INTERVIEW: Norway’s “Sweatshop Fashionistas,” In Their Own Words

by , 02/05/15   filed under: Features, Interviews, Q&A, Worker Rights

Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion, Aftenposten, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, workers rights, human rights, Norway, eco-fashion documentaries, eco-fashion films, Anniken Jørgensen, Frida Ottesen, Ludvig Hambro

What was working at the factory like?

Jørgensen: I thought they kidding with me when they said we would sit there for several hours. But they weren’t. After seven hours, we went out with $3 in our hands.

As I said before, the factory we were in is family-owned, so they had fans and a little more of an “upscale” environment. In the “real” factories, workers don’t even get water or food, because you might spill them on your clothes.

The fact that we got lunch was just something they did because we were there, I understood quickly. It was very heavy but, at the same time, I did not understand. When I came out, I told [the camera] that it was fine. That they had chairs, fans, and appeared happy. I was so very, very wrong in the episode, which I understood later in the series.

Ottesen: We sat there sewing for eight hours. That was the day that made the biggest impression on me.

It was a relatively nice factory because the workers got breaks, they had fans, they got food, and they could talk to one another. They could also use the toilet and drink water while they were working. But it was a small place with only about 50 workers.

I met some women who described working in larger factories that employed soldiers with weapons. They only had two minutes to use the toilets, and if they took any longer their pay would be docked. They also described places where they weren’t allowed to eat or drink, or where they were forced to work overtime. It sounded insane and terrifying.

Among the labels we sewed for was a sports shop in Paris. The factory earns $1 per shirt, while the store sells them for $30. That’s the same amount that Sokty pays for her house per month.

“You’ve become a small part of a machine, mass-producing for the growing overindulgence of the modern world.” —Ludvig Hambro

Hambro: The factory we worked at was a small, family-run business with much better conditions than the massive ones where the big brands manufacture their clothes.

The biggest factories are up in the thousands with limited ventilation, daylight. or break times—they’re more like jails than workplaces.

Where we worked, there were windows, albeit covered ones, and people seemed less controlled by the factory owner. Many of the workers seemed to be family members.

We earned $3 for eight hours of work, which is higher than most other factories, where wages are as low as $2 per day. Despite the relatively “good” conditions, the factory was crowded, the machines were old, and there were no proper chairs. The toilet didn’t flush, and you had to pour water down it from a bucket when you were done with your business. There was no sink nor soap to wash your hands.

Because this was a home business, there was a kitchen and workers were served food, in contrast to most other factories. The factory owner lived in the factory, and you could clearly see that his living conditions were almost as bad as his employees’.

It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you have to sew the same line over and over again. When you’re facing an endless pile of textiles, you feel more like a cog in a machine than part of a community. Some people have to sew the same line over and over again for over 10 years—what kind of life is that? Instead of an individual, you’ve become a small part of a machine, mass-producing for the growing overindulgence of Norway and the rest of the modern world.


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One Response to “INTERVIEW: Norway’s “Sweatshop Fashionistas,” In Their Own Words”

  1. brooke vlasich says:

    I enjoyed hearing the bloggers point of view to see their reasons for joining the show, how their expectations changed, and what they learned. Once you have to be in someone else’s position it changes everything you thought and saw. I always want to see the world through another person’s eyes to challenge what I think so I can help the world better.

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