Haute Couture 01 Fires

The HAUTE COUTURE collection is in progress.











This is a collection of texts accompanying the first piece of the collection.


In Greek myth Prometheus steals fire from the Gods and was then punished in perpetuity by Zeus, tied to a rock, his liver pecked by a bird, then restored overnight to be pecked again and again. For Karl Marx he is a heroic figure, both allowing humans to develop productive forces by transforming nature with the use of fire, and also a ‘saint’ for freedom. At the same time in Das Kapital, Prometheus represents the proletariat chained to capital and its machinery. ‘Chained’ ironically rather than tied because of the very technological development fire has enabled, and repeated endlessly in the modern clothing industry that exists as a globalized production chain, constantly being outsourced to lower cost locations with power in the hands of large retailers in the richer parts of the world. They command a downward hierarchy of contractors and sub-contractors with the dangers of death and injury by fire and burn-out increased all the way down the chain to those who make the clothes.

The ambivalent nature of the myth of Prometheus was normal for the ancient Greeks so that in one version by Hesiod for workers of the time the freedom given by the gift of fire is accompanied by Pandora’s box which, when opened, released all sorts of evils into the world. This version has been taken up by anti-industrialisation ideologists for whom Prometheus is the enemy. Such a crude reading loses the real ambivalence which is that the promise of productive plenty is compromised by capitalist social relations whereby producers from colonial Peru to modern day Bangladesh are literally chained inside their workshops and factories. In the modern world technological development has made for highly sophisticated production processes, yet which co-exist with and are co-dependent on ultra-exploitative working conditions especially in the making of clothes. Here workers are not just chained in under lock and key, but like Prometheus and his liver, they are exhausted each working day but with no choice but to keep themselves alive for the next.

It was in just such conditions that Chun Tae-il, a textile worker cried out in the agony of his self-immolated death, “WE ARE NOT MACHINES.” That was 1970 Korea. Over a hundred years ago, workers in England and the USA must have felt the same. In Korea it was young women workers he spoke for, working a minimum of 14 hours a day in unventilated spaces full of dust where they could not stand up, and it is they who have been the real creators of Asian economic miracles from yarn spinners in early 20th century Japan, to the rippers and seamstresses of Korea’s clothing industry in the latter part of the 20th century. The symbiotic relation between capital accumulation and patriarchy has never been clearer. They were its ‘Industrial Warriors’ on the ‘Export Front’ in the gung-ho language of its authoritarian governments, but were abused and their health damaged in this ‘war’, subject to early Burn-Out.

The Chonggye Garment Union was created in Seoul’s Peace Market after Chun tae-il’s death, but little changed, as was shown a few years later at the Dong-Il textile factory in Incheon where women workers outnumbered men Five to One. In 1972 they elected a woman union leader, and immediately faced hostility from management and men in the government-controlled union. In the next election in 1976 women were prevented from voting and in turn they went on hunger strike and were promptly confronted by riot police. When they started to undress believing they could not then be touched, they were dragged away. Several were imprisoned, many injured. Such brutality tells clearly just how important they were to the accumulation of the capital needed for a ‘miracle’ to take place.

The accumulated capital which the work of those super-exploited young Korean women created was invested either in new more hi-tech, capital-intensive production, or used to outsource the labour intensive end of the garment industry to new low-waged areas of the world, so that women exploited in Bangladesh or Honduras are likely to be working in South Korean owned and managed clothing factories under similar conditions to the 1970s Pyounghwa Market. In Bangladesh in 2010, just days before yet one more fatal factory fire, a worker was shot dead by the police for protesting at conditions in a South Korean owned factory. In Honduras burn-out is such that only 6.3% of women have worked longer than 10 years in such factories.




24 workers were killed and many more injured at the Mirpur clothing factory, Dhaka, in a fire caused by sparks from an overloaded electricity circuit board on the 6th floor. They were doing enforced overtime and the emergency gates were locked.

“If you didn’t do overtime they would dismiss you, it didn’t matter if it was night or day.” Sophal, Cambodian clothing worker

Clothing orders are placed with lowest cost contractors by big-name labels, retailers and those who source for them, with no real calculation as to what can be handled. Cost is everything and it is not surprising that there are more fires and fire deaths in Bangladesh caused by the overloading of electrical systems that are not equipped for such intensity of production, and by the avoidance of the costs of health and safety, when it also has the lowest wage levels in the global business. This outsourcing of danger has been to the benefit of richer world mass consumers, and the cheapness of clothing has softened the impact of the present economic crisis on them. The seemingly endless nature of this crisis can only increase the pressure for lower costs and greater risk to workers. Between 1990 and 2000 there were 100 clothing factory fires in Bangladesh. In 2011, there were more than ever. Such fires and deaths are not exclusive to that country. They have occurred in India and China and in Argentina. This latter case reveals the presence of sweatshops in the richer world often staffed by undocumented immigrants. In 2012 fires destroyed two clothing factories in England, one in Leicester where previously such factories providing clothes for big name fashion outlets have been discovered with exit doors padlocked as well as illegally low pay. In Bangladesh in large factories such locked gates and locked emergency doors have been the main reason that fires have killed, just as happened at Triangle Shirtwaist 100 years ago in New York. This chaining of doors has been due to the sacredness of property, but also to the direct enforcement of unscheduled overtime working to prevent mass walk-outs when it is declared.

February 23rd 2006. Chittagong, Bangladesh. 84 workers are killed when a fire breaks out at the KTS Textiles Industries Ltd factory in the BSCIC industrial area, a company producing for a variety of US companies. An ‘impromptu’ overtime shift was created of 1100 workers to meet a deadline that otherwise would not be met. The fire was started by an electrical short-circuit. The emergency gate was illegally locked which meant workers had just one narrow staircase with which to escape. Fires in the same factory had occurred in the past. Amongst the dead were seven girls aged between 12 and 14. The owner lives in the USA.

March 30th 2006. Buenos Aires, the Caballito district. 6 undocumented Bolivians, four children and two women, die in a fire in a textile sweatshop where over 60 immigrants worked. The children had been locked in a room so that they would not disturb the work. The fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit caused by unsafe and overloaded electrical wiring.

25th February 2010. Dhaka, Gazipur district. An electrical short-circuit causes a fire which kills 20 at the Garib and Garib sweater factory starting on 2nd floor of a 7 floor building. As usual the workers were locked in to prevent theft, both the internal and external doors.

December 14th 2010. Despite one tragedy after another in Bangladesh, and just one week after a ‘multi-stakeholder’ conference on the very theme of fire safety in the country, a fire breaks out in the finishing department on the 9th floor of the 10 floor That’s It Sportswear factory, part of the Ha-Meem group. Anelectrical short-circuit and the sparks it produced is blamed. 24 workers are killed, many more terribly injured or missing. Workers on the upper floors jumped as emergency exit doors were locked, and if it had not been at lunchtime many more would have been locked in to die. The factory supplies GAP, Tommy Hilfinger and JC Penney amongst others. GAP says it is sorry.



Chun Tae-il, textile worker, setting himself alight, Seoul 1970 in protest at the ultra-exploitation of the mostly women workers in clothing factories.

“The labourer supplies himself with necessaries in order to maintain his labour-power, just as coal and water are supplied to the steam engine and oil to the wheel.” Karl Marx: Das Kapital Volume I, 1866

“In some cases the young seamstresses did not undress during nine consecutive days and nights, and could only rest a moment or two upon a mattress, where food was served to them ready cut up in order to require the least possible time for swallowing.” Friedrich Engels: The condition of the Working Class in England, 1887

“The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.“

Rose Schneiderman, Triangle Shirtwaist fire survivor goes on to tell her audience they haven’t done enough to change the conditions the victims had worked in. “We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting,” she said. These sentiments were shared by the 22 year-old textile worker Chun Tae-il when he set fire to himself outside the Kookmin Bank in what was called the Peace Market area of Seoul in 1970 after his attempts at newspaper coverage of the terrible working conditions of 30,000 women in the area had not achieved anything. “We are Not Machinery” he shouted, and, as practical demands, “Observe the Labour Standard Act”, and “Let Us Rest on Sundays.” Nowadays he would be psychologised just as Hyundai Motors have been doing at the start of 2012 with a worker called Shin, his self-immolation described by anthropologists as a manifestation of Buddhist/Hindu culture; or forced to ‘revise’ his ‘performance style’ to avoid being stopped by trained police. Chun tae-il defied such modern forms of denial, though his legacy has been claimed by all sorts of self-interested individuals and groups, when an independent union was formed soon after his death. But as with what happened after the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in 1911, when it took another fatal fire in New York at the Binghampton Clothing Company, when 31 died for any change in laws and their enforcement, his sacrifice and the creation of the Chonggye Garment Union in the Pyounghwa Market, did not lead to any immediate change in circumstances. Women, including his mother and sister, had years of courageous fighting for better conditions against authoritarian male-supremacist Unions to come.

Textile and clothing workers have fought against their exploitation for hundreds of years with strikes, riots and the struggle to create trade unions, knowing that only they can change the conditions of work. In some instances fire itself has been used as a direct means of attack against oppressive conditions.

In England in 1779, one of the first textile mills, Joseph Arkwright’s at Birkacre in Lancashire, was burned down by rioting handloom weavers. A year later, in Peru, the Tupac Amaru uprising involved releasing Indians forced to work in Spanish textile factories south of Cuzco, where they were locked in,tied to their looms and “ destined for a quick civil death.” The tactic was to burn these factories to the ground. While in Cundalore, India in 1795, weavers made a straw effigy of an East India Company cloth broker and burned it as part of long-running resistance to the overbearing demands of the Company. In England in 1811-12 following severe food price increases weavers under the banner ‘King Lud’, burned down the house of Emanuel Burton owner of a mill employing power looms which were putting them out of work. They did this after 3 of them had been killed the previous day by armed guards at his mill near Manchester. Back in India in 1860, Bengali tenant farmers campaigning against being forced to grow indigo, the crucial textile dye, by British landlords, so that there was no room for growing their own food while the rice price had increased 700%, not only refused to plant any more, but burned down the factories that processed the plants into dye. This inspired further Indian protest against British colonial policies, which had destroyed the native textile industry, and in 1896 the Swadeshi movement threw huge bundles of British cloth and clothing on to a Holi fire. In early 20th century Mexico, a wave of textile worker strikes began at Rio Blanco with the burning down of the hated ‘Company Store’ whose extortions were a main point of grievance. And in 1919 in Ahmedabad, India, textile workers burned down 51 British colonial government buildings in protest at the Rowlatt Act.

In more recent times fire has been used as a weapon by outside groups in support of textile workers like the German feminist groups, Rote (Red) Zora and Amazonen, who, in 1987, planted incendiary bombs in ten branches of the Adler Corporation, one of West Germany’s largest clothing manufacturers selling discount clothing, produced by low paid women in South Korea and Sri Lanka. They caused millions of dollars of damage and because of this Adler was forced to meet the demands of the textile workers. In Europe, workers themselves have also been forced to take drastic action, as in Novi Pazar, Serbia. At the end of November 2009, ten female workers and their children occupied the dressing rooms of the then recently privatized textile factory AD TRIKOTAZA when the owners refused to satisfy its workers’ justified financial demands. They were supported by the self-organized “Union of Textile Workers”. Due to the catastrophic hygienic conditions in the dressing rooms, the women were brought to the union’s offices, where they made three firebombs out of gas cartridges and created an explosion. Despite the ensuing fire and thick smoke, the workers refused to leave the premises and repeatedly tried to get back into the offices after they had been brought out by force.

Fire has been used symbolically as when in Cochabamba, Bolivia, as part of a protest against imported second-hand clothing from the USA, women from the textile workers union Sindicales Ropa, whose jobs are undermined by these imports burned a scarecrow in the main square. It was dressed in such American 2nd hand clothes. Sometimes fire has been used out of desperation, when all other means of protest have failed. It can go terribly wrong as when the Taiwanese-owned Gaofu textile factory in Fuzhon, China was set on fire by women who had been unfairly sacked after being accused of stealing cloth, and had no means of appeal or arbitration. The factory had an illegal workers dormitory in the building and many other women workers died. But such a horror is one small instance in the whole grim story of outsourced tragedy. Between May 20th and 23rd 2006 in Dhaka, after employers had refused to listen to worker demands including ones for a normal working week, workers responded to police repression by setting 14 factories on fire. Again in June 2009, in a dispute over pay and sackings in the Ashulia area of Dhaka, a garment worker was shot dead by police. It lead to a mass demonstration, battles with the police, and a further 100 workers were injured by rubber bullets. The workers retaliated by attacking the Hamin Group textile factory complex and, using petrol set fire to a several factories a sweater-, three garment-, and two washing-; two fabric storehouses; over 8000 machines and thousands of readymade clothes. Even supporters of the rights of such workers tend to airbrush this away, the rights of property still sacred.



“This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred.”
Rose Schneiderman, a survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in which these women working in the clothing business were burned to death, speaking at Metropolitan Opera House, New York City on 2nd April 1911 to protest what had happened. They died because the doors were locked due to the owners obsession with worker theft.
A fire broke out at the Hong Kong-owned Yuexin Textile factory in China’s Zhuhai Special Economic Zone in June 1994. Of the 93 people killed and 160 injured, some died in the fire, but many more died when they were told to go back into the burned building to take out whatever fabric could be salvaged and the building collapsed on them.
An electric short circuit at Chowdury Knitwear, Dhaka, started a fire on 25th November 2000. 51 people, mainly teenage girls died many in a stampede to find the one gate that was not locked. They were doing an enforced overtime night shift. The gatekeepers were stopping people on the first floor landing. Apparently they were anxious that the workers would start ransacking the place. The ground floor main gate was still locked and the main gatekeeper who had the key was not there.




Diary of Sammi, worker at the Greenhill Textile Company, Seoul, who did die along with 21 other workers on 25th March 1988 in a locked in dormitory when a fire broke out in the factory below.

“My main finding is that the garment industry is so bad for women’s health that they cannot continue for more than 4 or 5 years. Often they leave as invalids. It’s just too strenuous.” Dr. Pratima Paul Majumber, Bangladesh

“Because we have no holidays, night shift is too tiring and so our bodies become exhausted. Therefore we take ’Timing’��� a medicine to keep us awake. Some of us have eaten too many and are addicted to these pills. If we fall asleep we are reprimanded, beaten and shaken.” A public statement by women workers at Pangrim textiles in Korea in 1978

The overload that is imposed by the power and demands of big name labels and retailers goes down the chain of contractors and sub-contractors and always falls on those who do the work, mostly young women on sewing machines. 12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, repeating the same stitches on one part of the finished product are the basic of what is expected in factories that are comprehensively not ergonomic. Writing of late 19th century seamstresses in London, Friedrich Engels described how, at the height of the fashion season, “The only limits to their work is the absolute physical inability to hold the needle another minute.” Nowadays such hours are often worked in enforced overtime. Nowadays, overtime becomes the norm either by ‘choice’ because basic wages are so low, or is enforced, the doors locked, to meet an otherwise impossible contract.

And yet, the literature on burn-out is almost exclusively about bankers, social workers, professional thinkers, policemen and fashion designers, not those who have to carry out their changing design demands. Where it does exist, like a government-academic study in Sri Lanka, it is likely to be both instrumentalized and crude. Its solution was to have ever younger workers; replace women with men on the grounds that they are said to ‘manage stress’ better; and for workers to watch television. It does at least recognise the reality that young women are so prevalent not just because of their assumed ‘docility’ but because of the limited working life span in such conditions. “As age increases the capacity to bear stress, health and nutritional problems will decrease.” Burn-out is liable to kick-in after just 7 years says one of the few analyses of textile workers conducted by Bhati and Kumar in India. From age 32 onwards burn-out becomes more likely. They refer to hearing and respiratory problems; repetitive strain injury; heart rate increases; the stress of piecework and the sleep disorders that cruelly go with overtime work, along with malnutrition and failing eyesight. More chilling is an account of a Mexican factory producing for GAP and Calvin Klein. 75% of the clothing workforce had sound health before they entered it, but soon developed a range of physical illnesses. “The reasons of health decline,” Jane Collins writes, “were industrial threats, unfavourable working environment and want of staff facilities, inflexible terms and conditions of garment employment, workplace pressure and low wages. Different work-related threats and their influence on health forced employees to leave the job after a few months of joining the factory; the average length of service was only 4 years.” Workplace pressure was then increased with the introduction of ‘statistical process control’, which constantly demanded high quotas and immaculate stitching. Checks were made every hour and even quality controllers were exhausted. All this “caused burn-out within a very short period. If anyone complained they were told people worked harder for less in Indonesia” which is a universal, constant and flexible threat in the world of outsourcing.

It is perverse that the only times there is real recognition by management of how intolerable are such pressures, are when there is a wave of mass fainting in factories in what are called ‘Ghost Panics’. These have occurred in both Cambodia (M&G International and Anful Garments), and Bangladesh (the Pandora and Diganta sweater factories). For the managers the realities of cumulative overload were preferred as explanations for the events, to ones which acknowledged the possible life of spirits, or that the attacks were instances of mass resistance by women workers preferable to the possible reality of spirits as explanations for instrumentalized managements. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, fainting is punishable by dismissal.

This is a highly selective and incomplete list of cloth and clothing factory fires. All too quickly scrupulous accounts of fatal fires in the recent period disappear from public record and the dead are disrespected as they were in life.

1533 When the Incas had to retreat they left behind llamas and prisoners but burned down whole warehouses full of clothes so that the Spanish invaders did not get hold of them.

1780 One aim of the Tupac Amaru uprising against the Spanish in Peru was the release of Indians forced to work in textile factories, where they were locked in, tied to their looms and were destined for a quick civil death. These factories were burned to the ground.

1795 4 weavers in Cundalore make a straw effigy of an East India Company cloth broker Davie Veerpah Chetty, and burn it. This is part of a long-running resistance to the demands of the Company.

1812 Machine-breaking weavers calling themselves Luddites, burn down the house of Emanuel Barton, owner of a mill that was ruining them, after three of them had been killed the previous day by armed guards at his Mill in Lancashire, England.

1831 Peasant Producers in the Guandong Province in China burn stores of imported machine-spun silk thread, even though imported thread at that time was only 0.12% of all that was used to weave.

1844 Self-employed Silesian weavers in Prussia, suffering wage cuts and disrespect especially from the capitalist cloth merchant Zwanziger, burned down his luxury home, the cost of which he had been boasting about while showing them ‘scorn and ridicule’.

1860 Tenant farmers in Bengal, forced to grow indigo so that there was no room for growing their own rice, whose price had increased 700%, refused to plant any more, and burned down the factories that processed the plants into dye.

1860 145 people died and more than 160 were injured as a result of a fire in the collapse of the Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, USA, one was of an 11-year-old girl.

1893 The Shanghai Cotton Cloth Mill re-opens with Chinese government backing as the first successful mechanized cotton mill. When it caught fire in 1893 the British-controlled fire department refused to put out the blaze. It never recovered from the damage and loss. 

1896 As part of a campaign by the nationalist Swadeshi movement in India that focused on the colonial destruction of its cloth industry, huge bundles of English clothing were thrown into the Holi fire in Bombay, India.

1907 Following a strike, and then a lock-out by the French owner of its textile factory, the workers, attack and burn down the hated ‘company store’ in Rio Blanco, Pueblo, Mexico

1907 The Mill of the Cocheo Manufacturing Company producing velvet was burned to the ground in Dover, North East USA. Jobs were then transferred to the cheaper wage South.

1911 146 women seamstresses killed by a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, New York City, the exit doors locked.

1913 31 die in a fire at the Binghampton Clothing Company, New York, USA.

1941 41 killed at Booth’s clothing factory, Huddersfield, England.

1957 15, mostly women workers, died in a fire at the M. Baer Dress Company, New Haven, USA.

1970 Textile worker Chun Tae-il dies after a self-immolation in protest at working conditions in Seoul, South Korea.

1988 21 young women die at the Greenhill textile Factory, Seoul, South Korea.

1990 32 die in a fire at Saraka Garments Dhaka, Bangladesh 25 of whom were women or children.

1991 72 killed and 47 injured (often crippled for life) at Xinye Raincoat factory, Dongguan City, China.

1993 The Taiwanese-owned Gaofu textile factory in Fuzhon, China is set on fire by sacked women workers who had been accused of theft. One of them was sentenced to death.

1993 188 die and over 500 injured (nearly all women sewing machinists) in a fire at the Kader Toy factory, Thailand.

1994 93 people killed and 160 injured by fire and subsequent building collapse at Yuexin Textile Factory, Zhihai Special Economic Zone, China.

1996 22 killed in a fire at Lusaka garments, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

1997 20 killed in a fire at Jahanara Fashion factory, Narayanganj, Bangladesh.
1997 24 killed in a fire at Shanghai Apparels, Bangladesh.

2000 27 were killed at a textile factory when the building after a fire suddenly collapsed on those who had re-entered in Alexandria, Egypt.

2000 23 killed in a fire at Macro Sweater, Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was the third accident in the factory in a year.

2000 12 killed in a fire at Globe Knitting, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

2000 51 people, mainly teenage girls, die in a fire at Chowdury Knitwear, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

2004 7 female workers were killed in a stampede at a garment factory in Mirpir after a transformer blast nearby.

2005 23 killed at Shaan Knitting, Narayanganji, Bangladesh.

2005 More than 70 garment workers died at the Spectrum factory in Palashbari, Bangladesh.

2006 6 killed in a fire at the Jamuna Textile mill, Gazipur, Bangladesh.

2006 62 were killed and 100 injured in a fire at KTS Composite, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

2006 Dozens of textile workers were injured in a stampede at the Iman Group of Industries factory in Bangladesh after a transformer explosion.

2006 3 killed and 50 injured at Saiem Fashions, Bangladesh.

2006 6 undocumented Bolivians, four children and two women, die in a fire in a textile sweatshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

2007 7 workers were killed in a garment factory in Calcutta, India.

2008 Strikes by textile workers in Egypt are met with police repression and in the fight-back police cars are burned out.

2009 As part of a protest against imported second-hand clothing from the USA, women from the textile workers union Sindicales Ropa, whose jobs are undermined by these imports, burn a scarecrow in the main square of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

2010 21 killed and 20 badly injured at Garib and Garib Sweater factory, Gazipur district, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 4 workers had been killed there 8 months earlier.

2010 1 killed and 25 injured in a stampede after false fire alarm at Matrix Sweaters, Gazipur.

2010 24 killed in fire as they jumped to their deaths and many more injured or missing at Thats It Sportswear factory, part of the Ha-Meeem group in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

2011 5 people killed and 2 others injured when an explosion sparked a fire at textile company TK Chemical in Gumi, South Korea.

2011 2 deaths and several injuries at the textile group Unit Gillanden, Akbapur, India.

2011 4 killed in clothing factory Dombivili, Mumbai, India.

2011 15 textile workers are injured when police armed with guns, tear gas and batons, break up a demonstration by mostly women garment workers demanding unpaid wages after their factory was burned to the ground in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
2011 2 killed at Kothari Group clothing factory, Sangrur, India.

2012 2 workers were burned to death when a major fire broke out at RK Fashion, Gujarat, India.

2012 The tortured and murdered body of Aminul Islam, a clothing worker activist is found. He had set up interviews for an ABC TV programme in the USA on links between the Ha-Meem group deadly fire and US companies.



The long term and ongoing artistic research explores the complex relations of cloth, clothing and colonialism from earlier to contemporary forms of globalisation.


Since the Renaissance tailored clothing, couture, which literally means cutting, is a manifestation of higher civilization. This relegates most non-Western clothing to the category of the “primitive“ and “ethnic“. Haute couture is still produced largely in Europe.
The fashion line will consist of 5 pieces, each carrying their own significance. Histories will be inserted in a medium, which is by definition absolute contemporary and deliberately ahistorical.


Fashion, as we understand it today, is about 100 years old and is described as “more than fashion, it is a metaphor for the advent of the modern, bureaucratic societies“. The ‘idlers and vagabonds’ of 1619 Lima when told they should be working instead of begging, replied ‘with great casualness that they are not dressed for conquering’.


Self-absorbed Western culture can both celebrate the throw-away phenomena of cheap clothing and enjoy lacerating the sense of decadence involved.


Contemporary neoliberal capitalism separates ‘the consumer’ from the producers of what is consumed. This fulfils in comprehensive manner the basic ideological needs of capitalism: the hiding of the role of labour in the making of what is to be produced; fetishisation and self-praise of ‘the market’ shown in the phrase “the consumer is king”; and the ersatz democracy implied by ‘the consumer’ as a universal category.


Textiles were the pioneer commodities of international trade, originally because of their high value and low weight.


The relocation of textile production from the North to the South began early on and was to take advantage of a large pool of low-cost and unorganized labour. The portability of the textile industry and the relatively unskilled nature of textile work makes this possible.


Resistance to factory rules and all forms of exploitation was and is a constant in the textile and the clothing industries in which women frequently took a leading role. Along with miners, textile workers were the first proletariat and very often recognised themselves as such. Against such resistance and militancy, the modern day threat is that wages are cheaper elsewhere. This is called globalisation.


Cloth may be produced in one place, cutting in another and sewing in yet another, but the design and marketing will be centralised. It takes advantage of the relative cheapness of oil-based transport and a revolution in logistics based on ‘high-frequency information’. What this revolution has done however, with its bar-coding, containerisation, automated warehousing, ‘supplier-managed inventory’ and so on, is to put all the pressure and risk down the sub-contracting chain. This cuts the share of surplus-value of those who directly squeeze it out of labour using brutal regimes of supervision, overtime and cost cutting, most poignantly seen in the factory fires that kill.

Copyright Ines Doujak

John Barker did the research and generated the text materials in cooperation with Ines Doujak. As always Helga Weber was crucial in the development of the images, Walter Gießauf made the embroidery, Roland Finkenstedt constructed the roller mounting, Hermann Withalm was the tailor, Norbert Magometschnigg assisted with photography, Vitali Lesan helped with the installation and the collage, Lena Hofmann, Helga Weber and Miwa Burger are the models.

Thanks to: Lukas Pusch, Thomas Zeitlberger, Inseon Kim, Hyejin Kim, Ruth Noack the Wohlrabs, Angelo and Brigitte, Michael Jellasitz. Special thanks go to Roger M. Buergel

Textile Agent: Antje D. Rauner Textiles


Translation: Hyo Gyoung Jeon

Proofreading: Martin Housden

Scan, image editing, photomontage: Markus Wörgötter, Nora Schöller

Repro: Pixelstorm

Graphicdesign: 3007wien Eva Dranaz, Jochen Fill