Vietnam-based photographer Tim Gerard Barker’s photographs for sustainable supplier Zilingo offer a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s textile factories across various countries and their increased focus on sustainability. The images, which were used on Zilingo’s website and marketing materials, feature a vibrant and colorful palette that depicts the fabrics and production methods used in the factories and the people and cultures from each location.
Zilingo, which describes itself as a technology platform with a global network of thousands of merchants and factories, offers many sourcing and supply chain-related services. Their focus on responsibly sourced and sustainable fabric is notable as the fashion industry is infamous for being incredibly wasteful.
This was Tim’s first assignment with Zilingo, photographing three of their factories in India, two in Bangladesh, and one in Vietnam.
They had come across some work that I had shot for Everlane, and as they were looking for work in a similar style, they thought that I would be a great fit for the shoot.
The purpose of the shoot was to highlight Zilingo’s sustainability efforts and showcase the company’s commitment to the environment and its workers. From having an on-site water purification system to a factory powered by a wind farm, each offered multiple opportunities to photograph their eco-friendly initiatives.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a factory would collect all their raw materials from cutting waste from different garment factories around the country and convert it into new yarn. Their process uses no water, dyes, or chemicals and mechanically recycles those materials into new textiles.
Zilingo’s employees were a source of inspiration for Tim, who loved photographing their brightly-colored garments. While on assignment, he also learned that one of the factories had created a community-focused sewing center for at-risk women from the slums of New Delhi to empower them.
The workers at the factories were fantastic to photograph. Most were very friendly and quite enjoyed being photographed.
I had incredible colors to work with from both the fabrics and the traditional dress of the workers. I really enjoyed capturing the cultural differences in the people and their dress as I moved between India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.
Due to the extensive travel time required to capture the different locations, Tim traveled light, bringing only one carry-on bag of photography gear. The small selection of equipment he had with him meant he had to get resourceful, but it also proved that sometimes less is more.
I only traveled with my fixed focal length lenses, and I left all my zoom lenses behind. I worked with two bodies and five lenses, and I enjoyed working with fixed lenses so much that I now rarely bring my zoom lenses along to shoots.
His biggest creative challenge, however, was working with the lighting in some of the factories. While some workplaces had large windows filtering in natural light, others were large, dark spaces. To counter this, he carried around a small LED lighting panel.
When I felt that there wasn’t enough separation between my subject and the background, I lit the subject with the LED panel. I was really happy with some of the images that we were able to capture using this technique.
While traveling to the various locations was a great experience, the logistics of shooting across multiple countries and cities over a short period of time proved to be a difficult feat for both Tim and his client’s health. Tim traveled with the client on a packed schedule with a full day at each factory and a travel day between each city with 2-3 connecting flights for each location.
So much travel in such a short time frame was exhausting, and both my client and I came down with illness on the way back to Vietnam. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to join me on the last leg of the shoot as she was too sick.
I learned the importance of rest days to manage fatigue when traveling to such a tight schedule. My flight back to Vietnam was an overnight flight, and in the future, I’d probably try and avoid overnight flights as they cause too much fatigue.
Tim’s images communicate the company’s extensive efforts to ensure sustainable and ethical production methods across their factories. But, beyond that, they’re also beautiful depictions of the places and people he encountered on this assignment. In some images, the colorful fabrics in the photos boldly stand out against the grey and blue tones of the factory environment, while others show a glimpse of the unique cultures and day-to-day life of the workers in each country.
I loved the stunning colors and beautiful saris of the women in the factories, the warmth of the many people that we met. I also enjoyed capturing various cultures along the way and tasting their food during our travels.
Photographer: Tim Gerard Barker