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, got them thinking they might like to explore their Mexican roots. From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night. And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They’d build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking.

While it is frequently speculated that the Mulleavys were attempting to comment on the mass murders of maquiladora workers along the Juárez border with this collection, their message clearly did not telegraph. Consider the ways in which luminaries from the runway show describe the collection (see video below).

Glossed over by the fantasies of fashion (consider the descriptions by Glenda Bailey and Nadja Swarovski in the above video: enchanted forest, the modern American fashion spirit) are the harsh physical and economic realities of the thousands of maquiladora workers who provide the hidden labors of globalized fashion and the hundreds (some argue, thousands) of women who have been murdered between Tijuana and Juárez. (For more about maquiladoras, check out Vicky Funari and Sergio de la Torre’s documentary Maquilapolis.)

I know Mimi would have a ton of smart things to say about this collection as well as Rodarte’s forthcoming collaboration with MAC on cosmetic products inspired by their latest collection, which was inspired by their depoliticized aestheticization of maquiladoras. Beginning on September 15, 2010, customers can purchase lipsticks called “Ghost Town” and “Sleepless”; lipglass called “del Norte”; eyeshadow called “Bordertown”; and nail polish called “Factory” and “Juarez” (and there’s more). Addendum: Looks like MAC is backing off maquiladora-chic: see here and here.

Mimi already has several posts in her draft queue for when she returns from her much-deserved vacation but I’m hoping she’ll have a few choice words about this collection as well. But for now,  why not revisit her crazy smart post on a related topic on the tangled complex of race, gender, labor, and fashion representation in Background Color?


As anyone who peruses the fashion media complex with any regularity knows by now, luxury fashion designers and companies have both praised and vilified new media communication technologies for democratizing or massifying (depending on your perspective) fashion.

Here are two recent pieces on fashion’s vexed relationship with technology. The first is Amy Odell’s blog post called “The Recession Has Forced High-Fashion Companies to Use the Internet” and the second is an article in the New York Times titled, “High Fashion Relents to Web’s Pull” . . . “Forced” and “Relents” – ha! – as if the fashion elite hasn’t already benefited enormously from the free labors of bloggers and other social media types who deftly use these technologies. Sigh. So much to post and so little time.

Ok, see you next week when I get back from week-long vacation from thinking about work (hopefully)!




19 responses to “LINKAGES: Maquiladoras Enchant Rodarte and Fashion Pretends Technology Is Not Its Friend

  1. mentioning the maquiladora inspiration and then going on to talk about the “naive” and “playful” qualities of these clothes and saying that it was a relief to see Rodarte “lighten up” makes me want to throw up forever. If I was just looking at the clothes themselves and didn’t know about the genesis of the collection I might say the same thing, but what kind of cognitive dissonance allows someone to talk like that when they know the collection is inspired by notorious sites of violence? And why does no one in the video say anything about this? I am uncomfortably reminded of that Vivienne Westwood “homeless” collection you folks talked about a while back.

  2. I need to take this in because I cannot believe what I just read. I’ll be back.

  3. sara

    I read about the maquiladora inspiration in Vogue and remember thinking it was sort of absurd, but like the above commenter I can’t exactly process my objections. In the meantime, readers may be interested in this reporting and analysis of how Juarez became the murder capital of the world — in which the maquiladoras themselves, or more precisely the economic model of which they are a part, are the problem:

  4. I had someone forward a link to this article. I am speechless. This is more than absurd.

    This is the commodification and exploitation of REAL awful conditions in which REAL women in Juárez have to deal with on a daily basis. You can’t make more than a loft statement with the clothes you wear. What is ultimately important is WHERE the clothes are made. So, will this collection be constructed by the poorest women in the world like the rest of the most expensive clothing in the world? It would have ACTUALLY meant something if they had made a statement followed by an action.

    I am the Founder and Executive Director of Las Otras Hermanas, I have been working in Juárez for over 2 1/2 years with women who formally worked in maquillas. They left and are working towards building a new culture of gender equality. Together we work build an alternative economy based upon dialogue, dignity, solidarity, transparency, and respect.

    From this the women, my friends, produce a fair trade (this means that they are paid a sustainable income which equals over 1,000% above minimum wage and 148% above the international standard of nonpoverty wages. We also invest in the community through community development projects and have actually brought in people and resources to teach this amazing group of women to sew. They produce a clothing line that we sell here in Phoenix at our boutique. THIS IS WHAT REAL CONCERN FOR WOMNE LOOKS LIKE IN THE FASHION WORLD.

    for more information contact me: or visit our website.

  5. BFH

    If Rodarte were attempting to comment on the state of things in Juárez (which I have heard of before, though I’m sorry to admit it was via the news of Jennifer Lopez making a movie based on the incidents in the town- I’m not American and have little knowledge of what went on there), then it’s as you say: it clearly didn’t telegraph. From the sound of things, the happenings in Ciudad Juárez weren’t a theme of the collection, in fact it doesn’t sound like the Mulleavy sisters registered it as much more than a single detail on their road trip and used their memory as ‘inspiration’- tired, irregular-shift workers going home at odd hours——-> “dreamlike”, “sleepwalker” atmosphere.

    Jezebel’s been making noises about it being art and that art shouldn’t shy away from uncomfortable subjects, but frankly I find it disingenuous to pretend that this was really any sort of valid cultural or political commentary- Kate and Laura’s clothes, lovely as they are, are not Guernica . Unless they actually wanted the people they were presenting the clothes to, to show their ignorance of just what lay behind part of their cited inspiration for the making of the collection?

  6. BFH

    Also, most people don’t seem to have registered the naming of Ciudad Juárez as part of the inspiration behind the clothes even though Rodarte’s collection was presented back in February – until the recent and specific naming of the nail varnish colour after the town.

    Though M.A.C. as a brand has something of a history of attempting to come across as socially responsible and concerned with health issues (profits from their Viva Glam collection, I believe, go to benefit AIDS sufferers?), I’ll wait for a more specific official statement (if there ever is one) about just what the designers were hoping to achieve by naming a nail polish after the town- they generally seem to come across as intelligent people so I might be willing to listen to an explanation if they offer one. Though I’m really sceptical that anything could make me change my mind about the awfulness of it- what’s next? Eye shadows named ‘Darfur’?

  7. BFH

    Sorry for bombarding the comment thread, but here is some sort of official response to the offence taken at the naming of the cosmetics:

    (I still don’t buy it- literally and figuratively, Kate and Laura’s Mexican roots are not justification for this)

    • Thanks for the bombardment, actually! I do plan on addressing this in the next few days…

      • BFH

        That’s good to know! Though I’ll admit, it wasn’t the clothes that bothered me so much as the nail polish and M.A.C’.s attempting to address the issue by announcing donations to a charity in the town after</i? people took offence (which is still better than if they had done nothing). It really does sound like the sisters didn't realise that attempting to sell and make money off a cosmetic named after a place of such bloody violence, would seem less than all right in the eyes of some people.

        PS: I don't object to the collection itself, Rodarte is a young brand that probably needs every penny of the money it gets from these collaborations.

    • According to their bio they grew up in California. I wonder if they have ever even been to Juárez? The circumstances in Juárez are specific to Juárez, and some other cities like Tiujuana have similarities, but aren’t in the exact state as Juárez, nor have the particular history that Juárez holds which leads it to be in the current circumstance of exploited labor, femicides, drug cartel turf war, U.S. and foreign owned sweatshop capitol, corruption, and massive poverty.

      RE: “the dream like state”
      “Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy had road-tripped from El Paso to Marfa, and were struck by the ethereal landscape and the impoverished factory workers floating to work at dawn in a sleepy, dreamlike state. ” -

  8. Pingback: Rodarte y “las muenganitas de Juárez”. « Chica Pop de Mierda

  9. Rhonda

    I think Rodarte lighting candles in the beginning signified a memorial and really I don’t have a problem with creating a collection based on call attention to the issue and I see it as a positive way to draw attention to the situation and not forget victims of the violence and poverty that exists there. Fashion is a craft and it is a commercial enterprise, a trade a business so maybe it cannot really offer a critique or meaning beyond surface layers.

    However I do have a problem with the crass commercialization and ultimate trivialization of the issue by MAC and Rodarte in the makeup collection that not only lacks darker tones, but supports the anglophication of a latino culture. They assume that is alright to use names and images of oppression in a lighthanded inconsequential way. The eyeshadow Bordertown is a blood splattered mess of red and silver and beige.

    Also the person who is responsible for naming the nail polish Factory should be fired IMHO. Just unoriginal and tacky. Why don’t you just name it slave labor ville and be done with it. Sweatshop was that under consideration too? It’s just trivializing a complex issue that really needs more attention than a nail polish.

    I guess they didn’t think that their white target demographic would be concerned or care.

  10. i’m going to try to write about this too, after giving it a lot of thought. right now though all i can do is remember this video and this song:

    to me, this song is allowed to be “inspired” by the deaths of the women of juarez. it is filled with rage and anger and fury. the video is informative, the goal is clear. that is where i believe the problem lies with the rodarte collection; as many people have pointed out, it isn’t even really evident what their inspiration was in the first place. why call attention to something so muddled down and oversimplified? how could they not think people would call them on their bullshit and say hey, you can’t just say you’re inspired to get press or whatever and not own up to “caring” about the people who inspired you in the first place.

    i don’t know, i don’t know. i’m just so blinded by rage i’ll try to write it out another day.

    • Absolutely. A part of the question here lies with art making discourses about “inspiration,” and how to evaluate its engagement with the thing that is its origin. Another part has to acknowledge that aestheticization is not necessarily depoliticization, but it can be really bad at one or the other or both.

      Sleepwalking and spectrality are not bad thematics for exploring the unconscious under modernity’s violence, for instance (if a bit cliched at this point, see especially the zombie genre), but the Rodarte collection does not actually engage or follow through either legibly (such that an audience might be given the cues to grasp this) or even provocatively (it could be confusing, or even a failure, but still generative) on its own premise. Instead, as either art or politics it’s a muddle, as you said.

  11. BFH

    Small victories…M.A.C. has apparently sent an email to editors announcing that the names of products in the Rodarte collection (including, I presume, Juárez the Nail Polish, the main spark for our outrage)- very probably in response to the criticism it’s faced online.

  12. BFH

    I meant to say, that the names of the products would be changed- sorry!

  13. Hopefully this whole debate will draw even more attention to the situation in Juarez.

    You can find out what MAC and Rodarte have to say about the controversy here:

  14. Pingback: Links of Great Interest: I got your pun right here. | The Hathor Legacy

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