Activist Frau Fiber Memorializes Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire With Installation

According to History.com, On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burned, killing 145 workers. “It is remembered as one of the most infamous incidents in American industrial history, as the deaths were largely preventable–most of the victims died as a result of neglected safety features and locked doors within the factory building. The tragedy brought widespread attention to the dangerous sweatshop conditions of factories, and led to the development of a series of laws and regulations that better protected the safety of workers.”

It certainly had a massive impact on Carole Frances Lung, artist, activist, and scholar living in Long Beach, CA. enough to create an alter ego called Frau Fiber. Lung says on her site that this alter ego “utilizes a hybrid of playful activism, cultural criticism, research and spirited crafting of one of a kind garment production performances She investigates the human cost of mass production and consumption, addressing issues of value and time through the thoroughly hand-made construction and salvaging of garments.”

Lung calls herself “the biographer of Frau Fiber, a fictitious character who was born in Apoloda Germany, September 13, 1966 and who worked in the local garment and knitting factories until the wall came down and she and many of her comrades lost their jobs to China.

In 2006, at the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar Germany, Lung says they “met” and became fast friends, and in the fall of 2006, Frau Fiber moved to Chicago where she began the Sewing Rebellion at Mess Hall in Rodgers Park. Frau Fiber has traveled the US and the world creating soft guerrilla actions, making apparel production transparent. She now lives in Long Beach, CA, where she tracks the import of textile goods into the port.

While her work is futile she perseveres.

We caught up with Frau Fiber for an interview on her current live installation in Long Beach, California commemorating the March 25th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

So can you tell me more about what got you fired up enough 6 years ago to kick off your Triangle Shirtwaist Production exhibit?

In Your Factory are the Doors Locked? is a personally motivated durational commemoration of the lives which are given for fast fashion. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, was the first, and worst industrial disaster in the United States. It polarized the public and helped to form the International Ladies Garments Workers Union which fought for and won better working conditions, wages, and cleaner factories. Frau Fiber’s motivation for this annual day of labor, are twofold: to make the labor behind the label transparent, and to use the historical narrative as a reminder for the atrocities of fast fashion today. The following commemorations have occurred:

2011: 3 hours of production; one shirt produced on the Bicycle Powered Sewing Machine at Den Contemporary, Los Angeles CA.

2012: Planned Bicycle Powered Production on Santee Ally, event was rain out, no production completed.

2013: 4 hours of production, 3 shirts produced at Marachi Tailor Shop, Hosted by the Craft and Folk Art Musuem Los Angeles

2014: 3 hours of production, four shirts completed while the doors were locked at Frau Fiber Headquarters, ILGWU in Long Beach, CA.

2015: 8 hours of production, 7 shirts completed while the doors were unlocked and the public could participate at ILGWU, Long Beach CA

2016: 12 Faux Fraus, 12 hours of production, 36 shirts produced, door was unlocked for public viewing at Thank You For Coming, Los Angeles CA

2017 at the time of writing this, 3 hours of production on March 11, five shirts completed at ILGWU, Long Beach CA

What are some groups that you think are really making a difference getting the awareness out about ethical and fair garment factory working conditions?

Los Angeles Garment Workers Center
UCLA Labor Center
Unite Here
Labor Behind the Label

What’s the biggest difference between the fire in 1911 to garment factory disasters here in 2017?

While in the United States we have not had physical building disasters, as fast fashion has expanded globally the incidents have caused significantly more deaths, due to poor regulatory inspections, and the public demand for cheap clothing.

For example:

April 24, 2013: 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse. An eight-story factory building collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and killed 1129 people.

November 24, 2012: Tazreen factory fire. A seven-story factory fire outside of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, killed at least 112 people, 12 from jumping out of windows to escape the blaze.

September 11, 2012: Karachi, Pakistan, 289 people died in a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory, which made ready-to-wear clothing for Western export.

To participate in the 106th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire this year at the spot of the actual fire, join the Triangle Fire Coalition, this Friday, March 24th, from 11:30am- 1:00pm.

The Triangle Fire Coalition writes on their site they will “gather to remember the lives lost 106 years ago. We will gather together to recommit to the fight to protect all workers. Whether your workplace is a garment factory, a non-union construction site, a nail salon, a classroom or anywhere in between, let us remember the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Worker protection cannot be passive. Worker protection takes action, and we must stand together as a movement that relies on determination, solidarity, and hope for a better future.​ See you in the streets!”

To learn more about how brands are taking on ethical strategies, check out our Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.

Images: Carole Frances Lung
Frau Fiber solo production 2015, ILGWU
Faux Frau production 2016, Thank You For Coming