HAVE you ever wondered where your clothes are made, who made them and how much they were paid for doing so?
A new, interactive and provocative show at the Young Vic aims to explore some of the issues involved in our throwaway fashion culture with the audience playing a starring role.
World Factory, which opens on Monday, interweaves the stories of people connected to the garment industry from the factory floor to the catwalk with an interactive team game in which audiences run their own clothing factory.
The show puts the ethics and politics of fast throwaway fashion in England and China under the microscope.
At the end of the game, teams are invited to look at the decisions they’ve made and the consequent effects they’ve had on their workers, the environment and – inevitably – their profits.
It has been devised by the show’s director Zoe Svendsen who says the idea for the piece came about after a visit to Shanghai.
“I met a theatre director there who said in some tourist brochures Manchester had been described as a world factory,” she says.
“Although today the factories which churn out these mass produced cheap clothes exist mainly in China, Manchester in the 19th century was a global cotton exchange and was shipping it all over the world.
“It was utterly fascinating and made me think about how nowadays it’s such a complicated global situation.
“I decided to do a show about it but it was tricky to come up with something when there are so many different aspects to it and that’s when we came up with the idea for a game.”
Zoe says it starts like a normal show and is “very theatrical” but the audience is then invited to sit around small tables in groups of about six and take over a small Chinese clothing factory.
“It’s actually quite a simple game – a bit like a cross between monopoly and poker,” she says. “The actors deal a set of cards and the audience decides which to choose and how to respond.
“The idea is that the audience is put right in the middle of the dilemmas - so it’s up to them as to what happens and the decisions they make takes them in different directions with various consequences.
“You can play as an ultra capitalist and make lots of money or be really ethical and look after your workers and lose money.
“The conversations you have with your team members can be really fun especially when you all have different ideas - it’s certainly more fun if people get stuck in!
“Each show is different too – you never know how everyone is going to react and it’s been fascinating seeing how people respond.”
Zoe says that although the show raises questions about our attitude to where our clothes come from and the conditions in which they are made, she says it’s not in any way telling us what we should do about it.
“There are a lot of questions and we hope the show is educational and informative but we also want it to be fun,” she says.
“When we feed back to the audience at the end some have been surprised at their reactions and how they have played the game. Some say it has got them thinking which is great and there has been a real buzz.
“However we are not about telling people how they should think or giving any answers to how to make things better.
“What I definitely hope people won’t take away is that if we don’t buy in places that sell these cheap clothes that it will go away.
“But I do hope this show informs people in a fun way.”
That said Zoe certainly has her own opinions about the situation
“It’s difficult not to feel there is something radically wrong with the fact we are making workers madly design and make these clothes in these conditions – it’s hard to see what people are getting out of process,” she says.
“For me it’s about ethics and what kind of world we want to live in. It’s quite extreme suffering so that we can have one more thing. For me it’s about lobbying government and companies – but that’s my personal feeling.
“On a day to day level it’s hard when you are buying a piece of clothing to remember the back story, who stitched it, sewed on the buttons and cut the cloth – it’s easy to forget the workers and think of them as real people who have their own life and situation.
“What I find fascinating and incredibly interesting to see is how people have carried on talking at the end of the shows which is great.
“I can’t wait to bring it to the Young Vic and see what audiences there make of it all.”
World Factory runs at the Young Vic from May 11 to May 30. Tickets from £10. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.