Fashion To Die For ARTIST STATEMENT
Fashion To Die For is my response to the news that a garment factory complex halfway around the world collapsed, trapping and killing thousands of workers. My goal to draw attention to the history of human rights violations in the production of the clothes we wear. This shameful history continues today as international corporations throw out the safety agreements put in place after the disaster to protect their profits during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
For 200 years the textile industry responded to demands for better pay and working conditions, union organizing and laws regulating factory safety by running away - dumping the current workforce for cheap labor in a new location. I witnessed the cycle of anti-union tactics, poor working conditions and wages, empty factories and unemployment lines first-hand as a garment worker and organizer in my twenties. Textile mills and garment factories gobbled up and spit out each new wave of US immigrants, moved from New England west, from north to south, and finally to third world countries, in a never ending search for cheap labor, less regulation and greater profit. The history is not pretty.
On March 25, 1911 a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City claimed the lives of 146 garment workers. Most of the victims were young immigrant women who worked long hours under sweatshop conditions. The owners of the factory had locked the door to stairwell to avoid unauthorized breaks and the one poorly-constructed fire escape quickly collapsed from the heat, spilling victims 100 feet to their deaths on the concrete sidewalk below. The tragedy inspired union organizing in garment factories as well as legislation regulating factory safety and working conditions in the U.S.
Fast-forward 102 years to the sweatshops of the global textile industry of the twenty first century:
On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building, collapsed near Dhaka, Bangladesh, claiming the lives of 1,129 people and injuring an additional 2,515. Retail shops and a bank on the lower floors immediately closed after cracks were discovered in outer walls, but garment factory owners in the building refused to close shop. The disaster is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history. After thousands of workers marched through Dhaka demanding safer working conditions, 70 manufacturers, mainly European, signed a safety accord. North American companies with manufacturing in Bangladesh refused to sign. Three month later 17 major American retailers, including Walmart, Gap, Target and Macy’s, announced their own weaker plan, which does not include a legally binding commitment to pay for safety improvements. It is time to pressure the clothing industry to put basic human rights before profit. This is a global problem. It is our problem. Take a look at the label on the clothing you are wearing.
Lynn Estomin is a videographer, photographer and interactive media artist who creates art that speaks to social issues. As an artist who deals with political subjects, she is interested in human stories and what they tell us about society. Her award-winning video documentaries have been exhibited at film festivals internationally and broadcast nationally on PBS. Her web art won awards from Adobe Corporation, The Webby Awards, the Canadian Web Association, the Golden Globe Awards and Cool Site of the Day. Her black/white and color photography and digital images have been exhibited nationally and internationally in solo shows and group exhibitions.
Estomin's work is part of over 90 public and private collections. She has received grants and fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Art Matters Inc., Cincinnati Commission on the Arts, Kodak Corporation, Ilford Corporation, Sony Corporation, SIGGRAPH, the Luce Foundation, Antioch College, Lycoming College and the Women's Film Project. Lynn Estomin is a Professor of Art Emerita at Lycoming College in PA, where she taught photography, digital art and design.