The sounds of a sewing machine welcome us when entering the theater. In the middle of the dark room in which I am quickly ushered to my seat, a woman can be seen wearing a colorful saree (tunic). She is operating the machine delicately repeating the same flawless gestures while her right leg presses the pedals rhythmically with no interruptions. Her name is Nibha. Although she trained as a schoolteacher, she chose to work at the factory because the money is “better”. However, overtime is often unpaid and paychecks are never received on time. The day before she was protesting for better wages and working conditions with other workers, an act that could lead to her firing. In front of her are two masked people standing still and carrying branded shopping bags. Their identities will soon be revealed but for now, there are the invisible hands needling our garments.
There is also Shipli, a shy girl who made her way to the capital Dhaka to find a job in one of these factories. Another noticeable character is Aunty, who acts as the nurturer in the play and Ali, the manager who tries to treat everyone as fairly as possible. Every character has a story that will unfold before our eyes, a story that will unravel their humanity: they will no longer be invisible hands, they will be people like you and I.
The play has many aspects to it. Meeting the people who make our clothes in such poor conditions can be a delight but also heartbreaking. Surprisingly, MADE does not portray the West in a negative light: if there were no demand, these women would not have a job. One might remember the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013, which killed more than 1129 workers. Rejecting capitalism and the supply and demand law would be turning a blind eye on the poverty in which Bangladeshi live. Jobs are created but what happens while we all go on shopping sprees in our cities flooded with banks, high-rises and retailers that invite us to create and manipulate our identity through consuming more than we need. What is behind closed doors is so close to us and yet 5000 miles away. Underprivileged men and women working 14 hours a day 6 days a week in some of the direst circumstances where there is no winter. We often take everything for granted but I ensure you that MADE left me speechless. I needed to see, I needed to hear and understand. During the play, I could, for a moment imagine what it is like to work in a factory in Bangladesh. I left feeling guilty because just like everyone else in the room, I construct my identity through what I buy. This is the society in which I live that taught me so. I am part of that demand; I am a piece of capitalism that does more bad than good. As I undress to head to bed, I curiously read the label on my jumper and guess what: Made in Bangladesh.
Text by Julie Diebold