Picture this: Three young fashion enthusiasts from Norway, two of them still in their teens, travel to Cambodia, where they sample the life of a garment worker for a month. Not exactly the most universal of tales, but it’s one that has taken on a life of its own. In the two weeks since we published our original report, the story has gathered more than 124,000 Facebook likes, 29,000 Facebook shares, and nearly 3,000 tweets. Even the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in April 2013 didn’t capture this much attention on our site. So what nerve did the lives of three Norwegians touch that the deaths of 1,133 Bangladeshis didn’t? We caught up with Anniken Jørgensen, Frida Ottesen, and Ludvig Hambro to find out.
How did you come to be involved in the show?
Jørgensen: I was asked because I was a fashion blogger, although I’d describe my blog is more lifestyle than fashion now. Like many teenagers, I was going through a difficult period in my life at the time. I just wanted get away and happily accepted the airfare to do so. I didn’t even look up where Cambodia was on the map.
Ottesen: I was curious about what life was like outside of Norway, so when I saw an ad from Framtiden i våre hender (an organization that means “future in our hands”), I sent a video of myself explaining why they should pick me.
Hambro: I’m very interested in politics and everything that has to do with society and rights, so my father suggested I apply to become a part of the project. I felt like I was a hypocrite because I knew conditions for workers in the third world were bad, but I still bought clothes.
“We don’t like to think about these things because then we’d have to defend our behavior.” —Ludvig Hambro
I auditioned for the show because I thought I needed to see it with my own eyes. I wanted to see where my clothes came from and how bad things really were.
What was your relationship with fashion like before the show?
Jørgensen: I’ve always been fond of clothes, but it has never been my entire life. I’ve always liked to put together things and create something cool.
Ottesen: My mother always told me not to buy more clothes than I needed. But whenever I had the money, I usually bought clothes without thinking where they came from. I love vintage and retro styles, though, so I often bought clothes at secondhand stores.
Hambro: Before the show, I could easily spend about $1,000 dollars on clothes if I went abroad or even if I went shopping with friends in Oslo. I was a spoiled Norwegian teenager, completely ignorant of the outside world.
Most Norwegians, or Westerners in general I think, live within a bubble. We don’t like to think about these things because then we’d have to defend our behavior. Even though we’re told that our T-shirts from H&M or our pants from Zara are made in Bangladesh or other countries in horrible conditions, we kind of pretend it doesn’t happen because it makes us more comfortable.
Of course we know it’s not some happy elves in Santa Claus’ factory sewing these clothes, but we still build a wall between us, our immediate world, and what is outside of it. So, is that because we are bad people? No. But we’re giving ourselves excuses and closing our eyes and ears because we don’t want to know. We’d rather skip down the shopping street for the 10th time that year thinking a new pullover will make us happy.
What did you expect to get from the trip?
Jørgensen: I didn’t have many expectations. I was on the plane, just happy to finally get away. So I had no idea what I was heading into.
Ottesen: I didn’t know exactly what I would get out of the trip. I thought maybe we’d meet some garment workers, talk a little to them, and maybe visit a factory, but we didn’t get any information so everything came as a surprise. As a result, everything also had a huge impact on us.
Hambro: I expected to get memories and images for the rest of my life, and I did. However, it all got to me more than I thought it would. For the first time in my life, I really dared to open my eyes and see beyond myself and the world I knew.