Tag Archives: ethical fashion

LINKAGE: Healthy Nails, Ethical Fashion


Beauty is so often classified as a health concern –consider the layout of drugstore aisles, after all– but just as often there is little to no awareness of unhealthy conditions for the industry’s laborers. That’s where the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative breaks new ground. Literally a collaboration between nail salon workers and owners, non-profit and community organizations focused on labor and environmental and reproductive health and justice, the Collaborative “uses policy advocacy, research, industry advocacy outreach, and education strategies to address health and safety concerns facing these communities [nail salon workers and owners, cosmetologists and their clients]. Our mission is to advance a preventative environmental health agenda for the nail salon sector in California.”

The Collaborative offers loads of information about their campaigns for environmental and labor justice. Here’s more about the health and safety risks for the beauty industry’s labor forces, who are mostly women of color:

In California and throughout the United States, the beauty industry is booming. “Mani and pedis” are all the rage as customers want to be pampered with the latest nail designs, colors, and styles. Over the last twenty years, nail salon services have tripled and cosmetology is now the fastest growing profession in California.

Currently there are approximately 115,000 nail salon technicians in California, and most are women of color. Of these women, 59-80% are estimated to be Vietnamese immigrants, and more than 50% are of childbearing age. Many nail salon workers can earn less than $18,200 a year and work in conditions that can be hazardous to their health.

On a daily basis, nail salon workers handle numerous solvents, glues, and other nail care products. These contain many chemicals known to and suspected of causing acute and chronic illnesses including cancer, respiratory problems, skin problems and reproductive harm. There is very little state and federal government regulation of the chemicals used in these products. Also, little research has been done on the health issues that nail salon workers experience from long-term exposure to these chemicals. In fact, there are over 10,000 chemicals used in personal care and nail products and yet 89% have not been tested independently for their impacts on human health. Nail salon workers and other cosmetologists are at greater risk for health issues related to their work because of various challenges such as language and cultural barriers, and lack of access to health care. In addition, there is not enough culturally and linguistically appropriate education and outreach to this diverse population.

Through the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, advocates are working together at the intersection of workers rights, women’s rights, environmental and reproductive health/justice, and Asian American community health to advance greater worker health and safety for this sector.

And I only recently stumbled across Fashioning an Ethical Industry (FEI), a UK-based education project of garment workers’ rights organization Labour Behind the Label targeting the “next generation” of the fashion industry: “The project works with tutors and students of fashion-related courses to give an overview of how the fashion industry positively and negatively impacts on working conditions in garment manufacture and to inspire students – as the next generation of industry players – to raise standards in the for garment workers in the fashion industry of the future. We run students workshops, organise tutor training events, provide teaching resources and work with tutors to integrate ethical issues related to garment manufacture into their teaching.” What makes FEI even better is the amazingly extensive teaching resources available on their site — books, films, reports, factsheets, exhibitions, and more. I’ll definitely make use of this site the next time I teach Politics of Fashion.

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Filed under LINKAGE, ON BEAUTY

When Morals and Market Collude: Fashion’s Night Out

On September 10, New York City and thirteen other fashion capitals around the world from the UK to Japan will host “Fashion’s Night Out: A Global Celebration of Fashion.” In New York City, the event is sponsored by Vogue magazine, the Council for Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), NYC & Company, and the City of New York.

There are a ton of events planned at luxury, mass, and cheap chic retail sites all over the city which will hopefully help to diffuse the crowds a bit. (Anna Wintour and Michael Kors will launch the event from the Macy’s in Queens.) To see a full directory of participating retailers, click here. For my part, Opening Ceremony‘s sidewalk sale, car show, and collab with downtown street food vendors makes it the only place to be.

But a brief digression: does anyone remember Fashion for America? The consumerism campaign that Vogue and CFDA launched (with great support from then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Fashion’s Night Out – its press kit, its press photos, and philanthropic goals — recalls Fashion for America.

Like Fashion for America, the goals of Fashion’s Night Out are to “promote retail and restore confidence” and like Fashion for America, there are limited edition logo T-shirts (suggested retail: $30). What’s especially interesting to me is that both operate through an ethics of fashion consumerism that intertwines market and moral economies. Consumerism histories are full of examples of economic constructions of morality but most served to constrain spending and to advocate for sober consumerism while these fashion consumerism campaigns articulate shopping as both an economic and universal moral good.

In the Fashion for America campaigns, Americans were urged to “shop to show [their] support” for America, for the thousands of lives lost in the multi-pronged terrorist attacks, and for a declining economy. Fashion’s Night Out elicits fashion consumerism as a hedge against a recessionary tidal wave of unemployment. In Vera Wang’s words, “if people don’t shop, people lose their jobs.” Who wouldn’t want to support America against terrorism? Who wouldn’t want to help save jobs?

The ways in which fashion consumerism campaigns operate as a technology of power that produces and manages neoliberal subejcts whose consumerist practices are driven by a belief that expanding the economy through spending will lead to the expansion of rights, of jobs, of the good life, etc. is what I’ve been thinking and writing about for the past couple of months. Now, I’ll have to add something about Fashion’s Night Out – maybe just a footnote though.

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Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION

LINKAGE: Burqas, Gay Taxes, Fatshion, and More

In a guest column at Muslimah Media Watch, Alison McCarthy examines former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown’s recent claims that Obama sequesters Secretary of State Hilary Clinton under an imaginary burqa.

Also from Muslimah Media Watch, Reuters found just 367 women in France in full veil; Farah at Nuseiba examines the mini-explosion of Australian op-eds on the burqa (using Roland Barthes’ Mythologies!); and Global Voices rounds up more opinions from the Interwebs about the notion of a ban.

8Asians lets us know about a short documentary video called Beautiful Sisters, written and directed by Connie Chung for an undergraduate filmmaking course, on the infamous eyelid surgeries that some consider “whitewashing” or “self-hatred” when Asian women (or men) undergo these procedures. (On this issue, I enjoy teach Katherine Zane’s nuanced discussion from the wonderful collection Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, edited by Ella Shohat.)

Marc Jacobs jumps into the same-sex marriage fray with two limited-edition political t-shirts, both proclaiming, “I pay my taxes, I want my rights.” Between the floating dollar sign and American flag in one design, and stylish lesbian couple with equally stylish child in the other, there is too much “civic duty = taxes = access to rights” to untangle here.

Citing the work of Lila Abu-Lughod, a critique of Sarkozy’s proposed burqa ban dubs it “what-not-to-wear imperialism.”

Having recently discovered Fashion Projects (both a print journal and a blog), I was particularly impressed by this essay about George Amponsah and Cosima Spender’s documentary, The Importance of Being Elegant, which examines the Congolese subculture centered around the worship of clothes (kitende) known as la Société des ambianceurs et personnes élégantes (the Society of Revelers and Elegant People), or in short, la Sape. The documentary can be see on Vimeo.

The Los Angeles Times visits the Paris’ Musée de la Contrefaçon (Museum of Counterfeiting), “a fascinating five-room short course in the history of knock-offs, counterfeits and blatant infringements.”

Lesley at Fatshionista responds to the responses to Beth Ditto’s designer collaboration with British “plus-size” department store Evans.

Finally, reading through the abstracts for the recent academic conference FASHIONS: Business Practices in Historical Perspective turns out to be quite fascinating. There are lots of intriguing paper titles (Albert Churella, “The Clothes Make the Women: Skirts, Pants, and Railway Labor during World War II;” J. Malia McAndrew, “Feminized Diplomacy: Japanese Fashion Magazines and U.S. Censorship in Occupied Japan;” Shakila Yocob, “Branding Beauty: Indigenous Knowledge to the Forefront”) but especially timely is Efrat Tseeon’s “In Search of the ‘Ethics’ of Ethical Fashion,” which points out some significant blindspots in the rhetoric and practice.

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Filed under HIJAB POLITICS, LINKAGE

TEACHING: Video Killed the Lecture

Just a quick update to bookmark a couple videos here for possible inclusion in my fall course on the transnational politics of clothing and fashion. First up, a 2001 undergraduate student documentary (by Anmol Chaddha, Naomi Iwasaki, Sonya Zehra Mehta, Muang Saechao and Sheng Wang) from Berkeley called Yellow Apparel: When the Coolie Becomes Cool, recently digitized and uploaded. While I’m often looking to complicate (which is not the same as repudiate!) this sort of argument (from the synopsis, “While explaining the appropriation of an exotic Asia as an attempt to fill the void created by a bureaucratized suburban lifestyle in America, Yellow Apparel does not attempt to provide a clear-cut solution but rather a critical and informed examination of the commodification of Asian culture”), it might be a good model for possible final projects in my fashion course.

yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes cool from Yellow Apparel on Vimeo.

The second is a brief clip from The Guardian (UK) about the launch of a new “modest but urban” Islamic fashion line called Elenany, including a brief set of comments from Jana, the style-conscious proprietress of British blog Hijab Style.

For the most part, students in the fashion course (most of whom are not Muslim) have known better than to insist that hijab is a sign or symptom of strange and dire oppression. One semester I had an Iranian American student whose classroom presentation involved a mall-shopping skit, and as the presentation went on, she put together a fashionable-and-modest outfit observing hijab from items purchased at Forever 21, Gap, et cetera. (She was also writing her undergraduate honors thesis on what could be called “comparative hijab studies” in contemporary Iran and Turkey.) And the last time I taught this course, a young woman who wore the headscarf argued passionately for the merits of the collegiate uniform of sweatpants (she wore sweats pretty much every day), which included a rousing defense of laziness. Now that’s bold — arguing for the right to be lazy on the second day of class!

And there are the numerous videos from the BBC’s website called Thread: Fashion Without Victim, which hosts interviews, essays, and videos about “ethical fashion.” By far my favorite videos are the previews for the series Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts, in which “six young fashion addicts swap shopping on the high street with working in India‘s cotton fields and clothes factories.” While I have serious problems with the whole “experience oppression for a day” reality show approach, it’s a familiar format with which to engage students in the structural critiques at hand.

Possibly up next from me, inspired by conversations I’ve had with Minh-ha about our different and often divergent shopping and fashion preferences (see her recent post about her love of Phillip Lim and the sample sale) and recent purchases at vintage shops and thrift stores from my California trip (dudes, right now I am sitting in my parents’ breakfast nook in a thrifted black cotton ’80s pullover with mesh inserts and snaps and rubberized black leggings), some thoughts on how I shop and decide what I want to wear.

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Filed under HIJAB POLITICS, IN THE CLASSROOM