Fashion

Social Work Is A New Fashion Brand Bringing Attention To Workers' Rights

"We feel for the most part that fashion is made of production, so you can't overlook that." Photography by Gerardo Somoza
Reading time 5 minutes

When Alexander McQueen was Artistic Director of Givenchy, he ruffled feathers all throughout the atelier when he decided to dine with the seamstresses in the basement of the fashion house’s headquarters at 3 Avenue George V, in Paris. It was unheard of for the artistic director of a major fashion house to interact with the petit mans and premières, but for McQueen, breaking bread with those who brought his wild visions to life was how he thought things should be. 

Recently at the Haute Couture shows, designers took McQueen’s “progressive” lead, saying sayonara to the old, unwritten rules of fashion elitism.  Clare Waight Keller brought her team out during the finale to take a bow at Givenchy, and then at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s set was decorated with toiles to showcase garments through a behind-the-scenes lens.

But while this may go down in fashion history as just another trend, one contemporary brand is making sure its customers know exactly who made its wares — forever.

Social Work Spring 2019 Presentation

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Enter Social Work, a new brand founded by Parsons grads (’17) Qi Wang and Chenghui Zhang. The two just debuted their Spring 2019 collection on a hot June evening in one of their factories located in Manhattan’s Garment District. Using a series of street cast models in a crowded, barely air-conditioned space, there were a few in the lineup that didn’t fit the typical model mold; lo and behold, they were actual factory employees.

The collection was an homage to both Eastern and Western culture, sprinkled in with references to '60s mod style and the Great Cultural Revolution, among others. It was an immersive experience like I've never seen, with a message that's increasingly important when it comes to sustainability and fair wages. 

 

We spoke to both Wang and Zhang about their line, art versus fashion, and making a change in the fashion industry. 

Can you all tell me the meaning behind the name Social Work?

QI The name is Social Work because we always want to remind our customers that we're embracing workers rights. We wanted to call it [that] because we're building a bridge between the customer and the makers, so all of the garments we create have a specific code, and you can search to see who made it and you'll see the specific person who made the clothes.

ZHANG We have a database on our website. You can search a code and then you can see the individual workers that have been contributing to the garments, how long it took them to make it and where it's made — information like that. We want to educate our customers.

QI And then aesthetic-wise, we are always inspired by what the workers wear as well.

What decades were you inspired by?

QI So we were inspired by the 60s, both in the West and the East. So in the West, it's all about liberation, youth, counterculture, and then in China, we had the opposite. We had the Great Cultural Revolution, so everyone [was] oppressed. So the contrast we think is really interesting.

ZHANG A lot of it is bringing these juxtapositions of the two different cultures, blending them together, and then presenting it to our customers so they can form their own opinion. I think it's an interesting contrast.

Why do you think it's important to mix the two? Has there always been a disconnect?

QI Yeah, there's always been a really extreme disconnect, so it can be really convincing since we are Chinese to talk about it, and since a lot of the factories employ Chinese workers. So much of American fashion is made by Chinese workers, why don't we get to see them?

 

What are some things you've learned at Parsons that you feel has really helped you be able to launch your own brand?

QI I think at Parsons we focused on a lot of conceptual thinking. We learned that you always need to have a cultural reference, and then a concept behind your collection to make your story really strong. 

What change are you all hoping to influence? By the example that you're setting?

QI I think because we're embracing workers' rights, we will definitely have a more open culture and transparency. We want people to know who actually made the clothes [and] to put the workers in a higher position than the actual designers. We feel for the most part that fashion is made of production, so you can't overlook that.

Lookbook

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Visit Social Work for more information. 

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