Fighting Unfair Labor Practices with Recycled Style

Fighting Unfair Labor Practices with Recycled Style

The Rational Dress Society highlights poor labor conditions through repurposed fashion.

Make America Rational Again Cycle

Rational Dress Society's "Make America Rational Again" initiative is collecting donated Ivanka Trump clothing to recycle into post-consumer fiber for 18 special-edition JUMPSUITs. 

Courtesy of Rational Dress Society

It’s no longer a secret that behind the rising tide of fast fashion and its cheap mass-production model lies a wake of dubious labor practices. The Rational Dress Society is out to make a change.

Following up on last year’s interview with the RDS, American Craft spoke with creators Abigail Glaum-Lathbury and Maura Brewer about their new initiative, “Make America Rational Again,” and the ultimate goal of the Rational Dress Society: A full-page ad in American Vogue marking their impact on the world of fashion.

Abigail Glaum-Lathbury and Maura Brewer

Abigail Glaum-Lathbury and Maura Brewer, the creators of Rational Dress Society.

Courtesy of Rational Dress Society

What is the Make America Rational Again project? 
AGL: We’re delivering on the promises of the Trump campaign to “Buy American, Hire American.” The project is designed to highlight the hypocrisies of our current administration by using garments made by Ivanka Trump, which are all imported. We are taking those garments, having them shredded, made into post-consumer fiber, spun into new yarn, woven into new fabric, and then made into 18 special-edition JUMPSUITs. Once the garments are made, we will auction them off for as much money as we possibly can. We are thinking of the project as a wealth re-distribution vehicle. The proceeds from the special edition JUMPSUITs will go towards labor advocacy organizations.

Where did this idea come from?
MB: When Donald Trump was elected, we were disappointed and tried to figure out what to do. The more we read on Ivanka Trump and her clothing line, the more we found it to be emblematic of labor and environmental abuses. Her clothes were being produced in poor labor conditions in China, even as Trump espouses his “Buy American, Hire American” plan at the inauguration. We will fulfill her broken promise and remake the garments in the US.

How is it going so far?
AGL: We’re in phase one, which is the collection phase. After the election, I think a lot of people were mortified that you had bought this item of clothing which suddenly became politicized in a way. Instead of having these clothes end up in a landfill, which is what’s happening to a lot of these clothes, we’re imploring people to donate. It’s very important that the clothing not be bought directly; we don’t actually want to support her company. Secondhand, discarded refuse is what we’re accepting. Once we have enough garments, we will transition [them] into the post-consumer fiber and then we’ll do the spinning and weaving.

Who will be making the JUMPSUITs?
AGL: We’re going to work with the Weaving Mill located in Chicago. We’re aiming for about 50 yards of raw material. Once the weaving is done, we will produce them in my studio, although we’d like to work with one of the labor organizations that we’ve been in contact with for the manufacture.

What is your ultimate goal with MARA?
MB: An immediate demand is to have Ivanka Trump close her business and move to a commune in Montana. If she does this, we might offer her entrance into RDS.

AGL: We’d like to help garment workers. There are a number of sweatshops that still operate in the US under deplorable conditions. There are more deplorable conditions in other parts of the world where our fast fashion and $1.90 tank tops are made. It’s a multifaceted intent to raise awareness around political hypocrisy; it generally speaks to the roots of the project about consumption habits, labor rights, and labor advocacy.

How has the response been to the political nature of the project?
AGL: I would say overwhelmingly positive. There’ve been a couple nasty comments on the internet, but it’s a publication. If there’s not a bit of counter-reaction, maybe you haven’t made enough of a splash.

Will you continue making JUMPSUITs?
AGL: Definitely. Not indefinitely though. Once we sell enough JUMPSUITs to buy a full-page ad in American Vogue, the project will end. The patterns for the garment will still be available online and people can still make them, but RDS will cease to exist once we reach that goal. Our political organization will no longer be necessary because our aims of dress reform will have finished.

What will you do then?
AGL: There’s no shortage of reforms that can be made. Taking an optimistic stance, and assuming that the reform is implemented, it certainly doesn’t mean that everything will be fixed. We will persevere, and possibly reform in different ways. Maybe shoes? Reformed footwear? Ha, I’m teasing.

The Rational Dress Society will be curating its first exhibition, a history of counter-fashion, at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in the spring. RDS is accepting Ivanka Trump clothing and accessory donations through August. Donations can be mailed or dropped off at any partnering donation organization.