Professor Carole Lung — From Fashion Designer to “Soft Power” Guerilla Activist
Date: March 13, 2018
Carole Frances Lung, Art Professor at Cal State LA, has been involved in the fashion industry for over 24 years. She recently shared her experience working in the fast fashion industry and her movement to bring awareness to the economic and environmental problems of the industry.
How does this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
I first became interested in art when I was a little girl. My family and I were always involved in art, church, and the community. In the fashion industry, I designed, produced, and sold clothing for many years. Later, I took time off and reflected upon my years in the fashion industry. Through this reflection process, I realized the many struggles and problems in labor and fast fashion. As a result, 11 years ago, I started an organization in Chicago called Sewing Rebellion. Sewing Rebellion was developed to help reuse, alter, and upcycle clothing. This practice allows people to reuse clothing for a longer time, reduce waste, and save money. Continuing this effort, I began working with International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in 2013.
Why did you become involved with the Garment Worker Center?
My interest in clothing production and the fast fashion system is a direct relationship to my years of working in the industry. I processed and critiqued that experience and, even when I was working, I conducted historical research on the fashion industry and saw many problems. I now research the labor related to the textile and fashion industry to analyze how corporate responsibility and unions are impacting change for garment workers. My collaborative work with students at Cal State LA and the Garment Worker Center is a natural extension of my interests. In this way, students gain first-hand knowledge of the fashion production that is happening right here in Los Angeles.
Caption: Carole Lung shares how to upcycle and reuse clothing with her bike powered sewing machine.
How did the Sewing Rebellion Institute come together?
The Sewing Rebellion started 11 years ago in Chicago. I would use any temporary space I could find, but I found a permanent space and opened the Sewing Rebellion Institute in 2013. The original Chicago location became the headquarters and chapters emerged later in New York, Iowa, and other locations. Some of the early chapters have closed but now, with a storefront, I have regrouped and started organizing to make this a national movement. Now, we have chapters in Boulder, Nashville, and Seattle. The new chapters are grouping together through “makerspaces.” The Sewing Rebellion Institute provides the free use of sewing machines, fabric, and me for assistance. The Institute is important because it encourages understanding and solidarity across social classes and immigrant groups. It encourages civic values like recycling, building communities, self-sufficiency, and independence for women and men with limited or no resources. All the classes and personal projects that are done at the Sewing Rebellion are free and include the materials for the projects. Fellow members and visitors can gain new sewing skills, as well as build their own networks.
What do you like about Community Engagement?
I like to see people learning new skills and being able to apply them to their own projects. A person will come in and make something even though they never thought they could sew or make a simple Sewing Rebellion project in a night. They learn how to upcycle and alter their clothing. Moms bring in stacks of their children’s clothing that need mending, so what they learn helps them economically because they can extend the life of those garments. I am most excited when the community is served. Teaching allows me to encourage students to grow and gain new skills and new perspectives.
How do Students benefit from community engagement or service learning?
I actually taught a service learning class in Spring 2017 called Fashion, Fiber and Materials. The class was designed to teach students about the fashion system and to critique the textiles that are used for revolutionary purposes. Students learned how t-shirts, for example, are used to emblaze revolutionary messages. I wanted to open their minds to use new methods for reducing waste, saving money, and reducing the impact of fast fashion. The students had to log their service hours and visit organizations that help fashion garment workers. As part of the class requirements, students had to complete a book project addressing issues in the fashion industry in collaboration with the Garment Worker Center. Students gained eye-opening experiences about working in the Los Angeles fashion industry through their direct collaboration with garment workers and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. One student continued to work at the Garment Worker Center and the Sewing rebellion by teaching classes there. He also got an internship at BCBG, a fashion brand, where he learned more about the fashion industry. And, as a result, he has become even more active in the Sewing Rebellion and Garment Worker Center. I believe that students should be required to complete community engagement because they gain solidarity and learn how to understand a specific industry more critically. Education provides you tools for your new career. Community engagement provides you with new opportunities and skills that will lead you to a new career.
How did your engagement in the community benefit you?
I have a unique practice that comes from my experience. I also have a unique approach to art making and a unique vision that is very complex. Therefore, the practice gets recognized. There are not a lot of people that are doing the work that I am doing. My work in community engagement and civic learning bridges social justice, community service and social practice--an art term. Because of the uniqueness of what I do, I became one of Cal State LA’s Faculty Fellow for the Public Good.
Cal State LA’s Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good is a proud sponsor of Professor Lung and her amazing work as a “Soft Power Guerilla Activist.” She has been designated as one of the Center’s Faculty Fellows for the Public Good. She is also a recipient of the Community Engagement Project Grant and the Service Learning Materials and Equipment Mini-Grant. Are you a civically engaged faculty member at Cal State LA? The Center strongly encourages faculty community activists to apply for these fellowship and grant opportunities. Please visit us at: http://www.calstatela.edu/engagement.
Interview and Blog Post by Karishma Bhakta. Web and IT Support by Sean Luu.