Friday, October 31, 2014

Darkness of garment manufacturer

 Rana Plaza, the manufacturer for Joe Fresh had a deadly collapse April 2014. Tragically, it killed more than 1, 100 employees and many workers are still suffering physically and mentally as a result of the horrible accident. Garment factories in Pakistan caught fire; 257 people were killed and more than 100 people  was dead in a garment factory just few months earlier before that, Rana Plaza  collapsed and there are many pure sad news around industry.  As a former garment production manager myself,  I have been to a lot of factories and this tragedy did not surprise me much although I was really so sad about It. How can we improve garment industry in Southeast Asia which has the lowest labour cost? What are the changes needed to make the manufacturers more safely? There are solutions although it is not easy.

First of all, most factories are located in Southeast Asia also called “developing countries” have to realize how important safety in the manufacturing is by themselves. In the investigation, most garment buildings have problems about safety. “Most of the buildings just need major, major upgrades and it is not necessarily something that Loblaw can do on its own” said Liana Foxvog, director of organization and communications at International Labour Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group (2014).  Approximately 50% in 2012, North America’s clothing market relied on Asian manufacturers especially China at that time. Just after that tragedy happened, some people voice up and to boycott Joe Fresh, however, this does not help any manufacturers who depend on their profits oversea buyers. Because it is a fact that most developing countries rely on their profit on garment area and it is a huge benefit for an own country. I had a chance to interview an outsourcing director of Haggar Canada, Fuad Reza, who is from Bangladesh and have been worked in apparel industry for 25years. When I asked him that Western people take advantage when they buy cheap clothes were made in developing countries like China, his answer was “no” surprisingly. And he explained me that “being cheap depend on materials, size of order volume, negotiation between producer and buyers, etc”. so he did not agree with me. I thought that could be true because it is obvious that Southeast Asia countries offer the lowest labor cost for garment industry. Anyhow let’s go back the safety issues. Southeast Asia has huge volume of orders internationally and domestically and they may find it difficult to pay attention to safety. In addition, garment market usually requests quick responses so they are in a hurry all the time. Actually, the Rana plaza which had eight stories was collapsed due to over stock. To stop hearing fatal, tragedy news like Rana plaza, government  have to make strict laws so, factories have to pass in order to manufacture. Mr. Reza said that “government has to have a specific law about factory’s safety issues and they have to keep monitor about it”. He insists that “it is only way to stop safety issue”. He also mentioned that “brand company has to send their own employee to the factory to keep check environment of factory”. Oversea buyers may have difficulty checking their factories daily because they are far away from them. It is an important issue governments need to co-operate with buyers to make strict codes for employees of the factory. Strict coding is not only important but regular investigation is also required due to the manufacturers.  As we consider environment of factory, more employees should be hired to investigate factories’ safety. Otherwise factories were losing their attention on safety issues.  Mr.Reza said “there is nothing important than this issue”. He point out that “the factory should not be given any orders if a factory is found not following the rule”. 

The garment employees need to be treated ethically at least. According to the article “Can Loblaw Live Up To Its Promises in Bangladesh?” by  Delange, Jacqueline on Feb. 13th 2014“most workers earn as little as $38 a month in Bangladesh and there are probably lower incomes than $38 in many countries.  Mr. Reza said “that Bengali income is raised a lot but he also agrees that minimum wage is probably like that and it have to be raised”. North American market sells pricy merchandise while they pay low wages to employees and brand company still seek factories that a lower labor cost. Does it make sense to you?  According to “Garment industry hit by competition from low-cost rivals” by Ngan Anh from Thanh Nien News, this industry suffers competitive low cost rival (2014). Here is another problem that factories also need to reduce overworking time.  As they need to work over time by high volume orders but many people could not pay for over time. Besides payment, few factories still treat their employees like slaves.  According to “Slavery: just a 'regrettably unavoidable' aspect of business? “by McQuade , The situation is equally bad in the factories of Delhi in north India where children are routinely employed to do embroidery work (2014). Mr. Reza also said that “although this is not problem in just apparel industry and there is no way people are treated like sawing machine and children involve to work”. There could be more bad situations all around the world and I wanted to point out that garment industry needs to reduce overnight jobs and give them value of their own life. And I am sure factory has to be monitored by provided law and not only factory but also buyer have to have social responsibilities for any issues.

How can we improve the environment of garment industry to have power by trade unions? Employee of Rana Plaza had to go to work despite the fact that the building was not safe. Farah Kabir, Bangladesh country director of ActionAid, a global anti-poverty advocacy organization, said “if they had trade unions, this would not have happened” (2014). As the world gets global, trading is getting bigger. A lot of developing countries like Bangladesh do not have strong unions to protect their own people and this may look like many people face troubles.  Even though there are some changes happening in last decades, this appetite is not enough. All governments  especially developing countries’ one  need to realize how important their trade unions are and seek to work for better trading business gradually. Mr.Reza spoke up when he talked about this. He said that “government role is very important for manufacturing’s safety and these issues should be on the top of agenda especially if he considers Bangladesh”.

I could not ignore the environment of factories I have seen. I still question myself that I could work with that condition I saw in the factories. Southeast Asia has high temperature all the time but factories did not have air conditioners. There are also sawing machinery which are occupied most space of the building and add hot air. Safety issues are the most emergent issues they need to fix and the environment also needs to be ethical that employees work with fair conditions. Government, buyers and factories themselves need to cooperate for all these issues and solve the problem. Otherwise, there is no guarantee we will not wake up next morning with tragic news from somewhere again.


“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” 

                Being able to say “I’m doing well”, and actually mean every word, is not something we all can do. According to CAMH, in any given year, one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem. If we think about it, Canada’s population is 35,540,419 - that is about 7,108,000 people that are having a hard time getting up and facing the world every morning.
                Depression is much more than simple unhappiness, it is not a temporary change in mood or a weakness, contrary to some misconceptions it is not a character flaw. Clinical depression, sometimes called major depression is a complex mood disorder cause by various factors, including genetic predisposition, personality, stress and brain chemistry. Depression is not something that people can “get over” by their own efforts, it takes time, hard work, determination and help of professionals to be able to get better.
East is a local singer-songwriter I’ve met while doing research for the article, she was kind enough to talk to me about her journey through depression and how expressive art therapy helped her go through the toughest time of her life.
“ I realized, I found it difficult to function at my regular speed, had a hard time getting up in the morning, wasn’t able to attend classes, had social anxiety and was only able to feel safe in my bed” she says, “I was overwhelmed with sadness and couldn’t control my emotions”.
                The most common ways of treatment for depression are talk therapy as well as medication, for East expressive art therapy was very effective. The therapy is founded on the belief that all people have the capacity to express themselves creativity. It promotes self-awareness, emotional wellbeing, healing, and empowerment and is mostly used for people who are having trouble expressing themselves through talk therapy or children. Expressive art therapy was suggested to East by her therapist one day and she decided to try writing first. One journal entry after another, by the end of the month she ran out of pages to write on, it was evident this was a great outlet for the feelings she could not express to anyone. Simple journal entries over time became poems and poems transformed into songs. One day while talking to a friend, East mentioned she had a few poems she wanted to share, little did she know, that particular friend was also writing music and had a few songs for her to experiment with. The pair collaborated on a first song and it felt great. After a while “It felt like the only way I could express myself” East remembers, “it made me feel okay”.  Over the next couple of months she stayed in her room, writing, singing and recording.  Being able to create music allowed her to completely open up and be herself.
 Music was the first thing East turned to considering it was a part of her life since early childhood years. She started singing in the kindergarten choir, participated in few different talent shows and festivals, later on she was accepted in to a visual arts program at Cawthra Park Secondary School, also known as Cawthra School of the Arts.
Besides music East found a few other things helped her with depression, things like changing location, trying to be outside more helped her focus on something else beside the deep dark thoughts. Having a great support group is very important, even if it is just one or two people that are committed to making you feel safe and secure. The artist shares that she had to learn how to let people take care of her and be that light she desperately needed during dark days.  Physical activity is extremely important, something as simple as a walk around the block could make your day better, just by finding a distraction from your thoughts could provide you with a enjoyable day.  She also explored painting, drawing, making collages and scrapbooking, she found different colors and textures helped the mind take a much needed break.
At the moment East is proud to share her debut EP-Embrace the Wave with the world, it is filled with raw emotion, which can be heard through every sound of every song. It took a while but the artist is finally able to say she is on the road of recovery and is extremely happy to be able to use her talent to get herself here.
To the rest of the people going through something similar East would like to let you know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! There are millions of people going through the same thing, be your own best friend and never shame yourself for your feelings and emotions.

To find Expressive Art Therapy workshops or sessions please visit
Or The Mood Disorders Society of Canada and The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario

Let's Talk About Sexton

Toronto’s fashion iconoclast, Myles Sexton, reflects on the challenges, inspirations, and aspirations that have led to his personal renewal and growing androgynous empire.

Myles Sexton has been an unrivaled force of creativity, innovation, and transformation ever since he first set foot in Toronto. A multi-talented and multi-platform artist, Sexton has built a powerful presence in fashion through modeling, makeup artistry, jewellery design, and editorial collaboration – all the while challenging the contours of the industry through his own androgynous expression of gender, identity, and style.
When I first met Myles Sexton, a few years back, I was immediately enamoured with his light-hearted energy, warm smile, and charismatic personality – qualities that I would soon learn were reflected in the whimsy of his artistic and authentic nature. I had asked to borrow a handful of pieces from his popular jewellery line (his namesake M.Sexton) – which, at the time, consisted of hand-crafted, spiked leather rings, heavily-weighted sheaths of chained necklaces, and aggressively accessorized, stunning eye-patches. The pieces were for a specific editorial I was directing for a local magazine – and Sexton being a staunch supporter of Canadian artists and young talent – graciously agreed. I remember leaving that short meeting feeling that Sexton seemed to radiate a sort of vivid greatness, a presence only reinforced when I ran into him shortly thereafter at Toronto Fashion Week – garbed in a head-to-toe lace bodysuit, a black feather stole piled around his neck, and sky-high, glossy leather platforms. At the time, I remember thinking that this was this reason I wanted to work in fashion – to meet, collaborate with, and be inspired by people as daring as Myles Sexton. To me, he represented the vanguard of an evolving industry, and I wasn’t wrong.
However, Sexton’s brightness, though easily recognizable these days in Toronto, was not always radiantly lauded. Growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia, Sexton’s journey to Toronto has been laced with trials of emancipation, realization, and affirmation. “Growing up in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia was not easy…I was a feminine male who did not understand his sexuality. I remember most of the school years being bullied to many extremes and I think that really puts a lot of weight on a person’s soul,” he says. Despite the hardships of these earlier years, Sexton maintains that much of his personal success is in direct relation to the determination that grew out of these obstacles. “…I don’t regret it a second because it gave me the gift of motivation. I now have something that drives me every single day.”
Ironically, it wasn’t until a young Sexton began working in a grocery store that he began to feel the itch and pull toward the fashion industry and what it could mean for a boy like him. "A position opened up once a month [where] I got to put out all the new fashion magazines", he says. "It would take me the entire day…because I started looking through them. I was so inspired by all the images and creativity, except I didn’t see a man in the magazines I could relate to. Then my dream was born to become the man I wish I knew existed.”
            In a story by FAJO Magazine in March 2013, Sexton expanded upon this, and revealed that his journey into fashion began through a local modelling agency that taught him the process of the trade, but, at the same time, where he knew he didn’t belong. Forced into the confined boundaries of a traditional, binary understanding of gender, Sexton was not wholly encouraged to express the type of gender-fluid identity he was beginning to adopt. “I was stripped of anything that would be feminine by my agent and after a year I left the agency because I did not feel this was the direction I wanted.” Sexton was challenged to affirm that to become the person he wanted to be through fashion, he’d have to carve it out of the industry himself. Sexton packed up, moved to Toronto, and began the steps toward an incredible new journey. “I wanted to embrace what made me different than all the other male models instead of being just like them.”
            As reflected on by FAJO Magazine in March 2013, Sexton’s big move to Canada’s arts and cultural centre led to incredible exposure in a vibrant market inspired by his challenging aesthetic, both locally and abroad – catapulting Sexton to multiple design and editorial collaborations as well as runway shows at Toronto Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, and even publications onto the online pages of Vogue Italia. Sexton has built a public empire out of a personal dream, and has proved that you don’t necessarily need to fit any prescribed mold to be successful at something that you love, both personally and professionally. Sexton’s epic journey has been, and continues to be, a burning testament to the possibilities of what fashion can represent – socially, culturally, and artistically. “Beauty and fashion are so directly linked to pop culture…instead of focusing on societal norms, we can use [them] to break free and give freedom of self-identity [and] expression," he says. "I do feel that [I] and many others…have helped to cause a huge change of perspective. I think now people are more aware that there are not just two body types. I think that companies will start realizing the other markets that they are not tapping into [and] I hope that it will become…more creative and almost lose its gender identities.”

Fashion is an industry of imagination and novelty. Sexton has managed to merge both – using the flash of clothing to both express his taste in androgyny as well as his freedom of character, all the while forcing us to consider and question the very structures that we use to understand, or define, what gender is. In essence, Myles Sexton – the artist, the designer, the model, and the visionary – is a breath of the future, and Toronto is lucky to have him. “Life is too beautiful to not live for yourself," he says. "Instead of in the minds and thoughts of others.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Canadian Clicks: The mystery behind the deficiency in Canadian fashion lifestyle blogs

I have been toying with the idea of starting a fashion blog for at least the past 5 years. However, with few Canadian fashion bloggers who have made a career out of it, I’ve always been slightly discouraged and wondered if it was even worth the effort.  Over the years, the number of active blogs has grown significantly, and I feel as though a little fashion blog from Toronto would get lost in the sea of other worldly blogs. 
Why is it that there is a lack in Canadian fashion bloggers? I brought this up to my friend Bianca Guzzo, blogger of Tea with B Weekly, and soon to be Ryerson journalism graduate. Guzzo started her blog in 2011 to help build her journalism portfolio. It covers a variety of topics from beauty and fashion favourites to body image.  Over the years, her blog has grown quite a bit, but she admits that being a blogger can be frustrating. “ I didn’t realize at first it would be so expensive.” She goes on to tell me how in order to have new content she has to shop quite a lot. “I would love to go to Sephora to pick out products to review for my followers, but I’m on a student budget”. Many elite bloggers, particularly American bloggers, are gifted with products and clothing from PR offices, and even fully paid trips to attend events. As our conversation continues she later admits, “I suppose that’s who my niche is though-- other students.”
While money may be a contributing factor to an absence of blogs in general, it does not necessarily explain the scarcity of Canadian fashion blogs. After a quick Google search of top Canadian blogs, results include a few pages to nominate blogs, and lists of top blogs. Upon inspection, blogs topping said lists were rather unrelated to fashion. I stumbled across two fashion blogs on one of the lists; one had been removed, while the other had not had any posts since 2011. A number of lists came up for top Canadian “Mommy blogs”, a genre of blog I was completely unaware of. “I think that [Canadian Fashion blogs] are overlooked in that atmosphere; you never really think of Toronto as a fashion city which is sad because it is.!” says Guzzo. I asked if she read any Canadian blogs, and the only one she could think of at the top of her head was Gracie Carroll (one of the blogs I discovered in my Google search) and her recently launched blog The Chic Canuck. The Chic Canuck claims to be the “tastemakers guide to Canada”, providing articles and photographs of some of Canada’s most unique entrepreneurs, products and artists-- an idea I wish I had thought of myself.
Considering Canada’s smaller population compared to other fashionable countries, one can begin to think it may be all population proportionate. Either that, or Canadians were not blogging because they were not going on the Internet as much as the rest of the world. However, according to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Canadians spend approximately 45 hours a month surfing the web, while Americans followed behind averaging 38.6 hours a month.

Simply said, Canadian fashion blogs (The Chic Canuck aside) are not obviously Canadian. Two of my favorite Canadian fashion blogs (and quite frankly the only Canadian blogs I regularly follow), The Coveteur and Beckerman Blog have been blogs I have regularly visited over the years. Launched in 2011, The Coveteur was started by two friends Erin Kleinberg and Stephanie Mark. Their blog features a number of articles about the closets and events primarily located in New York or Los Angeles. On the other hand, the Beckerman Blog features the fashionable travels of twin sisters Cailli and Sam Beckerman. “ People dream of lives in New York and London and want to live vicariously through residents from those cities” Guzzo points out.
While Guzzo admits to me she would love to write for her blog as her career in future years, its not her main priority, reminding me she started the blog to help improve her own journalism skills. “At the end of the day, if I get a comment that says they like enjoyed reading my post or that it helped them in some way, that means more to me than anything else” Guzzo explains.

I decide to give up the search, however, just before giving up my quest to find a hidden Canadian blog gem, I click on one last blog link that seems promising. Alas, another Mom blog.