The Big Dress

the beginning

The Big Dress started as a crazy idea conceived in a cold church basement by a few mad but keen people thrown together by their involvement with SPEAK. We originally wanted to magic up some kind of creative petition, that would both raise awareness for those bound by the injustice in the garment industry but also act as a visual petition to challenge decision-makers. Slowly but surely we've visited schools, festivals, beaches, Churches taking with us a box of paints and any material we can get our hands on. We've even been known to rip up our own clothes when we've run out of material! Children, teenagers and adults of all ages have sewn, painted their hopes, prayers and concerns about World Trade or just drawn a picture if their words have run dry. Our little patchwork dress is now growing larger and larger - it has been sewn by many hands with many stitches and has even been worn by a bloke on stilts in the Trade Justice Parade 2002!

It is much loved throughout the network, which waits with anticipation for the day when it is completed and handed in to parliament.

Big Dress

injustice in the garment industry

Despite years of campaigning and some notable successes conditions in garment factories are all too often degrading and not enough to live on. In mid-2002, Wang, aged 33, from a village in South China went to work in a shoe factory to save the money to buy a house. Working 17 hours a day the toxins in the glue used to make the shoes slowly destroyed her nervous system, forcing her to quit work leaving her family in debt and destitution. In Morocco workers producing clothes for the European consumer sometimes in illegal factories where deductions from their already poor pay are made for taking too long a break or laughing too loudly.

In the second half of the nineties high profile companies from the garment industry such as GAP and Nike began to sell off their 'burdensome' factories to focus on selling us their highly profitable brand names. Instead they contracted out the stitching of their clothes and shoes enabling them to play off competing companies around the world to get the very cheapest price. Governments across the developing world, desperate for foreign investment create special areas which don't have strict employment laws. This 'race to the bottom' leaves workers with little pay and no protection from forced overtime, ill health or summary sacking.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) dominated by the richer countries including the EU, exacerbates the situation by forcing governments often through threats to deregulate their markets in the name of 'liberalisation'. WTO Tribunals can over-ride national laws when they conflict with WTO policy. The fear is that this will result in elected governments being unable to protect their people.

SPEAK, alongside other charities such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, are campaigning for a reformed WTO with a new rules-based trading system which has poverty reduction at its core and that will hold multinationals to account in a legally binding framework. The 'Big Dress' is a fantastic creative way to show decision-makers in the UK and across the world our concerns and help to create fairer trade rules that will give dignity back to people in countries such China and Morocco

the future

Four years after the idea was first conceived, the Big Dress was launched in February 2005. See for more information and future plans.


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mini Big Dress

making Big Dress squares
mini Big Dress