By Arwa Lodhi
It’s amazing what one young designer can do for so many, as Kim Hou proves with her project called About A Worker. For over a year now, she’s been working on a project that allows factory workers from around the world to become designers.
She collaborated with four workers from Mode Estime, a garment factory situated in Saint-Denis, a suburban area of Paris. Over the course of six months, the workers were asked to go through a classical collection process, from a mood board to an end product. The workers were specifically asked to reflect on their own experiences as inspiration for the collection.
This was Hou’s graduation project, and she was invited to show it as a television project at the #tvclerici exhibition during the Milan Salone del Mobile (see below).
This led to her forming a whole brand identity and website for the project and a Facebook page. You could say the whole concept was a game changer in the fashion industry, that acknowledged the talents of garment workers for the first time as the true craftsmen behind fashion, especially since Mode Estime hires workers from around the globe, giving a voice to immigrants who don’t have a chance to pursue their dreams in their home countries.
Each worker was asked to deconstruct, reconstruct and embellish a “Bleu de Travail” – the traditional French symbol of the factory worker. From creating a mood board to the end product, the workers-cum-designers were inspired by their cultures, histories, working life, cultures and daily realities, rather than the whimsies of aesthetics and fashion history that most fashion creators turn to.
The result was a diverse collection of dresses that are as unique as each person who made them. But the consequences of the project go much deeper than garments – to illustrate this point, let’s look at one worker, Misbahou, a former soldier from Comoros Island who lost a leg in a war. Living in France as a disabled refugee, he found new hope for his future through the project: today, he’s gone from sewing machine operator to aiming at obtaining a diploma in couture fashion to help further a career in the field.
In fact, the positive opportunities provided by About A Worker are exactly the point; improving garment workers’ lives is precisely what Hou was hoping to achieve, and she will continue to help communities in need develop their skills, thus making About A Worker serve as a political and cultural platform. As one participant put it: “the power of high fashion has led us to believe in fairytales.”