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The garment industry in southeast Asia is notorious for its long hours, low wages, and often unsafe conditions.
According to the Clean Clothes Initiative, a global alliance dedicated to improving working conditions in the garment and sportswear industries, three-quarters of garment workers worldwide are female and many are working in this low wage industry because they have to.
So what would happen if these positions in textiles – often comprised of sewing tasks – were to disappear? That’s what concerns Shimmy Technologies, a woman-owned fashion tech startup based in Brooklyn, New York who cites data suggesting more than half of textile workers in Southeast Asia face a high risk of being automated out of a job.
With this in mind, Shimmy has launched a training application it calls “Upskill.” Upskill is a video game-like training module that uses artificial intelligence to help teach new skills.
According to Shimmy, the intention for it is two-fold: for one, Upskill helps users increase efficiency and add technical skills like 3D modeling, making them more valuable and less likely to face job loss due to automation. But secondly, it offers women the kind of technical training that they don’t often receive, allowing them to pursue more complex and higher paid positions – opportunities they weren’t typically considered for in the past.
Part of this stems from the fact that technical training is often biased against workers who had limited literacy skills. Upskill circumvents this by using voice recognition and video rather than dense written material.
Not everyone is on board with what Shimmy is trying to do with Upskill. A representative from the Clean Clothes Initiative told Mashable that, while the kind of work may change for these women “the end effect won’t be much different from doing manual tasks for very little pay.”
But Shimmy believes that Upskill is just one small piece of the puzzle that addresses the problems inherent in the industry and that part of promoting fair wages for these women is protecting their access to jobs.