As an ethically minded small business owner, I receive emails proposing collaborative opportunities on the regular. But this January I was contacted about something that stood out as an idea I could really get behind.
A Toronto based outfit called The Bicycle Opera Project would be running a production called SWEAT this summer. The piece is based on sweatshop workers who are struggling to form a union with dreams of a better life. The company itself is incredibly innovative. Each summer they launch a new production, touring by bicycle. Their aim is to make opera more accessible. They sing in English and present contemporary material. Their idea was to partner with a Toronto based ethical clothing company to create a cross-promotion.
As an ardent supporter and member of Fashion Revolution, I was sold. Fashion Revolution is a global organization that aims to make the industry more sustainable and ethical by valuing people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure.
Fashion Revolution runs year long, but every year Fashion Revolution Week starts on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. On the 24th of April 2013, 1138 people were killed and many more were injured. The majority of deaths were female garment workers. We would rather learn from this terrible event than repeat it. To that end, Fashion Revolution values supply chain transparency and safe working conditions worldwide. That’s why we participate in the #whomadeyourclothes movement. So with that in mind I thought to myself, who are these people and when can I meet them?
A little side note on me and bikes: As a child, I preferred to bury myself in art and craft projects, so when it came time to learn how to ride a bike I just wasn’t that eager. Ironically, my first job as a teenager was at Thunder Bay’s Petries Cycle where, at the age of 18, I finally learned how to ride. Skip ahead 6 years and I finally found myself conquering my fears and taking to the streets of Toronto on a cast off bike I picked up at Goodwill while I was sourcing second hand garments for my previous upcycled line, Paper People. I can now proudly say that cycling is my primary mode of transportation!
Fast forward to this January when I heard about the Bicycle Opera Project. After speaking with founder, Larissa Koniuk, I was sold. Together with costume & set designer Sonja Rainey we would create professional images to promote the event and my clothing line, Jennifer Fukushima, as well as creating a platform to build awareness of the ethical issues surrounding the fashion industry.
We arranged to conduct the photo shoot at my studio where the performers would gather to be photographed, modelling my collection. These images would later be used to promote SWEAT along with the Bicycle Opera Project. This would be my first time meeting the cast and when they began to trickle in I was pleasantly surprised by their range and diversity. I was also surprised to learn that although several of them were avid cyclists, some members were anxiously awaiting the cycling component of the tour. Given my history with bikes, I can totally relate and I hope they emerge from the tour with a new found passion for cycling.
My partner Marc Bernhard was recruited to shoot the cast portraits and later on, photographer Dahlia Katz joined us to capture a group shot that will be used for promotion. I was captivated by the way she coached the cast and later learned she is also a theatre director.
The Bicycle Opera Project’s production of SWEAT will tour Ontario in July & August of this year with stops in Ottawa, Hamilton, Kingston, and Toronto. They will be announcing more tour stops and ticketing info in May. I hope to see many of you out at the Toronto event, which takes place in August!