Here’s What Happens When Fashionistas Finally See The Sweatshops Where Clothes Get Made

by Jamie Bogert

Three young fashionistas got a firsthand look at the despairing world beyond the clothes they buy, blog, and wear each day: The premise of the Norwegian reality show, Sweatshop: Deadly Fashion, follows fashion lovers Anniken Jorgensen, Frida Ottesen, and Ludvig Hambro as they step into the lives of Cambodian sweatshop workers in the nation’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Once the group of women are on the ground in Cambodia, the vibe goes from chill to chilling. “The truth is, we are rich because they are poor,” Hambro says in one episode. “We are rich because it costs us 10 euros to buy a T-shirt [at] H&M. But somebody else has to starve for you to be able to buy it.”

The garment industry is the largest sector of the Cambodian economy, representing 95% of the country’s exports. Cambodia employs over 500,000 people in sweatshops—the majority of them women—all working six-days weeks and eight hour days. Most sweatshop workers earn barely enough to meet their basic living expenses: about 100 U.S. dollars a month.

During this social experiment, the three spent four weeks in Cambodia, subjecting themselves to the same conditions sweatshop workers endure every day. For a full eight hours they often sewed the same seam over and over again, walking out with only $3 in hand.

While the voices of the well-off “reality stars” do not, by any means, show the entire scope of what’s behind sweatshops around the world (Cambodia is just one of many countries where this industry is common), the docu-series has sparked a call for change within the fashion world.

Certain voices—like the one belonging to a worker who made New Balance shoes in China for the Beijing Olympics—are the ones we need to be hearing more: “I am exhausted to death now… None of us have time to go to toilet or drink water. The supervisors are pressuring and nagging us all the time. We are tired and dirty. We work without stop and we are still reproached by the supervisors.”

The short series is definitely worth your time. At 10 or so minutes per episode, it gives a brief look into the conditions we never see and rarely even consider. The intro music and montage of Jorgensen, Ottesen, and Hambro are definitely cringe-worthy (flashbacks of reality shows like Laguna Beach come to mind) and the first few episodes portray the three as the obliviously privileged teens they are. But when we meet Sokty, 25—who earns $130 a month, pays $50 rent, and uses the rest for her family—the fashionistas begin to understand, and so does the audience.

“I have no words for it. It’s just so unfair,” says Hambro, and Jorgensen follows with, “What kind of life is this?”

Check out the full series on the Aftenposten website and watch the trailer here:

images via

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