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WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE (1994-2014) OF THE MAQUILA SOLIDARITY NETWORK. For current information on our ongoing work on the living wage, women's labour rights, freedom of association, corporate accountability and Bangladesh fire and safety, please visit our new website, launched in October, 2015:

Hold a Sweatshop Fashion Show

Sweatshop Fashion ShowA Sweatshop Fashion Show is an easy, fun and creative educational tool to inform ourselves and people in our communities about the sweatshop abuses hidden behind clothing labels.

Mocking the traditional fashion show, announcers and models subvert the familiar sales pitch and brand images with humour and facts to expose the stories of the women who make our clothes and sports shoes.

Models walk the runway, wearing the latest fashions of well-known US and Canadian brands -- Nike, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Northern Reflections, Wal-Mart, Nygard and others.

Announcers describe the brand-name products worn by the models, and then reveal something about the wages and working conditions of the women who made the products.

Preparing for a sweatshop fashion show can be an educational experience in itself. Participants collect brand-name clothes made in countries around the world. They visit stores and websites to compile information on prices, wages and working conditions. They learn about workers' issues and demands, and the actions we can take to support them. They design a script, choose music, and rehearse. They publicize the event, prepare campaign materials, and contact the media.

Church groups, union locals, and high school and university students across the country have staged highly successful Sweatshop Fashion Shows, raising awareness, and sparking discussion, debate, community interest and action.

Many fashion shows have attracted media attention, thereby reaching a much larger audience. Targeted corporations are taking notice.

Key steps to prepare your fashion show:

1. Identify your objectives and audience
2. Research companies and brands
3. Design the production
4. Prepare the script
5. Choose a venue
6. Promote the show

7. Invite the media
8. Collect the costumes
9. Choose the music
10. Test the sound system
11. Rehearse the show
12. Promote action

Sample Fashion Show Script

When working with a group of people to plan a Sweatshop Fashion Show, remember that there are many roles for volunteers. For example, depending on their interests participants can choose among the following:

  • announcers
  • models
  • researchers
  • stage managers / choreographers
  • logistics person
    (venue selection, stage design and setup)
  • media/public outreach and promotion
  • wardrobe manager
  • music production
  • tech support

The Sweatshop Fashion Show can be adapted into an enjoyable and challenging 1½ - 2 hour educational workshop for community or school groups. In the workshop, participants go through the steps listed in this Action Tool to prepare a fashion show for other members of their community.

1. Identifying your Objectives and Audience

This guides everything else you do to prepare for the show, including the companies you target, the key messages you want to convey, how you word the script, and the music you choose.


University of Toronto students involved in Students Against Sweatshops - Canada (SAS-C), designed their fashion show to raise awareness among fellow students, and to encourage them to join a campaign for a code of conduct for university-licensed apparel. They chose brands that students identified with, and targeted companies producing apparel bearing the name and logo of their school.

2. Researching Companies and Brands

Involve volunteers in researching the companies and brands you want to target. Search for up-to-date information and attention-grabbing facts about companies and their practices. This information will be useful in developing your script, as well as your group's knowledge of the issues.

  • Visit company websites and check out annual reports for information on world-wide sales, profits, CEO salaries, and expenditures on advertising and promotion.
  • Visit websites of campaigning organizations for information on wages, working conditions, and to identify specific cases of labour rights violations.
  • Visit stores and check magazine and newspaper ads for information on prices and the images and messages associated with the brands.

But be careful not to get bogged down under piles of information!

3. Designing the Production

To be effective and entertaining, a fashion show needs to be choreographed like a stage show. How you structure and pace the production can add to or detract from its effectiveness.

Think about how you want to introduce the show, how the announcers and models will interact, how to keep up the pace, and with it the audience's interest, and how to finish on a high note.

Announcers: One graphic way to contrast labour practices and brand image, which we've found effective, is to use two announcers. The first announcer describes the clothes being modeled. The second describes the working conditions.

Models, Brands and Music: Decide how many models are needed, the order they and their clothing brands will appear, and how and when you will use music. To keep the show a reasonable length, we usually use no more than eight models. If more volunteers want to be models, consider having them model in pairs.

Finale: For an effective finale, you might invite all the models back on stage while the announcers reiterate key messages and offer suggestions on how audience members can get involved in local Stop Sweatshops campaigns.

4. Preparing the Script

The script is made up of a series of scenes. It should be informative, but also attention-grabbing and funny. The more personal the stories, the more people will identify with them. For ideas, you can take a look at a sample fashion show script.

Script Tips

  • Keep each scene brief and to the point.
  • Try not to repeat information -- use different clothing brands to highlight different problems in different parts of the world.
  • Don't forget to include stories of sweatshop practices in Canada.
  • If possible, include stories of small victories.

5. Choosing a Venue

Don't worry about finding a venue with a formal stage or runway. A "catwalk" can be improvised at almost any site.

If possible, organize the seating to allow sufficient room for the models to perform and interact with the audience. If you're using a stage, consider having the catwalk run up a centre aisle to the stage, so the models can perform as they enter, model and exit.


University students at York University staged their fashion show outdoors at a busy location at the centre of campus. They placed a red felt carpet on the cement to define their runway.

A Ten Days for Global Justice group in Sioux Lookout, Ontario did a Sweatshop Fashion Show as part of their church service. They used the centre aisle of the church as the runway, and the pulpit for the announcers.

6. Promoting the Show

If you're inviting the public to your fashion show, try to make the flyers and posters as entertaining as you hope the show will be. A mock fashion show deserves a mock poster. Use and manipulate the images and logo's associated with the major brands.

"Star" models can also be a draw. Consider recruiting your school principal, a popular teacher, the minister of your church, or your union local president to perform as announcers or models. If a higher profile provincial or national personality is available, even better.

"Stars" also attract the media, so be sure to highlight them in your media release.


In Kingston, Ontario, a university student group invited former NDP leader Ed Broadbent to be the announcer for their fashion show. And Maude Barlow of The Council of Canadians was modeling Wal-Mart labels. One hundred people attended, and the media was out in force.

7. Inviting the Media

Prepare a press release to invite the media to the event. Sweatshop Fashion Shows offer great visuals for television media and print photographers, so emphasize that fact in your media release as well.

It may also be useful to prepare media background packages, and have designated media spokespeople prepared for interviews. Have copies of the script available to distribute to the media after the event. This will make their job of covering the story much easier.

8. Collecting Costumes

Rule #1: You don't need to buy new clothes for your fashion show. Borrow, borrow, borrow. If you have to buy something, check first at the local second-hand stores.

Rule #2: If possible, try to find the brand-name clothing made in the countries that you highlight in your script.

Rule #3: Improvise.


Youth participants in the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Port Elgin family education program cut and pasted large brand logos on the backs of all the clothes they were modelling.

9. Choosing the Music

Try to pick music that lends itself to your message, and/or music that will attract your audience. Your choice of music can add energy, humour and irony to the show.

If you're staging the show in a public space where you need to attract an audience, consider using up-beat popular music before and during the show.


Students staging a fashion show in a public space at Queen's University used "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate to draw in their audience, and keep their attention.

The MSN used Latin salsa music for a fashion show kicking off a public forum on sweatshops and free trade in the Americas.

10. Testing the Sound System

If you are holding the show in a noisy area or a big hall, be sure to have a good sound system and an experienced person to run it. You want everyone to hear your message.

Be careful that the music doesn't drown out the announcers' presentations.

Plan ahead where you want the music to fade in and fade out.


At an MSN-sponsored fashion show in Toronto, we didn't have a chance to test the city-owned sound equipment before the show. While everyone enjoyed the show, the audience missed a lot of what the announcers were saying.

11. Rehearsing for the Show

It is essential to have at least one rehearsal before the show and to appoint one or two "stage managers" to make sure everything goes smoothly, and to "trouble-shoot" when small problems arise.

If at all possible, rehearse with the sound system and music. This will allow you to anticipate possible technical problems.

Make sure all models know the order of the presentation and have had a chance to read over the script, and particularly their scenes. Most importantly, each model needs to know their cues for entering and exiting the run-way.

Take a few moments during the rehearsal for models to experiment with different modelling styles, poses and actions.

TIP: Cut, Cut, Cut

We've found that the announcers' messages are often too long, and the models are left hanging on the runway. Rehearsing allows you to make last minute cuts or other adjustments to the script, and to discover ways to dramatize the message, rather than just reading it.

12. Promoting Action

A Sweatshop Fashion Show can be a great launching pad for Stop Sweatshop campaigns or for solidarity actions.

You can always close the fashion show with a brief review of the concrete actions audience members can take to challenge the practices described in the show. Be prepared with campaign sign-up sheets; petitions, sample letters or postcards; and background materials.

A word of warning. Resist the temptation of ending the program with long speeches that repeat what people have already learned in a more entertaining way.


Research carried out by York University students for their fashion show targeting university-licensed products was converted into "facts sheets" and distributed on campus.

Local Ten Days for Global Justice groups across Canada have used fashion shows to kick off church-sponsored educational evenings, and to motivate their members to become active in their annual campaign.

  • See a sample Sweatshop Fashion Show script here
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