About this project
Invisible Seams is an augmented reality walking tour of SoHo centered on the globalization of the fashion industry. SoHo, once a center for garment manufacturing in the United States, has evolved to become an international center for fashion consumption. Users of the Invisible Seams app will be invited to walk the streets of SoHo, listening to a narrative that blends the voices of garment workers, fashion activists, and cultural theorists with soundscapes from factories abroad.
At designated storefront locations participants will be invited to use augmented reality, which uses image recognition software and GPS coordinates to trigger a smartphone to superimpose videos and images directly on the storefronts of major fashion brands. For example, an H & M logo could trigger footage of a garment worker in Sri Lanka, superimposed on the H&M storefront, speaking directly to the participant about making clothes for Western brands. Throughout the walk, participants will learn about the history of SoHo, the globalization of the fashion industry, the rise of fast fashion, and the ethical and environmental considerations of purchasing clothes. Operating at the cutting edge of media art, this project ties together present-day garment factories in Sri Lanka with the history of manufacturing and labor movements in SoHo. This focus provides a framework for examining the broader consequences of globalization and its relation to climate change, uneven economic growth, and human rights violations.
To bring the voices and experiences of garment workers abroad to the center of the story in Invisible Seams, we are planning a trip to Sri Lanka this summer to interview garment workers and collect audio, photo and video content that connects the stores of SoHo with some of the people who make the clothes sold there.
The rise of “fast fashion” in the new Millennium has made this project especially urgent. In the 1990s, widespread anti-sweatshop movements introduced consumers in the West to the unacceptable labor conditions created by globalization of the garment industry. Boycotts and bad press for big name fashion brands led to some positive changes and model factories, but conditions for workers abroad have largely worsened since then due to the “fast fashion” cycle. Today, instead of producing two to four preplanned lines per year, which allowed fashion companies in the last century to work with one garment supplier, companies now design and manufacture clothes on demand, continually producing new products to serve constantly changing fashion trends, which they track in real time on the Internet. Because a single supplier cannot keep up with these instantaneous demands, the companies hire megasuppliers to outsource the jobs to multiple factories and home sweatshops, many unregulated or in countries with poor regulations. The cost of this system is unsafe and unjust conditions for workers and a lack of environmental regulation and accountability. According to the Danish Fashion Institute, fashion is the world’s second most polluting industry, after oil.
Solving this quagmire requires multiple and complex solutions, and demands that an engaged citizenry wrestle with how to transform the fashion industry into a force that uplifts workers and protects the earth’s natural resources. The goal of Invisible Seams is to invite consumers to join the conversation about where and how their clothes are made and to feel engaged with changing this system. Markets often alienate consumers from makers, divorcing the products in our lives from the people who make them and obscuring abuse and inequality. This project, recognizing the realities of a globalized economy, seeks to use technology to reanimate the relationship between consumer and maker, a relationship that convoluted supply chains and the spectacle of advertising have obscured. Invisible Seams will connect the people who buy and wear mass-produced clothing to the workers who make these garments by hand, and connect a place of consumption to a place of production. By making this relationship visible, we hope to participate in efforts to transform the fashion industry.
$1400 Accommodations/Other transportation
Note: Any excess funds collected will be put towards the creation of the Invisible Seams app
Risks and challenges
We anticipate success in bringing you great sounds and videos back from Sri Lanka to incorporate into Invisible Seams. We have contacts with a union for several factories there that will enable us to interview garment workers. Once we return we'll create the narrative and augments for our app. One further challenge we will face on our return is initiating our second funding phase, where we will apply for grants to fund programming a standalone app for smartphones that anyone could download to participate in the tour. This is why we have a launch date in Spring of 2017, because we want to make sure we bring you a polished and usable app to create the most immersive experience possible.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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