“I wanted to show them as proud creators, not as victims” Chris says about his portrait series of garment workers in Myanmar.
They work long hours, in sometimes poor conditions and earn relatively little, often living with other workers in ramshackle hostels. But Asian garment workers who supply clothing companies across the western world are not just faceless factory hands. They are individuals, with their ideals and their dreams. And they make clothes, every working day. So Chris thought he’d let them shine on their very own catwalk.
Before leaving for Myanmar from his home in Amsterdam, Chris went out and bought a bag full of clothes from H&M and WE, another fashion chain with stores in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. He only bought items that specifically said “Made in Myanmar”. When he got to Yangon he met garment workers through their unions and presented them with the items made in their city, and sold in European shops. Each worker was free to chose his or her garment and could pick a spot where they would like to pose. Some chose a Buddhist temple, others a swimming pool or their bedrooms.
For the garment workers the products coming back to Myanmar from Europe were of great interest. How were they stitched? Which brand labels were finally attached to them? In some cases, they had even worked on the very same range that Chris now brought back to them. Many were amazed at how much European consumers would pay for the garments they churned out every day.
The price of three jackets from WE corresponds to a month’s wages in Myanmar. Unsurprisingly, Burmese garment workers very rarely get to wear the garments they make. As a thank you for taking part Chris gave them their chosen garments to keep.
Did posing for him make any of them want to become a model? “No, most of them want to start their own clothing workshop. They are really proud of their profession” says Chris
Text by Menno Bosma
Kyaw Ye Paing (29) wearing a shirt that sells for GBP 24.50 (Euro 27.99) at Dutch clothing retailer WE.
Zin Zin Myint (36) wearing a red jumper that sells at H&M for GBP 26.00 (Euro 29.99).
Kyaw Myo Thu (38) wearing a jacket that sells for GBP 42.70 (Euro 49.99) at Dutch clothing retailer WE.
Khine Thazin (22) wearing a flower pattern top that retails at H&M for GBP 17.50 (Euro 19.99).
Sai Lin Thu (21) wearing a shirt that sells for GBP 24.50 (Euro 27.99) at Dutch clothing retailer WE.
Aye Moeh Moeh Zaw (20), wearing a pink jumper that retails at H&M for GBP 17.50 (Euro 19.99).
War War Aung (23) wearing a track suit that sells at H&M for GBP 43.65 (Euro 49.98).
Than Than Win (22) wearing a pink bomber jacket that retails at H&M for GBP 26.00 (Euro 29.99).
Zaw Min Naing (30) wearing a shirt that sells for GBP 24.50 (Euro 27.99) at Dutch clothing retailer WE.