Tag Archives: @sssukiii

How do fashion labels treat the people who make our clothes?

25 Mar

@sssukiii brings us an insightful infographic to encourage us to think critically about what we buy: Ethical Fashion Guide.

screenshot

Click on the Ethical Fashion Guide link at the top of the page to open the guide. The red sewing machines indicate better policies.

A few months ago I  read this horrifying article about the corruption surrounding the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh. Workers sewing clothes for Walmart, Sears and MJ Soffe, were told to sit at their machines after a fire alarm sounded. As they’d never had a fire drill practice before, most of the workers did as they were told, until smoke started spiralling up the stairs. There was no fire escape. Then the lights went out. Many tried to escape through the windows, which were blocked by grates. By chance some were able to escape by climbing down a web of flimsy scaffolding that builders had left by the building.

The complexity of supply chains and the income they bring to families and third world nations makes it all too easy to ignore the lack of information about the conditions our clothes are made in. When we feel compelled to find out more, that same hand wringing complexity may leave us wondering where to buy our clothes. Garments account for 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s total export earnings; it is virtually the nation’s only industry. It also has the lowest labour costs of all the garment’s producing countries in the world.

Improving labour conditions may change this, making the country less attractive to organisations like Walmart, which is one of the biggest buyers of clothes made in the region. The fact that responsible practices are so relative is why it’s now more important than ever for brands to ensure they’re transparent and clear about the conditions their products are made in.

We decided that some kind of visual and easy to understand guide was needed to help people make sense of how brands are responding to socially conscious consumers. Two organisations working to raise awareness of how companies are improving labour conditions are http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org/ and Netherlands based, http://rankabrand.org.

Rank a Brand have several criteria which they use to score brands on their labour conditions, accounting for things such as whether:

–       companies have a code of conduct, outlining hygienic conditions and standards against forced child labour and discrimination.

–       their workers can join trade unions

–       their factories are audited and audit information is responded to

–       they aim to improve labour conditions as a wider organisation

This straightforward system, which aligns with the structure of a basic code of conduct, was ideal for creating a visual tool to compare how ethical brands are.

The graphic we’ve created shows how little high-end brands invest in demonstrating their integrity despite being all about image. Several exclusive brands, including Paul Smith and Dior, stand out for the lack of information they offer consumers about how their clothes were made. A few such as Burberry claim to use British suppliers, however, as they haven’t felt the need to tell us who these suppliers are, or the conditions they work in, they have been placed at the dubious end of the scale.

Company practices are of course always changing, so the graphic functions as a snap shot of what industry is currently doing. Rank a Brand’s research shows how vastly brands differ in the way they’re improving labour conditions and how relative these ethical practices are. Being able to compare these visually may help people make a more informed, if not ideal, choice.

In this sense, simply boycotting brands may not the answer. Pressure needs to be put on improving ethical supply chains. So if you discover that your clothes were made in bad conditions why not turn that shame into action by contacting the company who made them?

By @sssukiii

Advertisements

The strange parallel world of stock images

24 Jan

By @sssukiii

Designers searching for convincing images of women in the workplace may find themselves sifting through an onslaught of contrived, hilarious and downright weird photos of air brushed models pretending to concentrate.

Whilst creating a campaign to inspire savvy graduates, we decided to analyse results of searches for women in a range of contexts. These included women in the advice, IT and architecture sectors, as well as broader contexts such as natural women, normal women and feminists. So how useful are image libraries in terms of their relevance to search keywords and how easy it is to find images which real people can relate to?

Known for being the fairer sex, we expected our search for ‘female advisers’ to lead to a reasonable range of convincing images.

Our search resulted in the following.

What kind of female adviser is this? Are those vitamin pills or valium tablets? Would you eat them with that large spoon? More questions are raised than answered here.

spoon

This female adviser could be saying anything about oranges. Would you trust her professionalism or impartiality though?

spoon2

Perplexed by the lack of natural, makeup-less people in libraries, some designers may search for phrases such as ‘natural looking people’. They’ll find this gleaming smug person sitting on water.

spoon3

Or an array of people who’ve just woken up:

spoon4

Bizarrely searches for ‘normal women’ lead to portraits of makeup-less Caucasian women staring earnestly into the camera. In the world of stock images, normality can clearly only be an earnest portrait.

spoon5 spoon6

We tested this theory in a search for ‘normal dogs’, which presented what can only be described as low profile keeping canines. Our stock image normality theory, tested on dogs, resulted in this coldly labelled ‘Standard poodle’ photo.

spoon7

Incidentally, this loaded image of feet on scales also popped up under ‘normal women’. Surely the normality of the model’s weight would be decided by her height.

spoon8

A search for ‘Natural women’ evoked hundreds of nightmarish shampoo adverts. These mainly featured conventionally pretty women of course.

spoon10 spoon9

Keen to demonstrate thoughtfulness and inclusivity in our creative brief we then decided to search for images of women in industries where they’re under-represented, such as science, technology and IT. Despite the fact that women use computers for an array of tasks in almost every field, image libraries suggest that we’re perplexed, horrified and traumatised by them.

Results for ‘women on computers’ led to an array of air brushed models laughing or crying in front of their screens. After 10 minutes of searching we finally found this image of a lady who seems to be getting on with some work.

spoon11

Less useful images included a kind man showing a woman how to use a computer:

spoon12

A woman on the edge of a keyboard

spoon13

A lady made delirious by numb shoulders.

spoon14

Search results for female architects were varied. At least 3 on the first page of Istock.com could have passed for real life practitioners!

spoon15

spoon16

It’s refreshing to see mature women in industry represented.

It’s refreshing to see mature women in industry represented.

We were less impressed and more confused by the over-styled results on Shutterstock. Would anyone take our brands seriously again if we used these?

Heels or blueprints?

Heels or blueprints?

Manicures or bathroom designs?

Manicures or bathroom designs?

As feminism enters the mainstream, designers seeking to engage young people may also search stock image libraries for images of feminists. I’ve listed keywords that may have been more appropriate to the images below

Cliches

Cliches

Screamers

Screamers

Crash test dummies?

Crash test dummies?

Is there a secret place in our hearts for ridiculously contrived stock images? Our brains may be slightly addicted this eye junk.

On the other hand, do the people who source images for libraries need to take a walk around the streets below them? Are they responding to demand or is there a gap in the market for reportage style images for designers? Perhaps we need to speak out against the barrage of air brushed images that claim to represent us in the first place.

Is being female and poor romanticised?

4 Nov

By @sssukiii

Is the success of brands such as Cath Kidston, The Great British Bake off and Kirsty Allsopp promoting the idea that the comforts now available to modern women are likely to be domestic, retro and based in a shoe box sized kitchen?

Does the growing trend towards making do with second best embody a sustainable way of living, or is surviving closer to the poverty line being repackaged and sold back to us?

Living frugally is surely about being in control of the environment and its future. We should be grateful to have a roof over our heads, even if it’s a few metres squared. This is a reasonable idea, but not when statistics show that women are disproportionately affected by austerity measured compared to their male counterparts.

Female unemployment has reach record highs, paving the way for a plethora of profitable brands, tv programmes and marketing campaigns which romanticise being poor and female.

The Rachel Khoo phenomenon is at once entrepreneurial and miraculous and takes thriftiness to new heights of brilliance. In her television series, The Little Paris Kitchen, her ability to remain upbeat and sunny, despite having to wake up every morning and turn her futon into a sofa to welcome guests to her studio flat and restaurant for two, is disquieting as much as admirable.

Let’s entertain the idea that she may be donate some of the wealth created by the TV series to Shelter before she moves into a bigger home.

Kirsty Allsopp’s empire is built on the nation’s strange relationship with aprons, jam and county fairs. So why does this trend feel so forced? Maybe because it feels like a huge step backwards. A trend without a future, perhaps.

Similarly, retro clothes and homeware brand, Cath Kidston romanticises old-school thriftiness behind a cynically overpriced net curtain of nostaligia and domestic comfort. The brand capitalises on girly 50’s floral prints referring to a time when the glass ceiling faced by women in today’s board rooms, would have been replaced by a conservatory skylight perhaps.

Some may argue that the trend towards promoting female frugality is a refreshing alternative to the decadent shopping-focused lifestyle presented to women in recent decades.

On the other hand, does anyone recall seeing women on TV managing their finances effectively and planning their futures? Seeing people being sensible with money perhaps doesn’t make great TV, however I’m sure that quite a few of us aspire to more than living in a dolls house and spending our savings on shoes and cake ingredients. The very tangible trend towards female entrepreneurship is certainly evidence of this, whether our media channels will reflect this is another matter.

Promoting female friendliness in IT, from @sssukiii

19 Aug

In 1997 Sadie Plant’s book ‘Zeros and Ones’ explored the history of women’s unheralded influence on IT and technology. The book traced Ada Lovelace’s essential contributions to Babbage’s Difference Engine, as well as the tangible link between traditionally female activities, such as typing, weaving and forming networked communities, active, empowered online communities.

More than ten years on the IT industry still has a long way to go in terms of addressing its women and appealing to new generations of women. Since the 1980s, the number of female undergraduates in IT -related fields has decreased, according to the Computing Research Association. In 2011, roughly 12% of computer programming degrees were awarded to women.

A new wave of socially conscious technology users, led by organisations such as Future Gov, may help to educate the sector and give recognition to the creative value of a female tech-enabled work force. There have also been several clumsier pink-bow branded campaigns, but at least these recognise the need to address the gender gap in an industry which has a growing influence on our daily lives.

As with many service-based industries, success in IT requires empathy, problem solving and the ability to listen and learn fast. These are skills which place people first, before their machines, which is why it’s ridiculous when IT suppliers appeal exclusively to men. In fact they should be doing everything they can to stop the decline in female IT workers.

When sexist scenarios pan out in IT, they’re ridiculous because the effect is so jarring to an intellectually charged crowd. At 2012’s modestly titled ‘Internet world’, at Earls Court, the novelty of scantily-clad girls employed by a certain server hosting provider offering a passing group of female marketers leaflets was dead in the water.

Sexist advertising campaigns by cheap hosting provider, Go Daddy take irrelevance to new levels. Wikipedia’s offers an extensive description of their marketing:

Go Daddy’s advertising is produced in-house, and typically contains sexually suggestive material… CEO Bob Parsons refers to the marketing as “GoDaddy-esque” which he describes as “fun, edgy and a bit inappropriate.” Most of Go Daddy’s early TV ads starred former WWE Diva Candice Michelle, in some sort of sexual-related theme.

Needless to day, this defiant old school sexism, has invited a plethora of social media backlash, damaging the both the brand’s integrity and the image of the industry it’s meant to support. From a marketers point of view their adverts may raise awareness of their service, but that’s unlikely to lead to life long customers. Businesses may be motivated by the savings they offer, but at an immeasurable cost to their own reputations.

Fortunately, whilst certain elements of the tech industry keep prehistoric values alive, others forge ahead. A design and problem solving led approach is led by organisation such as Future gov, IDEO and ARUP’s drivers of change, which aim to harness technology in a people-focused and positive way.