Designer attacks labels using sweatshops

WILMA MCCORKINDALE
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2014

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Freshly decorated Kiwi fashion designer Francis Hooper has launched a scathing attack on contemporaries who employ poverty-ridden Asian sweatshop labour to make their garments.

Co-creator of the World fashion label, Hooper, MNZM, is talking up his New Year honour, saying it's a big tick for the whole World brand team's commitment to keeping it Kiwi.

That is unlike some of the best known, high-end fashion labels which have based their billion-dollar manufacturing operations in the Third World where workers endure harsh, unsafe, and in some cases lethal, working conditions, not to mention pitifully low wages.

Last year a series of factory disasters in Bangladesh, including a fire that razed one factory and the collapse of another, caused outrage and kick-started calls for change.

Hooper says also guilty are "vast employers" using sweatshops to peddle throw-away garments.

"I see it as cheap pleasure. These garments are made so people can be pretty for the day at the huge cost of the environment and workers in the third world. And it all ends up in the landfill."

The activist in Hooper has seen the World brand weaving political messages into annual collections since its inception in 1989.

When World premieres its 2014 international winter range titled Pennywise Poundfoolish in New Zealand at this year's 15th anniversary iD Dunedin Fashion Show in April, where Hooper has accepted an invitation as guest designer, there is a message for the consumer to think about what they're buying.

"Personally, I have an adversity to making a garment for $3 and selling it for $300. It's offensive," Hooper said.

"To be blunt, it's a business decision that people make. And that decision is all about money. The people who are making those clothes have no life, and they have no future. They are stuck in poverty.

"And they have no attachment to the brands. In fact, they hate the brands."

Hooper says World made a conscious decision not to go into Asia and exploit so it could overcharge the consumer here.

"I think we've proved you can make it in New Zealand but still have the market that will really love you and support you.

"We're very much a brand that is vocal about its beliefs - vocal through fashion," says Hooper.

"In the '80s we fought for gay rights. We put drag queens on television and used them as models. We were very vocal about nuclear power and nuclear testing.

"It's called being true to ourselves. We wear our hearts on our sleeves."

Hooper believes part of the reason he was listed for the New Year honour, is the fact World employs "real Kiwi workers with real Kiwi mortgages".

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He is also hot on supporting a growing number of quirky fashion events in New Zealand and around the Pacific.

iD Dunedin Fashion Week, which has grown to attract design talent from fashion schools around the world through its iD International Emerging Fashion Designer Awards is an example says Hooper.

"It's a really slick, sharp international platform and a fabulous opportunity for us. It's one of those neat fashion events that are growing in popularity."

- Sunday Star Times

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