House of Trade
House of Trade is a new platform based on an ancient method: bartering. Inspired by the sneakerhead community, the House of Trade offers a fresh take on fashion sustainability while reducing the exploitation of underpaid workforces in developing countries and providing a safe and efficient method for sneakerheads to trade their sneakers.

House of Trade: A Trading App for Sneakers

One of only five startups chosen for the 2021 Covintus National Technology Accelerator program, House of Trade is a trading app for sneakers: an app that allows sneakerheads to use their new or lightly-used sneakers as “closet currency” to trade items with other users. House of Trade facilitates each trade using a mail-in system, ensuring authenticity and trustworthy bartering commerce.

Founded in April 2020 by Chris Holloway and Keren Nimmo, the team behind the scenes at House of Trade represents diversity and supports the colorful world of sneakerhead culture on a weekly YouTube podcast called Kicks of the Trade. The trading platform does not end with sneakers — the team plans to expand the platform to include the trade of a variety of other items, from luxury handbags and watches to streetwear and sports cards.

A Trading App’s Role in Fashion Sustainability

House of Trade reduces fashion consumption by offering its users a solution: the user’s unwanted items can stand as “closet currency” for the items they do want, lessening (or even eliminating) the need to buy factory-new fashion.

The fashion industry has a significant impact on the environment. The industry produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, equating to more than all the emissions of “international flights and maritime shipping combined.” In addition, the fashion sector stands as “the second-largest consumer of water worldwide” in a world where 785 million people go without access to clean drinking water. On top of this, the fashion sector contributes to “20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide.”

Pollution is especially detrimental to developing countries where the U.S. fashion industry outsources 97% of manufacturing and where toxic wastewater from factories often ends up in rivers and oceans. For example, in India, a country where the sacred but polluted Ganges River supports one of the most densely populated regions in the world, 88 million people lack access to safe water. One of the contaminants that make the Ganges unsafe is chromium, a compound for dyeing fabrics and tanning leather.

How Outsourcing Fashion Manufacturing Exacerbates Poverty

The outsourcing of manufacturing exacerbates conditions of poverty in countries where exploitative working conditions go unregulated. As an example, Nike as one of the largest makers of footwear globally sold a record 25 shoes every second in 2018. In general, Nike’s sales average 780 million pairs of shoes annually. However, the manufacturing of Nike’s massive product line is outsourced to more than 41 different countries.

By outsourcing to developing countries, Nike and other major sportswear brands can maximize production at minimum costs. But, low overheads for big companies come at a high price for the people who work in the factories. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), a worker rights coalition that comprises more than 235 organizations in more than 45 nations, the average salaries of factory workers in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia (countries where Nike contracts much of its manufacturing) are 45%-65% lower than the average “living wage.” To put this into perspective, in March 2020, the Global Living Wage Coalition reported just 7,446,294 VND ($321) as the monthly living wage for a person in urban Vietnam.

House of Trade Offers a Solution to Fast Fashion

Several advocates and unions have called out leading fashion and sportswear companies for prioritizing profits over the well-being of workers, the planet and humanity at large. With these issues coming to the forefront, many consumers across the world aim to make conscientious shopping choices to alleviate these impacts.

At the forefront of fashion industry reform, the House of Trade offers an alternative to factory-new consumerism while ensuring that sneakerheads and fashion enthusiasts have access to the styles, brands and quality they desire. In a “global sneaker resale market” that projections have determined could expand from $6 billion in 2019 to $30 billion by 2030, platforms such as House of Trade are in the ideal position to maximize profits while providing a solution to alleviating the impacts of fast fashion.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Flickr

Alternatives to Fast Fashion
The fast fashion industry creates inexpensive clothing to keep up with rapidly changing trends. Many brands in the fast fashion industry use cheap labor to produce garments, which often leads to the exploitation of workers and the environment. Fast fashion companies tend to target workers in low-income areas who have limited alternatives for employment. As a result, people in low-income areas are more likely to tolerate the poor, exploitative labor conditions that are prevalent in fast fashion. Microfibers and waste are often byproducts of fast fashion, contributing to water pollution and food chain disruptions, which disproportionately affect impoverished areas. Several alternatives to fast fashion can make consumers’ wardrobes more ethical and sustainable, reducing global poverty at the same time.

5 Alternatives to Fast Fashion

  1. Support local thrift stores. Thrift shopping is a simple and affordable alternative to fast fashion. Thrift shops offer clothes at more affordable prices than fast fashion companies without causing harm to workers or the environment. Individuals can also help second-hand stores thrive by donating clothes. Donating to thrift shops provides a wider range of options for consumers who cannot afford ethical, sustainable fashion elsewhere. Thrift shopping can be a great alternative for people who do not wish to promote poor working conditions in the fashion industry.
  2. Buy, sell and trade clothes online. Internet users can buy, sell and exchange clothes on a plethora of apps and websites. For example, Etsy offers a range of ethical, sustainable, second-hand and handmade clothing at varying prices. Individuals can also use social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Instagram to buy, sell and trade used clothing instead of supporting fast fashion brands that exacerbate poverty. Some apps like Depop are specifically designed for people to buy and sell second-hand clothes online, without the hassle of visiting a thrift store in person.
  3. Buy clothes from ethical and sustainable brands. Consumers can still purchase brand new clothes without supporting the fast fashion industry. Clothing companies like Patagonia, Boden and Kotn offer alternatives to fast fashion for people with flexible budgets. For example, through Fair Trade certification, Patagonia supports workers in low-income areas, ensuring that workers receive fair compensation under good working conditions. Patagonia also uses renewable energy for clothing production. Boden uses recyclable packaging, ensures ethical production and pays workers fair wages. Kotn creates clothes with organic materials and maintains fair and safe labor standards. Thousands of ethical, sustainable clothing companies are available to those who can afford them.
  4. Buy timeless, good-quality clothing. People who buy fast fashion may get stuck in a fast fashion cycle. Consumers often purchase cheap, low-quality items from fast fashion companies to keep up with ever-changing trends. As a result, consumers can contribute heavily to poverty and the exploitation of workers. However, clothes from fast fashion companies often wear out and do not remain in style. Individuals who have the financial means can buy high-quality, timeless clothing as alternatives to fast fashion items that only last until the next season.
  5. Learn how to make and repair clothes. Making and repairing clothes can be an affordable, sustainable and ethical alternative to buying from fast fashion brands that intensify global poverty. People who make clothes can select their own materials, keeping an eye out for ethical and sustainable fabric brands. Those who learn to sew can also repair their old clothes instead of buying new ones from fast fashion companies. Between sewing, crocheting and other methods of creating clothes, people can create personalized, unique clothes to wear with the potential of launching their own ethically-sourced businesses.

Reducing Poverty Through Ethical Shopping

Shopping ethically contributes to combating global poverty and environmental degradation. Many fast fashion alternatives exist to help consumers stand up against workplace exploitation in low-income areas. Over time, ethical clothing purchases can make monumental impacts on the lives of people around the world.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Fashion Labels That Give Back
Blue denim jeans, preppy polo shirts and black leather have nothing in common, but their founders do. Levi Strauss, the creator of blue jeans, Ralph Lauren, the creator of the polo shirts, and Versace, known for their iconic black leather and Medusa logo, are just some of the fashion labels that give back to combat current issues. They donate money, clothes and masks for issues such as poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who They Are

Ralph Lauren has dominated the fashion world with its vibrant colors and iconic polo player logo, which stems from the designer’s love of sports and is embroidered on the company’s polo shirts. People also know Ralph Lauren for blending the American style with European fashion. As for its founder, he built his company from the ground up without ever attending fashion school. As of November 2021, Forbes listed Ralph Lauren’s worth at $7.3 billion.

Gianni Versace worked alongside his mother in the fashion industry, before starting to freelance designs for Italian designers. He sprung his own collection in 1978. His fashion house, Versace, received credit in the 1990s for being the first to feature supermodels in its ad campaigns. Not only that, the Italian company pioneered displaying models with noticeable personalities. Black leather and gold jewels accompany its iconically sensual style to give more of an edgy punk look.

Levi Strauss wanted to strike gold during the California Gold Rush in 1853, but it was not gold that would make him rich. In 1872, tailor Jacob Davis wrote to Strauss, sharing his new way of making pants that made them last longer. In the letter, he asked Strauss to be a business partner. Strauss agreed, and thus blue jeans were born.

All three fashion designers started out small, which eventually led to their success. Despite that success, these fashion labels advocate for private organizations, implement poverty reduction efforts and sponsor those combating COVID-19 relief and support the arts and culture.

COVID-19 Hospital Relief: Versace

In 2020, COVID-19 took a negative toll on everyone and their health. Cases increased and hospitals ran out of rooms to place their patients in. Donatella Versace, the chief creative officer of Versace, decided to contribute to pandemic relief by donating to hospitals in her home country of Italy. At that time, Italy had the highest number of COVID-19 cases with a total of 17,660 as of March 14, 2020. Versace donated €200,000 ($222,890) to San Raffaele hospital’s ICU after it requested aid due to the increase of pandemic patients. She explained, “In times like this, it is important to be united and support however we can help all those who are in the front lines, fighting every day to save hundreds of lives.”

Millions Donated: Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren has created and funded nonprofit organizations that differ from Versace’s. However, these two fashion powerhouses share one goal: to help their community. The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation has donated a total of $10 million in donations and resources to its workers and communities worldwide. The Foundation recently donated a value of $1.5 million in clothing to frontline workers and families. These interventions build on the precedent that emerged decades ago when the Foundation started a cancer-combatting campaign in 2000 called the Pink Pony Campaign.

Ralph Lauren provided grants for any employee who needed accommodations during the pandemic, such as health or childcare needs. Additionally, it partnered with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for COVID-19 relief and donated 250,000 masks and 25,000 isolation gowns to health care workers. As Ralph Lauren said, “This includes helping to fund necessary hospital resources—ranging from personal protective equipment and patient navigation programs to meals and childcare support.”

Advocate for Poverty Reduction: Levi Strauss

As of 2018, 10% of San Francisco residents lived in poverty. To combat this, Levi Strauss Foundation donated a total of $100,000 to a local poverty-fighting NGO called The Tipping Point Community. This organization combats poverty in the area and raises funds for communities that the pandemic hit hardest.

The Tipping Point Community funds economic support for people dealing with or at risk of poverty. Its funding has paid for food, housing and hospital bills. It also aids in paying bills for workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The Tipping Point Community’s goal of $30 million is ambitious, but foundations like Levi Strauss agree that stabilizing the area’s ecosystem and improving the lives of individuals in need is well worth the investment. To date, the NGO has raised more than $18 million of that goal.

Fashion Labels That Give Back

Ralph Lauren loved sports so much that he created an empire. Versace wanted women to feel comfortable in their skin, so he designed clothes that accentuated their bodies. Levi Strauss made a partnership and, in the process, created blue jeans that better-accommodated workers. These three designers grew up differently and had different inspirations when it came to making clothes. However, these fashion labels share one thing: they give back. All three created and funded organizations that helped to fight issues such as poverty, providing funding during the pandemic and helping their workers receive financial aid.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr 

Fighting Poverty in Fashion, Brands That Give BackWorking conditions in the fashion industry are often less than ideal. Despite providing job opportunities for workers in impoverished countries, many of these employees make 42% to 55% under a living wage. When fighting poverty in fashion, improving workers’ rights is paramount to helping better the industry. Donations through third-party charities are a common way organizations have provided their support for changing the fashion industry. However, this charitable work is often criticized for its lack of actual change seen by the workers. As such, three companies have found a more productive way to help increase transparency, sustainability and worker’s rights. In an effort to change the fashion industry, Lucy and Yak, Girlfriend Collective and ABLE  have all shown creative solutions and fast success as clothing corporations in developing countries around the world.

Lucy and Yak

Lucy and Yak started in New Zealand. Chris Tenwick and Lucy Greenwood began their journey traveling the world, creating tobacco pouches, which they sold to travelers visiting the country. The couple headed back to the U.K., where they sold vintage clothing and homemade overalls out of their van, named Yak. They traveled to China, India and Thailand looking for a production company and landed on three tailors in Rajasthan, India. In Rajasthan, nearly 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. One of the biggest components of GDP growth for Rajasthan is industry, making Lucy and Yak’s choice of location a profitable and impactful one.

Since 2018, the team of three grew into 50, opening job opportunities for many. A new, climate-controlled and ethically sustainable factory stands to produce Lucy and Yak products in the rural region of Rajasthan. With this factory, the company can provide compensation higher than the minimum wage for the area and support their workers’ individual needs. Greenwood and Tenwick often visit the team in India as oversight for production and to catch up with their old friends from the van days. Overall, when fighting poverty in fashion, Lucky and Yak pave the way for a standard of ethical production.

Girlfriend Collective

Girlfriend Collective is an activewear company based out of Seattle, Washington. Bottles, cotton industry scraps, recycled nylon and polyester all make up Girlfriend Collective’s clothes. The company currently sources its recycled materials from Taiwan and its core production comes from Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi factory in the Phu Tho province is an area dedicated to sustainable poverty reduction. It is also an SA8000-certified facility, meaning the factory is held to a sustainable and ethical standard of fair wages and safe worker’s conditions.

Moreover, Girlfriend Collective supplies its workers with free lunch and dinner, guided exercise breaks and health checkups every six months at the factory. Worldwide, Girlfriend Collective has been acknowledged for its success. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization have applauded Girlfriend Collective for its efforts. Thus, with its mission to ensure health and safety for its employees, Girlfriend Collective has made its mark in fighting poverty in fashion.

ABLE

ABLE is a women-owned fashion company that dedicates itself to the advancement of women worldwide. Its international employment program began in Ethiopia with the production of scarves. Since 2019, the company has expanded similar programs in Mexico, India and Brazil. One of the company’s overall goals is to educate its consumers on wage inequities. Around the world, 98% of people making clothing cannot make a living wage. Women comprise 75% of this figure. ABLE has also solidified its own evaluation system called Accountable. With this system, ABLE can hold itself accountable and continue making a positive impact on its company.

The Future for Fighting Poverty in Fashion

In efforts to alleviate poverty around the world, these three companies are taking the lead. Their oversight has impacted impoverished communities in Vietnam, Ethiopia and India in a new and positive light. Overall, by ensuring living wages, safe working conditions and women empowerment, Lucy and Yak, Girlfriend and ABLE are helping to fight poverty in fashion.

– Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous fashionFast fashion is fashion that producers make cheaply and price low to catch up with current trends. However, indigenous people are trying to change this. With their unique patterns and colorful designs, many indigenous people are using their culture and skills to allow indigenous culture to live forever, especially in the fashion world. More importantly, indigenous people are investing their skills and resources into creating sustainable fashion to combat poverty. Indigenous communities, while representing roughly 5% of the world’s population, also represent much of the world’s impoverished. Through indigenous fashion, the number of indigenous people in poverty may soon decrease.

History Behind the Pattern

Indigenous people, specifically the indigenous people of Guatemala, have a specific reason for choosing their patterns and distinctive colors. Color and design are deeply integrated into their everlasting culture and history. According to an ancient Mayan myth, the Mayan goddess Ixchel first developed this type of design, called loom weaving. People know her as the goddess of love, the moon, medicine and textile arts. Loom weavers utilize her practices to create fashionable crossbody bags. Whether they work with a company or by themselves, weavers are benefitting from the popularity of their culture’s patterns.

Weaving has henceforth become more than just a means for indigenous women to provide for their families. These women have important roles in their communities and these skills are teaching them to push for more self-reliance within themselves.

Mama Tierra

Indigenous Guatemalans are not the only ones taking advantage of this development in indigenous fashion. A nonprofit organization called Mama Tierra (which translates to “Mother Earth” in Spanish) is helping advance self-reliance in the Wayuu community through fashion. Founded in 2014, Mama Tierra assists the Wayuu community of La Guajira in several ways. It works to:

  • Make sure that women making bags (which comprise sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled bottles and pineapple leaves) receive proper pay.
  • Teach women how to make soap to keep their families healthier.
  • Provide Wayuu people with accessible solar energy and nutrition programs.
  • Promote indigenous women’s commercial activities around Colombia.

The Wayuu community greatly needs and appreciates Mama Tierra’s work. Consisting of 600,000 people, many in the Wayuu community do not have electricity or running water. Environmental changes make their land less suitable for growing food. Additionally, 50 Wayuu children younger than 5 die each month in La Guajira due to malnutrition and related causes. These families display their humanity through the bags they produce: each bag comes with a tag with a picture of the maker and their children. With the help of organizations like Mama Tierra, the Wayuu people are improving their lives and changing their futures.

Moving Forward

Indigenous women are now turning their skills and culture into something that will pay off in the long run. Apart from providing for their families, the women are making something of themselves, putting their names on something that they created. Organizations like Mama Tierra have also created trading routes for this community, displaying their artistic skills to the fashion world. By doing this, indigenous communities’ work is becoming commercialized for a broader market to see. With skillful weaving and vivid colors, the women make their own indigenous fashion and show the larger industry they are here to stay.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Elexiay Clothing BrandAs artisans stitch rows of thread, their fingers pull yarn through loops in patterns passed down across generations. Elexiay, a Lagos-based Nigerian clothing brand, takes pride in its handmade garments crafted by a team of accomplished women crocheters. Supporting a small clothing business like Elexiay allows consumers to back community-based entrepreneurs as opposed to faceless fast fashion corporations. Small businesses have to compete with fast fashion giants, which makes it difficult for these smaller businesses to thrive. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting small businesses can make a significant impact on the lives of employees. The Elexiay clothing brand empowers Nigerian women and provides jobs to help them rise out of poverty.

The Elexiay Clothing Brand

Elexiay is a brand that redefines crocheted clothing, which is often stereotyped as “grandma’s clothing.” Elexiay’s collection of products is a reinvention of crocheted clothing that keeps up with the latest fashion trends. With crocheted crop tops, skirts and maxi dresses featuring elegant slits, Elexiay displays its grasp of the year’s latest trends.

Elexiay’s signature crocheted designs serve a greater purpose than just style. Elexiay’s founder, Elyon Adede, described to The Zoe Report how vital women’s empowerment is to Elexiay. Accordingly, Elexiay solely employs Nigerian women who handcraft each piece of clothing. Many after-school programs in Nigeria teach the art of crochet. Due to the emphasis on craftsmanship, Elexiays’s employees avoid the hazards associated with factory textile production and can share Nigeria’s art of crochet with the world.

Rising Poverty in Nigeria

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, approximately 40% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line, with millions more at risk of falling into poverty. During the pandemic, international oil prices dropped. This decline severely impacted Nigeria’s economy as more than 60% of Nigeria’s government revenue comes from oil. According to the World Bank, the consequences of the pandemic, coupled with Nigeria’s oil price crisis, could “push around 10 million additional Nigerians into poverty by 2022.”

In this way, Elexiay’s emphasis on fair wages and other ethical labor practices coincides with a time when millions of Nigerians face the risk of poverty. The company’s commitment to the “creation of jobs locally” demonstrates how a small clothing business can help communities in times of economic uncertainty.

Elexiay’s Dispute with Fast Fashion Brand

Despite Elexiay’s success in designing crocheted clothing, the company has faced difficulties. For instance, Elexiay posted a picture on Instagram of one of its pink and green crocheted sweaters side-by-side with a sweater featured on a fast fashion corporation website on July 16, 2021.  The sweater sold by SHEIN, the corporation in question, used a design strikingly similar to the pattern crafted by artisans at Elexiay.

In the Instagram caption, Elexiay described itself as a “small black-owned independent sustainable business” and expressed frustration in seeing “such talent and hard work reduced to a machine-made copy.” The caption also urged SHEIN to remove the sweater from its website.

Since posting the side-by-side comparison of the sweaters, Elexiay’s post received more than 97,000 likes and hundreds of supportive comments. While SHEIN has removed the controversial sweater from its website, this is not the first instance of SHEIN being accused of stealing designs. For example, designer Mariama Diallo accused SHEIN of stealing one of her dress designs for the brand Sincerely Ria in June 2021.

Aside from feeling disheartened after seeing the sweater on SHEIN’s website, the Elexiay clothing brand founder also expressed disappointment in SHEIN’s practices overall. In an interview with Insider, Adede describes the experience as especially difficult because “SHEIN is known for its unethical labor practices, which is the opposite of what I stand for.”

Supporting Small Clothing Businesses

While Nigeria has seen a rise in poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals around the world can make deliberate choices that benefit communities in Nigeria. The women employees of Elexiay crochet garments by hand, spending days on each piece to share the art of crochet with the rest of the world and are provided with a job and an income through the process. When making the decision of whether to shop from a large fast fashion corporation or a local business, it is important to question the values that each brand holds.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

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