How Fashion Can Empower Impoverished Communities
Behind every piece of clothing is a story. This story reflects not only people’s functional needs but also the craftsmanship and cultural influences that brought an idea from the design sketch to the final product. Fashion can empower indigenous and impoverished communities both through what it can do and how manufacturers produce it.

Empowerment Through Fashion

This empowerment comes in primarily two forms. Fashion can provide communities with the freedom and resources to engage with and express themselves and their own culture. It can also fulfill functional purposes and help displaced or disadvantaged communities become self-sufficient and monetarily independent.

In a conversation with The Borgen Project, Christopher Aaron, a recent graduate from the AAS program in Fashion Design at Parson’s School of Design, underscored the need for brands to respect the ecosystem and cultural identity of the people they are trying to empower.

Another problem, which Aaron highlights, is that since many artisans channel their own and their community’s unique history into their craft, incorporating their artisanal style or cultural symbols into a mass-produced good may commercialize rather than empower their work. Wanting to help indigenous and impoverished communities through fashion is no doubt commendable, but fashion brands should help in a way that does not appropriate, exploit or dilute local cultures.

Two brands that exemplify how fashion can empower indigenous and impoverished communities are ADIFF and Artisan Global. Rather than exploiting cultures to further their own ambitions, they enable these communities to take ownership of their own heritage in both an artistic and a material sense.

ADIFF – Empowerment through Functional and Sustainable Fashion

ADIFF is a sustainable fashion brand with the mission to “empower marginalized communities and fight climate change through fashion.” It aims to do so by designing clothes with a functional benefit to refugees and by employing refugees themselves in the production process. It also tries to rely on upcycling, the practice of using traditional waste materials to create clothing and accessories.

Angela Luna and Loulwa Al Saad founded the label in 2016, building on Luna’s senior collection at Parson’s School of Design in New York. According to Luna, the hardships of the European migrant crisis moved her. Thus, she sought a way to use design to fulfill a functional need. Her answer was transformative clothing. She designed jackets that could turn into tents or sleeping bags and tops that facilitated carrying a child. Luna also designed two-sided garments that could make the wearer more or less visible.

Since then, ADIFF has moved beyond assistance through design-based problem-solving. It now employs many resettled refugee tailors from Afghanistan in its manufacturing facility in Athens, Greece. With its buy-one-give-one model, it has donated 1,000 jackets to the homeless and refugees globally since 2017.

In January 2021, ADIFF also published a collection of DIY instructions for recycling old garments or household goods into new clothing. The “Open Source Fashion Cookbook” hopes to reduce the amount of fabric waste by teaching people how to, for example, make a jacket from two woven blankets or a shirt dress from two old button-down shirts. ADIFF is working toward sustainability, redefining the relationship between fashion and the public.

Artisan Global – Facilitating Artistic Authenticity and Commercial Independence

Artisan Global is a nonprofit organization in South Carolina, aiming to promote “sustainable job strategies and workplaces for those living in extreme poverty in war-torn countries.” In 2020, it opened the Artisan Center in Uganda, providing the infrastructure to facilitate fashion-related design innovation. The Ugandan artists and artisans themselves bring the ideas and vision for a piece or product. Artisan Global helps with the creation, sales and sustainability of its production.

Intermittent conflict in and around Uganda has displaced some communities and posed a developmental challenge to others. Most recently, the South Sudanese civil war (2013 to 2015) and the Kasese clashes (2016) have destabilized the region. Artisan Global currently works with people who Joseph Kony’s rebel army kidnapped as children.

That said, Uganda has also experienced much progress in reducing its poverty rate. From 1993 to 2017, the poverty rate declined from 53% to 21%. While the multidimensional poverty rate remains much higher at approximately 56% in children, these figures represent an impressive improvement.

The Many Faces of Fashion

Fashion can empower indigenous and impoverished communities. For Aaron, a designer at the budding stage of his fashion career, brands and organizations like ADIFF and Artisan Global demonstrate that function and social justice are not mutually exclusive. Designers and consumers do not just care about what the products are, but also how manufacturers make them and what they represent. Of course, there is often still a financial sacrifice, both for those who make and for those who buy clothing, that comes with choosing to empower disadvantaged communities over catering to the mass market. But, as ADIFF and Artisan Global show, this trade-off is not as pronounced as it may seem.

Fashion poses opportunities and risks for the empowerment of local communities. The key to functional and sustainable fashion as a tool for empowerment lies not with any one thing. Instead, it lies in combining the goal-oriented resourcefulness of an engineer with the boldness and cultural empathy of an artist.

– Alexander Vanezis
Photo: Unsplash

Fashion can Contribute to PovertyFashion can contribute to poverty, but it is also a powerful force that lifts women out of poverty as it has stirred up a feminist movement. Brands that provide a living wage for female garment workers empower them to lead dignified lives. Additionally, these fashion brands give women access to a fair supply chain, proper work and fair wages. As a result, fashion consumers that support ethical fashion brands help advocate for women’s rights through their shopping decisions.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement supports women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. One example of the feminist movement in the fashion industry is the production of t-shirts with feminist quotes. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by Bangladeshi garment workers. However, Oxfam reported that same year that no Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. These workers received 35 pence an hour during 54-hour workweeks, amounting to about £82, which is well below the living wage estimate. This is a clear example of how fashion can contribute to global poverty.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing produced by garment workers all over the globe. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks. This is equal to 10 to 18 hours per day for wages that are two to five times less than what is needed to live sufficiently. In addition, the majority of profits made from fast fashion are paid to top fashion CEOs. In fact, Oxfam states that CEOs earn in four days what a garment worker will make in one lifetime.

Brands that pay garment workers a living wage allow employees to afford essential needs, such as housing, food, transportation, education and savings. In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia stated that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also found that increasing the cost of clothing by $0.20 would ensure Indian garment workers earn a living wage.

SOKO: Ethical Fashion

SOKO empowers garment workers by addressing the most vital human rights abuse in the fashion industry: the non-payment of a living wage. This women-led, ethical jewelry brand produces collections made by more than 2,300 independent Kenyan artisans. SOKO’s virtual manufacturing platform connects with a global marketplace to receive orders and payments. By leveraging technology, artisans earn five times more with SOKO compared to an average artisan workplace. In addition, this U.N.-endorsed brand guarantees workers freedom and sovereignty by limiting artisans’ work to 50% or less of their total capacity. As a result, SOKO artisans have experienced a 12% increase in average artisan income, and SOKO’s sales have impacted 11,400 beneficiaries.

Empowering Girls and Women

The U.N. reports that investing in girls and women helps improve their livelihoods in the long term. Moreover, studies from the World Bank show that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family’s needs, provide care for their family and send their children to school. This helps improve the lives of children and women all over the world. Empowering women also leads to reduced maternal and child mortality levels. When garment workers can afford to send their children to school, economic growth improves and poverty decreases.

The lives of underpaid garment workers are a testament to how fashion can contribute to poverty. Brands that support their garment workers contribute to the feminist movement. Brands support the movement by investing in female education, providing living wages, establishing safe working conditions and empowering workers. Consumers can support the movement by supporting ethical brands that strive to uplift the garment workers making their clothing.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

sustainable brands fighting povertyThere are many sustainable fashion brands fighting poverty. In many countries, jewelry making is not only a tradition but also a way to make a living. Many poverty-stricken countries rely on fashion production to keep their economy going. Because of this, brands that provide their garment workers a fair living wage and safe working conditions help alleviate poverty in low-income areas. Sustainability lifts workers out of cycles of poverty by making long-lasting products from sustainable materials. The following brands produce fair trade products and are finding alternative ways to continue fighting global poverty.

ARMEDANGELS

ARMEDANGELS is a fair fashion brand that prioritizes producing contemporary and modern collections with fairly produced, eco-friendly and high-quality products. The company ensures high standards and fair working conditions by working with PETA, the Fair Wear Foundation and the Fairtrade Organization. Since 2011, the brand has been Global Organic Textile Certified (GOTS) and only works with regenerative and sustainable materials, which include organic linen, organic wool, recycled cotton, organic cotton and more.

In April 2018, the company founded ARMEDANGELS Organic Farmers Association to help small farmers transition from conventional cotton to organic cotton. The brand also strives in pushing for social change by engaging in political and environmental activism. Within its Greener Deal, donations were provided to organizations actively involved in climate protection in Europe and Germany. ARMEDANGELS also achieved climate neutrality and its CO2 emissions are two-thirds lower in intensity than classic fashion companies.

SOKO

SOKO is a certified women-led B-corp ethical jewelry brand that employs Kenyan artisans who produce collections for conscious consumers. This company believes that economic sovereignty and financial inclusion provide lasting impacts and actively works to reduce poverty and inequality. The brand works toward this goal with its virtual manufacturing platform. The platform connects 2,300 independent artisans with a global marketplace through mobile technology. The SOKO platform allows artists to receive orders and payments to hand-make products from upcycled and ethically sourced materials. Because of this network, workers can improve and preserve their cultural techniques at scale. They can also earn five times more than those employed in an average artisan workplace.

SOKO employees only work 50% or less of their total capacity. This helps them to avoid sole reliance on this particular sustainable fashion brand, to guarantee their freedom and to encourage sustainable, long-term economic sovereignty. Because of policies like this, the United Nations, USAID and the World Bank have endorsed SOKO for its social impact.

Nudie Jeans

Nudie Jeans is a Swedish denim brand founded in 2001 that produces 100% organic cotton denim collections for more than 50 countries. The company prioritizes environmental and social sustainability through its free repair services, resale of secondhand trade-in jeans and by paying its garment workers a living wage. Since 2016, Nudie Jeans’ stakeholders have verified that 3,400 workers have been provided additional payments to ensure a living wage. These payments expanded in 2019 to include workers employed in the spinning mills, knitting and processing units. This has the effect of creating a fair trade system throughout its supply chain.

Akola

Akola is a jewelry brand that uplifts Ugandan women by providing empowering job opportunities in Jinja, Uganda. Akola employs nearly 200 Ugandan women. By handcrafting each piece, female workers break free from poverty through fair-paying jobs that help them achieve economic independence. Because of this policy, positive economic impacts reverberate through families and communities.

The women are also provided with a holistic curriculum of programs. The brand offers training programs on leadership, financial literacy and skills to become self-reliant. This brand uses cultural techniques and local and sustainable materials such as upcycled palm leaves, cow horns and agave plants. The impact of Akola is shown by the fact that 66% of Akola-employed women own land or a home, almost 80% of Akola children are enrolled in school and almost 30% of Akola women are in community leadership positions.

These sustainable fashion brands fighting poverty help create solutions in the fashion industry. Supporting fair fashion can help garment workers escape the cycle of poverty.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Creates Jobs for Women in Ethiopia
Live fasionABLE is a slogan that transcends the fashion industry. It promotes sustainable practices in creating quality products and focuses on empowering women. The shift to ethically sourced products has grown in popularity among the younger generations. ABLE is one fashion business that strives to provide jobs for women in Ethiopia, as well as internationally.

ABLE in Ethiopia

ABLE’s mission is to challenge the culture of the fashion industry by creating transformative opportunities for women. It aims to provide quality products to improve people’s livelihood in Ethiopia. Thus, the business provides many women opportunities for employment. This is one way that ABLE contributes to alleviating global poverty.

ABLE provides jobs for women in Ethiopia exiting the sex trafficking industry. Employed women manufacture scarves and aid in production. The company trains and equips women to make beautiful, cultural and quality scarves. Less than 38.8% of women held positions in the workforce globally in 2020, highlighting the need for businesses like ABLE to prioritize hiring women.

About 80% of women living in rural areas of Ethiopia work in agricultural cultivation and production and rarely receive any compensation for their work. Furthermore, fathers and husbands often place strict restrictions on women. USAID states that one in three women in Ethiopia experiences one type of physical, emotional or sexual abuse in their lifetime. Providing employment opportunities for women increases their autonomy and financial independence.

Employment Opportunities

Women who receive employment are able to provide an avenue for their children and communities to thrive through economic empowerment. According to author Ain Wright, there are five different policy approaches to closing the gender gap in Ethiopia: welfare, efficiency, anti-poverty, equity and empowerment. ABLE utilizes all five of these strategies for women that it hires.

The welfare and the efficiency approach go hand in hand. Providing women with the means to support themselves motivates and empowers them to actively support their communities. Additionally, all women receive encouragement to discover their voices through the strategy of empowerment, anti-poverty and equity.

Gender Equality

One challenge in increasing employment for women remains deeply rooted in cultural expectations and gender norms. ABLE has a commitment to creating a culture based on equality and rebuilding women’s lives. The fashion industry offers the highest number of jobs to women globally. Yet, only 2% of these women receive a fair wage. ABLE posts its wages on its website for the public to see, allowing consumers to understand the importance of their purchase.

As ABLE grew, it expanded its network to provide jobs for women in Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Brazil and Nashville, U.S. The company partners with local communities to assist in developing individual economies rather than developing itself into a major fashion corporation. ABLE also believes that telling people’s stories affects consumer awareness. Women with employment there created a podcast to tell their stories of strength and hopes for the future. The podcast and products continue to build consumer awareness, alleviate poverty and empower women.

ABLE is making great strides to grow as a company and maintains its role as an ethically sourced fashion brand. Its efforts have created more jobs for women in Ethiopia, empowering them their families and their communities. Moving forward, it is essential that other fashion companies shift to sustainable and ethical practices.

– Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Fighting for the World's Poor with Slow FashionPrior to the rise of fast fashion, the latest runway designs slowly trickled their way into the masses, but the quickening and cheapening of clothing creation have forever changed the way people shop. This detrimental and exploitative process is mostly in vain since the clothes are so cheap that 85% of textiles end up in landfills each year. “Fast fashion” refers to cheap and trendy clothing that utilizes the rapid production of our globalized economy to produce items as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Although this might seem exciting, fast fashion as a phenomenon is often pointed to as one of the prime contributors to the waste and exploitation of the world’s poor that takes the glamour out of fashion.

Fast Fashion and Poverty

To make clothing cheaper, more dangerous and toxic chemicals are used in factories where workers make below living wages. Worldwide, one in six workers is employed by the fashion industry, and the majority of these workers are women. Many workers are also children as young as 10 years old.  Over the past few decades, factories have moved to low-income countries where workers’ union laws and human rights protections are less stringent. An Oxfam 2019 report found that 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers and 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earn a living wage. The culture of exploitation within the factories makes women vulnerable to abuse but they cannot report it for fear of losing income.

The millions of the world’s poor working in the bottom rung of the fashion ladder deserve better. One study found that a $20 shirt would only need to cost $0.20 more for Indian factory workers to earn a living wage. Another breakdown of a 29 £ T-shirt found that only 18 euro cents go to the worker’s pay.  As consumers of fashion, we can help combat this industry by participating in “slow fashion.” Slow fashion is the antidote to fast fashion which prioritizes quality clothing that is made ethically and sustainably built to last. Here are some ways to participate in this movement.

How to Participate in Slow Fashion

  1. Good On You: Good on You is a site dedicated to bringing slow fashion to consumers. Type a brand into their directory and they will provide you with an ethics and sustainability rating and a justification for their assessment. This is especially helpful if you are new to a brand.
  2. The Fashion Transparency Index: This is an assessment by experts of the 250 largest clothing retailers to provide you insight into their ethics and production.
  3. Online Thrifting: Although rifling through your local thrift store is a fun adventure, for those looking for specific secondhand clothing, online stores are a helpful tool. Thredup: This site has something for every budget and resells household brand items at varying prices and conditions. They also provide a clean-out kit for those who wish to sell or donate clothing. TheRealReal and Vestaire Collective: For lovers of luxury items, these sites are perfect and they authenticate items for you.
  4. The 30 Wears Test: Before purchasing a clothing item, ask yourself if you will wear it a minimum of 30 times. Take inventory of items you own that will pair well with the said item.
  5. Learn how to mend clothing: Not only can this come in handy in case of emergency, but instead of throwing away an item that is damaged, you will be more inclined to fix it.
  6. Quality over quantity: Critics of sustainable fashion argue that its prices are too high. Investing in staple clothes that are built to last is cheaper in the long term than constantly buying cheaper and trendier items.
  7. Fast fashion is tempting. The prices and designs are more attractive and accessible than many brands that source higher quality materials and pay their workforce more. But as more people demand sustainable fashion, creative and affordable solutions become available. Together, we can demand better for the world’s poor that create our clothing and transform the industry.

—Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Glamour BoutiqueThere are a number of advancements in legal gender rights across the world. However, social norms still play a large role in preventing women from attaining economic independence. Globally, women are almost three times more likely than men to work in the unpaid sector—namely domestic work and caring for children. When the women who are confined to this lifestyle are able to find paid work, it is often part-time and low-wage. This sets them at a significant financial disadvantage. They must depend on their husbands and families to provide for their basic needs.

The Fix

The Inclusive and Equitable Local Development (IELD) sector of the United Nations Capital Development Fund fights to right these wrongs. They invest in small businesses in developing countries that are largely run by women. Through their investments, these businesses expand, hire more people, increase their consumer market and earn more money. When women achieve financial independence, the reward is multiplied. Economically secure women are likely to invest in education, health and their community.

The Entrepreneur

One of these businesses that the IELD benefits is Glamour Boutique—a fashion business in Jessore, a small town in southwestern Bangladesh.

Glamour Boutique was officially founded in 2007 by Parveen Akhter. Akhter had been kidnapped and forced into child marriage when she was in the ninth grade. Her husband—her kidnapper and a drug addict—made it a habit of abusing her throughout their seventeen-year marriage. Encouragement from her oldest son, 16-years-old at the time, led her to file for divorce and set up the Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre. It was based in her home and capitalized on the embroidery and tailoring skills Akhter had taught herself over the years. Once business picked up, she moved into a rented space.

This is when the IELD stepped in. Akhter had little money, a small market and limited machines. They loaned her nearly 30,000 USD to expand. Since then, Glamour Boutique has employed over 50 women and consistently trains around 20 in tailoring and embroidery.

More than anything, the company is female-friendly. It helps to lift women out of poverty and give them a purpose and community. Additionally, she is sensitive to her employees having outside commitments. She offers short four-hour shifts for women who are enrolled in school, have children or have other situations warranting a flexible schedule.

Mussamad Nafiza, an employee at Glamour Boutique, testifies to the beauty of working there. She describes her own and others’ financial gain and independence as well as her dreams of opening a business similar to Akhter’s. Dipa Monjundar, a friend of Akhter’s and fellow small business owner, commends Akhter’s work and celebrates the economic empowerment of women across Bangladesh.

Next Steps

Although important, investing in women’s businesses is not the only way to help women achieve economic prosperity. Commitments from men and the government are essential. They need to respect, uphold and uplift women’s rights to sustainably change the way communities approach gender disparity.

Jessore’s mayor participated in several gender equality training sessions before starting any major projects. If other community leaders encourage participation in similar training courses, economic gender parity may no longer be a far-fetched dream.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Fashion Brands Fighting Poverty
Others are increasingly holding businesses accountable for their practices. Accountability—in regards to environmental impact, gender equality and racial representation—is rising within all industries. The fashion industry is no exception. Fast fashion brands like Uniqlo and the recently bankrupt Forever21 continue to confront criticism. These companies and others have disastrous environmental impacts and use inhumane working conditions and wages. It is increasingly difficult to find fashion brands fighting poverty.

Fortunately, the industry is starting to change. Ethical brands are on the rise, with some even building business models that fight against global poverty. These business models safely employ women and men in impoverished countries. But being a conscious consumer is also trendy: a 2019 McKinsey report found that two-thirds of global consumers admitted a brand’s stance on social and environmental issues influenced whether they purchased from that brand. From everyday shopping staples to high-end fashion pieces, ethical approaches to fashion transform the industry and improve the lives of those who work for these companies. Here are three ethical fashion brands fighting poverty.

Indego Africa

Indego Africa aims to alleviate poverty for women and their families through artisan employment and entrepreneurial education. The brand teaches women to intricately weave baskets and bags. Founder Matthew Mitro lived in Nigeria for six years. His inspiration drew on his work with Nigerian women and thus started Indego Africa in 2007. Employing over 1,200 artisans, the brand has extended its impact into Rwanda and Ghana. According to its 2018-2019 Annual and Social Impact Report, 90% of artisans employed through Indego Africa could pay for all or most of their children’s education.

Production occurs in Rwanda and Ghana. All of the company’s profits go towards business and vocational programs to educate Indego Africa’s employees and young adults, particularly young women, in nearby communities. Indigo Africa designs its programs to cater to the large demographic of unemployed young adults. By fostering educational platforms in areas like technology, business and leadership, Indego Africa carves out a clear path to economic independence for young women in Africa.

Gift of Hope

Gift of Hope supplies handmade goods to buyers, as well as hope to Haitian children who became orphans when their families can no longer afford to care for them. Founder Mallery Neptune first visited Haiti when she was 16, but it was not until she turned 20 that she founded the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty in 2007. The program started with a focus on sponsoring children and providing food for the elderly. By 2010, it expanded into the Gift of Hope project, a program designed to create jobs for Haitian mothers. In Haiti, women struggle to secure stable and sustainable employment and therefore disproportionately experience poverty.

As an extension of the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty, Gift of Hope employs over 70 jewelry-makers, seamstresses and other Haitian artisans. The nonprofit employs impoverished women who have lost their children to poverty (or are at risk of doing so) and pays them three times more than the minimum wage. This practice draws individuals and their families out of poverty. Every purchase with Gift of Hope saves a child from orphan-hood, reuniting families.

Carcel

Fashion label Carcel is proof that high-end fashion brands can too adopt ethical practice within their supply chains. Headed by Veronica D’Souza, the Danish company works with incarcerated women in Peru and Thailand where the poverty rates as of 2018 are 22% and 9.85%, respectively. Oftentimes the company’s employees have been imprisoned for human trafficking and drug-related crimes, but D’Souza believes they fell onto these paths because they could not escape the cycle of poverty.

Carcel works with the National Prison System in Peru and the Ministry of Justice in Thailand. They give 27 women the opportunity to hone local craftsmanship. In conjunction with mastering clothes-making techniques, Carcel offers instructional programs on managing cash, financial literacy and English. These programs equip women with educational tools to secure financial stability. Upon their release from prison, women have the skills they need to avoid re-incarceration or falling back into poverty. Fashion brands fighting poverty are increasingly popular, giving hope for improving the lives of thousands of workers worldwide.

– Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

poverty in BangladeshLocated next to India and Myanmar, the South Asian country of Bangladesh has the eighth-highest population in the world. In Bangladesh, more than 20% of the population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than $5 a day. Japanese clothing company UNIQLO, founded in 1949 and owned by the holding company Fast Retailing, is working to fight poverty in Bangladesh. UNIQLO is committed to the idea that creating and selling high-quality clothes can help create a sustainable society.

Social Business of Grameen UNIQLO in Bangladesh

In 2010, along with a microfinance organization called the Grameen Bank, Fast Retailing founded Grameen UNIQLO to solve health issues, unemployment and poverty in Bangladesh. Local factories that produce all goods for Grameen UNIQLO provide a safe and secure workplace that is not common in Bangladesh. The company educates partner companies on safe workplaces as well. The entire process of Grameen UNIQLO’s business, from producing and marketing to selling, takes place in the country. Moreover, all of Grameen UNIQLO’s revenue goes toward investing in local businesses, and the company distributes clothes for people in need due to poverty or natural disasters. Through creating jobs and reinvesting money for local business, Grameen UNIQLO has fought against poverty in Bangladesh.

Empowering Women to Be Independent

Grameen UNIQLO also focuses on empowering women and helping them be financially independent. Women traditionally tend to be financially dependent because of their limited opportunities in Bangladesh. The company provides job opportunities for women, who are referred to as the “Grameen Ladies.” These women get a low-interest loan from Grameen Bank to become financially independent, and they also work with UNIQLO to design clothes.

U.N. Educational Program for Women

The company also offers an educational program in collaboration with U.N. Women. In the program, female workers get training regarding workers’ rights, health and gender equality. The advanced training program for selected workers provides the class with the necessary skills for higher positions. The companies participating in this program believe that empowerment for women increases the competition and the overall quality of the community, helping to reduce poverty in Bangladesh. Importantly, Fast Retailing tries to gain a better understanding of the situation and the difficulties women face, so that it can address these issues more effectively.

$1 Million Scholarship Program

Fast Retailing launched a scholarship program at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh to help students who struggle to afford higher education. In addition to the scholarship program, the company also provides an internship opportunity for students to work at Grameen UNIQLO and visit the company in Tokyo. These students can gain experience in marketing, market research and management during the internship program.

Grameen UNIQLO and Fast Retailing have made efforts to fight against poverty in Bangladesh through retail business. They have created job opportunities, a scholarship program, investments in local businesses and programs to help women to be financially independent. Grameen UNIQLO has developed a great model for other businesses to support local communities, fight poverty and help people develop self-sufficiency.

– Sayaka Ojima
Photo: Flickr

Women in the Garment Industry
Breaking the ceiling of the minimum living cost per day remains a challenge for millions of the poorest people on the earth, especially women. Amongst the causes of poverty, the fact that women are often not part of the labor force is one of the biggest quagmires that keeps them struggling. However, one area that women in the developing world often work in is the garment industry. In fact, there are many women working in the garment industry in Bangladesh today.

Bangladesh’s garment industry’s products make up the majority of what it exports. The expansion of the garment industry is quickly pulling people out of poverty in Bangladesh. Women are the major source of labor, where they make up 80 percent of workers. One might ask whether the garment and textile industry could be a gateway for women in the rest of the world to escape poverty.

Demand for Growth

Despite the fact that international trade has recently encountered uncertainty, a report from Mckinsey pointed out that the demand for growth from major populated countries, such as India and Indonesia, will continually saturate the market. With the demand continually persisting, many expect that the supply will continue to expand as well.

Beyond Asia, many in Africa see opportunities in the rising garment industry. Case studies from the African Development Bank Group indicate that women make up a significant part of the garment industry in Africa. In Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire, the two major cotton cultivators in the world, 80 percent of garment workers are women. Moreover, these countries’ start-up entrepreneurs are largely women.

Lifting Women Out of Poverty

The rising figures of women in the garment industry excite people’s outlook on the economy, but this is not the final answer to lifting women out of poverty. The problems of delayed or no and low payment, forced labor, dangerous working environments and other exploitation of women pull the world’s attention and push for reform. From a global perspective, the campaign for humanitarian improvement is one major goal of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond economic growth, acquiring decent work conditions, gender equality and opportunity for education matter when it comes to empowering women workers.

In Bangladesh, the international garment industry used to benefit from cheap labor because of loose legislative regulations and awful working conditions. More recently, the situation of underpayment has received challenges. For example, garment workers in Bangladesh raised their issues of low wages and poor working conditions, causing unrest and subsequently leading to Bangladesh increasing the minimum wage by 5 percent. This may seem minor, but it greatly impacted the garment industry in Bangladesh and started the process of reform. Consequential bills, including the signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, constantly forge the formal framework to ensure the well-being of women in the garment industry.

The development of the global garment industry is a good hammer for women to smash the wall of poverty, but they still require more. The problems rooted in the most impoverished countries are not only “money concerned.” Social injustice and gender bias also influence the liberation of women. Luckily, the action of women and their social power is opening another window for reforms and improvement.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Flickr