Fashion Talks at AUP: How Kim Hou Gets Workers’ Voices Heard

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On Tuesday, November 16, the 2021–22 edition of the Fashion Talks at AUP lecture series, titled “Between Consumption, Criticism and Activism,” welcomed guest speaker Kim Hou, the cofounder and creative director of ABOUT A WORKER, who presented on the topic “The Power of Inclusivity and Self-Expression in the Fashion Industry.” The event, which took place on the 8th floor of the Quai d’Orsay Learning Commons, was organized by Professor Renate Stauss and Professor Sophie Kurkdjian of the Fashion Studies team in the Department of Communication, Media and Culture.

ABOUT A WORKER is a fashion laboratory that believes in redressing the fashion industry’s issues through a constant discussion between workers, consumers and the “fashion elite.” The program started as Hou’s graduation project for the Design Academy of Eindhoven; together with Paul Boulenger, she began to build ABOUT A WORKER as a practical social and creative system in 2017.

Until recently, production, creation and consumption have traditionally remained separated in the fashion industry within distinct hierarchical bubbles. According to Hou, this lack of communication between each bubble has led to the fashion world historically neglecting its environmental and ethical duties. ABOUT A WORKER paves the way for inclusive systems by giving workers the chance to use design as a universal language to communicate their own interpretations of fashion. The organization creates design projects and curricula for garment workers, providing the opportunity for those who have not had their voices heard to grow and express their own vision of the industry. The projects create functional and meaningful products designed by the workers themselves.

After contextualizing the hierarchies of the current global fashion system, Hou addressed the anonymous, devalued and “non-creative” role to which workers are often relegated. She argued that this process renders workers effectively invisible and exposes them to widespread inhumane treatment. She introduced five of ABOUT A WORKER’s interventions to draw attention to and redress this imbalance: migrant garment workers at Mode Estime, St Denis; female prisoners at a carceral center for women in Giudecca, Venice; logistics workers at La Redoute, Roubaix; sweatshop workers in the Bao’an worker village, Shenzen; and L’Atelier Charentaises, a slipper company in Charentes, France.

Driven by a vision of and passion for a more inclusive and equitable fashion industry, Kim Hou’s talk inspired the audience to rethink global hierarchies and discriminatory practices and reflect on their own roles in the industry as well as their transformative potential.