By Jack Williams
This talented photographer’s mammoth project inside an abandoned clothing factory looks to shed light on the real impact the clothing industry has on the environment.
Ben Von Wong and sustainability expert Laura Francois discovered the abandoned, dust-filled factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in which were mounds upon mounds of disused clothes.
After sifting through the piles, Ben, 31, said that he wanted to create an installation that showed just “where are clothes born.”
It is estimated that 2,500 kilograms of clothing are purchased by the average person in their lifetime, and so Ben and Laura set out to make three giant structures using this amount of garments.
The factory itself closed down in 2009 and previous employed almost 5,000 workers; the clothes there had been untouched for almost a decade.
Ben is renowned for his large-scale projects, which look to shed light on social issues.
Laura, 27, said: “There is so much hidden waste in the fashion industry, shedding light on the status of factories like these filled with waste is a call to action for the entire industry.
“It’s a wake up call for us to do this better.”
The pair has previously met a TEDx in Penang, and having discovered Laura’s work, Ben challenged her to find a large amount of disused clothing, which he would then shoot and help share her message.
Between October 18 and October 28, 2017, Ben, Laura and a number of volunteers – many of whom were recruited from the likes of social media – worked to create installations that helped show where clothes come from.
Ben said: “It was pretty overwhelming. We didn’t realize how large the space we needed to fill would be and how much clothing we would have to sort through.
“The heat, dust and mosquitos also didn’t help.
“It was all about structurally coming up with a solution as well as convincing volunteers that we didn’t know to come and help us on our journey.
“The hardest part was towards the end, to figure out how to add in the human component.
“So we settled for red capes to put our volunteers in to represent how each individual had the power to make a difference.”
One fact the designers focused on, for example, was that it takes an estimated 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt.
To showcase this, and having rented scaffolding at 1USD per day, the volunteers installed a giant waterfall and lake made from the blue cotton garments they had discovered.
For another work, squeezed into a hallway inside the abandoned factory, the group created a bar tree from the disused garments.
Ben added: “We wanted to showcase where the raw materials that were sacrificed to make the clothing that never even got the chance to be used.
“Our hope was to encourage people to buy less clothing.”