Instructor: Jen Mazza
Proposal/Prototype: Domestic Exploitation of Fashion Retail Workers
- Description of System (250 words or less): What is your system? Define it clearly, outlining its various aspects.
My system is fashion retail, and I am focusing on the domestic exploitation of fashion retail workers (sales associates) in the United States. My research suggests that (1) retail workers are forced to accept sexual harassment as part of their jobs (2) work in unhealthy appearance-obsessed environments (3) are disrespected, overworked, and underpaid. Since other researchers have said a lot about sweatshop labor overseas, I am looking into a new field that has not been widely touched upon.
- Point of View: (300 words) This is where you indicate your relationship to your system – are you a part of it in any way? How do you feel about it? What is your investment/ interest in it? Why did you choose it?
Prior to research, I was very ignorant about the unethical issues involved in fast fashion. In fact, I contributed to the system frequently by shopping at fast fashion chain stores, supporting and giving money to the companies that practice domestic exploitation of fashion retail workers and overseas exploitation of sweatshop workers. When I used to shop at stores like H&M and Forever 21, I have often found retail workers under fast-fashion companies to be rude and unhappy, and wondered why they are the way they are. I was very curious what working conditions they are put in for them to be so moody. I chose this topic because I wanted to stand in their perspectives and try to understand the various hardships they have to withstand for them to be so unhappy. I feel that all employees should be treated with respect and be happy while working.
3. Prototype Proposal: (250 words) In this short text you should outline what your project will “look” like. What are the materials, scale etc.
For this project, I will work with the harassing messages retail employees must keep to themselves as part of their jobs. For example, employees are forced to accept sexual harassment, verbally or physically, as part of their jobs because the customer always needs to be respected. Co-workers and managers also judge the employees’ appearances behind their backs and or tell them upfront.
I will make a black crop top with 12 red pockets (7 front, 5 back) that hold the harassing messages. The front pockets will be filled with sexual comments and harassment messages that are told to my research subjects upfront, and the back pockets will be filled with comments said behind their backs (from managers or co-workers gossiping). Conceptually, the garment represents how fashion retail workers must keep in and carry disturbing messages and experiences at all times while working. I’ve noticed that many retail employees wear the black crop top to work, which is why I chose it to represent retail workers. I will need black and red fabric, and paper to write different messages on. The crop top will fit on a size 8 mannequin.
- Ethnography: (400 words) Define ethnography and explain how your proposed project is an Ethnography. Give specific examples of how particular aspects/information from your research will be translated from your seminar paper into a studio project. Be specific! Quote your paper.
Ethnography is the systematic study of a culture, and my proposed project is ethnography because it is a project that is made on the basis of such research. From my research, I will mainly be collecting sexual harassment messages from customers and rude remarks from managers targeted towards sales associate employees. I will put these messages in either the front or back pockets of the crop top, depending on whether the message has been said upfront or behind an employee’s back.
One of my research subjects is Jane Doe, who accounted that a male customer sexually harassed her coworker in the fitting rooms, asking her to try on sheer items. When she tried them on, he lifted her arms to expose her breasts and slipped a twenty-dollar bill into her pants. When she told her manager what happened, there was no protocol and the manager only replied, “Well, it seems like he’s gone now.” Using this information, I can put a dollar bill into one of the front pockets near the breast area of my crop top.
Nolan Hamilton mentions the “Anti-Uglies” internal policy, in which employees are criticized for chipped nail polish and uneven eyebrows. Based on this, I will include a note inside one of the front pockets that says, “fix your chipped nail polish and uneven eyebrows.”
Chelsea Fagan is another retail employee who noticed that ethnic minorities and overweight people were placed in the back and stock rooms. This information will go into the back pocket (Note written: “She looks fat today, so put her in the back”).
Crissy Milazzo worked at Limited Too and explains that sexual offenders would ask employees to show them different items for their inexistent “nieces.” Pedophiles would also call the store and deliberately ask what ages their store carries clothing for sexual pleasure. I will include the customer’s inappropriate questions in a front pocket.
Marissa Antoinett shared that she once heard her managers comment “that jacket was so last year” behind a co-worker’s back. This remark can go into a back pocket. Managers would also control what employees eat on breaks, saying that they should not be eating certain foods in order to stay skinny to work there. This command will go into the front pocket.
C.S. recalls one incident when an old man asked her how long a dress is, and how he commented “You’d look sexy in that,” handing her his business card.  The old man’s words would be placed in a front pocket.
J.K. has experienced catcalling, and recalls that once, a customer tried to pay her in exchange for a co-worker’s number. This will go into a front pocket.
I want to make sure that the work I do will not harm others to the best of my ability. I will use my skills and knowledge to help others and never use it against my morals. In this project, I am using my research to bring attention to the hardships a retail employee has to endure.
Many of my works are playful and cute. My crop top design is playful yet serious at the same time since it has many small, red pockets filled with not-so-playful messages. However, the action of the audience taking the messages out and reading them can also be considered playful.
- Color: Reds and Pinks.
Red and pink are the colors I mostly use in my artworks. I intentionally decided that the pockets of the top should be red because it is the color of danger, harassment, and disturbance.
I avoid over-embellishments and try to make my concepts clear – the concept of this project is very straightforward.
I hope for my works to have a greater societal significance and encourage positive change. This project is very conceptual and intends to bring attention to an employee’s hardships.
 Doe, Jane. 2014. “Twenty Days of Harassment and Racism as an American Apparel Employee.” Gawker.
 Milazzo, Crissy, “16 Insane Confessions of a Former Limited Too Employee.” Thought Catalog. October 9, 2014
 C.S. (Urban Outfitters Employee) in discussion with the author, April 2016.
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