Just like all group gatherings, this year’s Fash Rev Cambodia Fashion Week had to abandon its on-site festivities. The annual week-long affair to educate the public about how our clothes are made and honour the people who make them, had mega events planned – like a Cambodian designers fashion show, a makers fair and clothing swap, open studio tours, film screenings and panel discussions.
This list of events was to take place alongside others thrown in 160 countries worldwide, held by the sister chapters of the international group Fashion Revolution. The organisation, which campaigns for a clean, fair, safe and transparent fashion industry, was founded after the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed well over a thousand workers in 2013. The annual Fashion Revolution Week always coincides with the anniversary of that major industrial disaster.
Determined to continue carrying the message in spite of – and perhaps with more urgency because of – Covid-19, the group will now hold events in an online format. And the chapter in Cambodia – where the health of the garment industry is particularly salient – is no exception.
“We were locked and loaded with an itinerary and then had to pivot to digital,” explains Jasmine Summers, coordinator of the Fash Rev Cambodia group, who started organizing this week’s itinerary last December.
“The idea for the finale event was going to be a clothing swap and small ethical brand sales market but also implementing crafting, learning, mending booths alongside vendors in a market set up. So, like, have the Cambodia Stich ‘n’ Bitch knitting group have a booth and pay them to offer knitting lessons alongside vendors…. So this unique shop and learn experience alongside the clothing swap. I was really excited to see that come together.”
Phnom Penh resident and Fash Rev member Eleanor demonstrates embroidery.
“But,” she added, “hopefully this ‘loved clothes last’ element is a way to, again, have people look at their clothes and assign value to them and differently than the swap.”
#lovedclotheslast is this year’s mantra, and the group is asking people to picture of one of their beloved clothing items and to direct message it to Fash Rev Cambodia or email it (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a story about why it matters to them. The group will collect and post all of the images and stories on Sunday as the event’s new finale.
In lieu of the in-person workshops, volunteers from the group – who would have done live demonstrations of mending, upcycling and other crafty techniques – are creating how-to videos that will be posted online, teaching anything from embroidery techniques to fashion illustration to sewing face masks. The film screening (of noteworthy documentary Riverblue) will be livestreamed instead of screened in a big Phnom Penh venue. The same goes for another set of films, The Asia Foundation “Factory Life” series, which are informative videos in Khmer (with English subtitles) that share what it’s like to work in factories for Cambodians considering it for employment.
One special “event” of the week, in fact, would not have happened without the Coronavirus outbreak. What would have been open tours of studios (interesting in its own right) has turned into videos and photo collections shared by Cambodia design companies, giving a face to the brands we talk about. Shot since the pandemic has wrought havoc on the international market, these visual stories will shed some light on how our community’s fashion design businesses have been doing.
“I have at least half a dozen Cambodia-based brands, two who are sharing videos of their empty studios and how they’ve adjusted their businesses during this Covid crisis,” said Summers. “And then another handful are sharing a photo essay of their studios or of their teams, showing how Covid-19 has affected their businesses or how they’re adopting their businesses.”
Some of the original live experience events are still going to be able to take place live. The opening night’s Nerd Night – in which speakers have 20 slides with 20 seconds each in order to cover a subject – will take place Monday night on Zoom. The hack is that attendees will message their questions for the Q&A portion via the platform’s chat, which the Nerd Night moderators will select and ask. It’ll simultaneously be live-streamed to Facebook, too, where Facebook watchers can also message questions via that site. Just like the real thing! …almost.
The week’s other live experience, the Future of Fashion Forum (cosponsored by the German Agency for International Cooperation), is a panel discussion with industry insiders who will talk about what an ideal manufacturing industry would look like in Cambodia in 2030. The panelists cover both the company’s POV and the workers’ interests, in both the private and public sectors. The event page asks that you direct message them any questions that you’d like the panelists to answer beforehand to make sure that they’re covered.
“Between Monday and Thursday we’ll get some good commentary and reporting on how it is in Cambodia, from actual sources, too,” said Summers.
Hearing about these changes, I wonder aloud if maybe there’s an upside to the online switch – that more people will be able to see and learn because these events and resources will be publicly available to anybody in Cambodia (or the world) as opposed to being confined to a specific time and place in Phnom Penh. And it will give the world an idea of the Cambodian perspective.
Summers agreed, though she expressed concern that they haven’t had enough time to set up Khmer translations of the digital resources in English. “The hardest thing to let go of was the push for Khmer community involvement, or prioritizing that,” said Summers. “And it’s now shifted to the international audience, which I’m not mad about, but losing the Khmer community event and the fair was the hardest.”
What’s On for Fash Rev Fashion Week:
8pm, Monday, April 20: Nerd Night X Fash Rev, Facebook live and Zoom.
All day, Tuesday, April 21: How-to tutorial videos uploaded throughout the day.
All day, Wednesday, April 22: Videos from The Asia Foundation “Factory Life” series, uploaded throughout the day.
6:30pm, Thursday, April 23: Future of Fashion Forum, Facebook live and Zoom.
All day, Friday, April 24: Fashion trivia posted all day, followed by a screening of River Blue documentary.
All day, Saturday, April 25: Videos showcasing Cambodian design companies uploaded throughout the day.
All day, Sunday, April 26: Showing off all of the #lovedclotheslast participants and closing video.