More Reality than Show – Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion

Still from the series

The web series 'Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion' is a fly-on-the-wall look at three Norwegian fashion bloggers who are put to work in a Cambodian sweatshop.

Autor*in Anna Rees, 02.02.15

The web series ‘Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion’ is a fly-on-the-wall look at three Norwegian fashion bloggers who are put to work in a Cambodian sweatshop.

Fast fashion is a hot topic these days. Stories about the horrific conditions used to produce cheap clothing sold in big chain stores abound and yet, society’s desire for these mass-produced garments shows no signs of slowing down. It is all too easy for consumers of fast fashion to skim over stories of exploitation and inhumane working conditions in clothing factories when purchasing three tshirts for the price of one. Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, needles this ignorance through its web series Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion by sending three fashion bloggers to work in a Cambodian sweatshop.

The five part series was filmed over the course of a month in Phnom Penh in 2014 and aims to juxtapose the viewpoints of three teenaged fashion bloggers from one of the richest countries on the planet against the harsh realities of the sweatshop trade in the developing world.

The web series documents the three participants’ change in attitudes over the course of their stay, from proclaiming that workers must be happy to have a job and that sewing all day is not the worst job out there to becoming emotionally distraught at what they experience and calling on big clothing chains like H&M to take resposonsibility for their workers by the end of the series. Alongside working in the factory, the participants also visit the homes of sweatshop workers and are tasked with feeding the production crew with only a day’s salary (three dollars per blogger).

The discussion about sweatshop labour went into overdrive in 2013 following the collapse of a building in Bangladesh which housed a number factories that produce clothing and products under less-than-suitable conditions. Since then, large retailers like H&M, Zara, C & A and Forever 21 have been called upon to bring fair, ethical working conditions into their offshore factories while the bottom-up movement calling on consumers to seek out ethically-made clothing continues to gain ground. Last year, the Wall Street Journal wrote about a growing trend in retail whereby more boutique brands and retailers were encouraging consumers to buy less clothing and pay more for it, knowing that the garments have been produced under fair conditions.

Time will tell whether the times are really changing but analyses such as Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion help keep the discussion current. Watch all five episodes (in Norwegian with English subtitles) online here.

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