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‘All clothes are handmade’: the migrant workers behind Australian fashion

The Guardian, Australia, 13 July 2021 - Generations of Vietnamese outworkers’ skills have underpinned the Australian fashion industry. Emma Do and Kim Lam explore their work in a graphic novel

Thanks to the pandemic, many of us are now familiar with both the benefits and perils of working from home.

That’s old hat in the garment business: for decades, Australia’s fashion industry has relied upon the labour of outworkers sewing in their lounge rooms, kitchens and sheds. This hidden workforce is mostly made up of new migrants who pick up orders through word-of-mouth referrals.

For Emma Do, a fashion writer who has worked for Frankie and Broadsheet, it was a revelation to discover Vietnamese names and faces behind many well-known brands.

“I was like, wow, Asian people are in fashion in Australia?” she recalls. “I was just used to seeing white designers be the face of everything.”

As she learned more about outwork, she started piecing together memories. She recalls how her best friend at uni once gave her a free Sass & Bide T-shirt, because back in the mid-to-late noughties, while her friend was in high school, her great aunt sewed them as an outworker for the brand (Sass & Bide have subsequently been acquired by Myer, and list their current manufacturing and sourcing policies online).



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