Fashion Industry Workers
Shopping retail can be overwhelming due to the options available. When making shopping choices, many might forget about fashion industry workers. Many fashion industry workers across the world face exploitation and violations of human rights, which often pushes them into poverty. Several organizations aim to uphold the rights of fashion industry workers through fair pay, safe working environments, reasonable working hours and more. 

The Fashion Industry

The fashion industry had a 2019 estimate of $2.5 trillion global value. Yet, many fashion brands exploit and take advantage of fashion industry workers in developing nations.

The “minimum wage” in many manufacturing counties only covers a fraction of living costs. Furthermore, many workers do not receive the inadequate “minimum wage.” Workers have to endure 14 to 16 hours of work seven days a week. Additionally, the actual workplace conditions are unsafe and hazardous. It is common for there to be toxic matter present, fiber dust in the air, no ventilation and unsafe building structure.

These circumstances are not humane and prevent workers from breaking cycles of poverty. In 2018, the majority of the 75 million garment workers are women ages 18 to 35 who already face disadvantages due to gender inequality.

Trade

Global trade can help developing countries improve their economic growth. In 2017, estimates determined that the fast fashion industry would grow by 5.91% and reach $1,652.73 billion by 2020. This billion-dollar industry could make a difference in low-income countries since there is such value for the market. If companies begin to invest in second-hand items and create sustainable clothing designs by 2030, they could make a $192 billion profit. This would impact the global economy and potentially allow fashion industry workers in low-income countries to boost their economies.

Consuming Thoughtfully

Many know the fashion industry for its exploitation of workers through unsafe labor and low wages. One solution to this problem is through purchasing from companies that want to work with people who have historically experienced exploitation by unfair work practices in the fashion industry.

Pura Utz

This fair trade business has an emphasis on empowering women and breaking the cycle of poverty by employing women in Guatemala to create handmade jewelry in safe conditions and with a livable wage. The directors of Pura Utz created the business in 2018 and now have a staff of more than 50 women in Guatemala working full-time. They wanted to empower their employees and pay the women four times the market standard in Guatemala and the women receive bonuses twice a year. The directors also created safe standards by allowing flexibility in how much the women want to work since some employees might have other responsibilities. Furthermore, they can all work from home, which is especially helpful for women with domestic responsibilities. The work week is Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. Pura Utz adopted a business strategy that upholds the rights of fashion industry workers.

Change Starts Now

This company works to create items for the fashion industry while still upholding the rights of fashion industry workers. Through these efforts, the workers receive the empowerment to break cycles of poverty. The workers are able to work with rights and in conditions that are safe while receiving an opportunity to rise out of poverty through fair wages and fair working policies.

Ann Shick
Photo: Flickr

Fashion Waste and Poverty
Infinited Fiber is a Finnish start-up company developing new clothing from old materials. The impact of waste management for textiles is more than $1 billion annually, and garment workers globally receive, at best, mediocre pay. Infinited Fiber strives to create longer-lasting clothes to reduce textile waste while paying garment workers appropriate salaries. Longer-lasting clothes will be more cost-effective for the individual and help with the more significant issues of fashion waste management and poverty, including the ever-rising costs in the clothing market.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

Fashion waste and poverty are significant problems in the fashion industry that Infinited Fiber is tackling. Garment workers are incredibly subject to poverty while working in the fashion industry. There is an overwhelming wage gap between garment workers and their company’s CEOs. The Industry We Want, an organization fighting for fair wages for garment workers, found significant wage gaps between the workers’ earnings and what they should be earning. Globally, garment workers earn only about 55% of the wages they need to have a living wage.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the treatment of garment workers worsened. Many garment workers went extended periods without receiving any compensation. When in-person shopping stopped globally, many factories paused operations, leaving the garment workers destitute. In those factories, garment workers deal with poverty regularly due to the economic status of their home countries. Still, the stopped income left them facing starvation. Fashion waste and poverty do not end with garment workers. Unfortunately, their poverty and economic struggles are a large portion of why Infinited Fiber seeks new techniques and practices in the fashion industry.

Devastating Fashion Waste and “Fast Fashion”

“Fast fashion” is cheap, easy-to-produce fashion that often goes to waste quickly. Fast fashion is a sector of the fashion market that employs exceptionally cheap labor. This form of fashion marketing took over the global-fashion market when large-name brands like Zara and Forever 21 began expanding business operations. Fast fashion proved to be a profitable market, causing fashion industry markets to see substantial increases in generated income. Despite the promising outlook of fast fashion, due to the quick turnaround in products, the industry will likely see decreases of up to $52 billion in profits due to waste management and textile losses. Management for textile waste costs up to $100 billion annually.

One of the methods for waste management that will also cut costs globally for waste management is transforming the clothing production process. There are calls to improve recycling methods for textiles, beginning with policymakers. Textile recycling is an expanding market for investment in the fashion industry. As of 2021, the textile recycling industry had a value of $4.5 billion in 2021, with expectations for fast economic growth. Thankfully, textile recycling also reduces the costs of dealing with textile waste management. While textile waste costs continue to mount and landfills fill up rapidly, textile recycling benefits all involved by taking the wasted textiles, cleaning them and repurposing them workers create a new product. The repurposed textiles save money in landfill and textile waste management and create new job opportunities as textile recycling grows in popularity. Infinite Fiber’s goal is to end the cycle of fashion waste and poverty through textile recycling.

Infinited Fiber’s Goal to Ending the Cycle of Fashion Poverty

The company’s founder and CEO, Petri Alava, hopes the clothing the company produces will be low-cost for the consumer, long-lasting and reduce textile waste. The company creates “circular fibers” by taking old materials, cleaning them and breaking them down to a polymeric level. The process requires fewer chemicals and leaves less waste than the typical processes of fast fashion.

Infinite Fiber is partnering with large-name brands, such as H&M and Inditex. Inditex is Zara’s parent company and is known not to pay its garment workers a fair wage. As the company is expanding and creating its partnerships, Infinite Fiber is receiving significant investment opportunities that are proving beneficial to the company, and its workers, while spreading its influence of eliminating fashion waste and poverty.

Infinite Fiber recently signed a new deal to develop a partnership with Patagonia, a U.S.-based clothing retailer with operations worldwide. One of the keys to operating with Patagonia is that Patagonia implements safety precautions that many garment factories do not. Patagonia also pays its garment workers fair wages. The connections Infinited Fiber makes with companies like Patagonia prove its commitment to a “Fair Trade” life with improved wages and social and economic improvement is on the horizon globally.

Infinite Fiber’s work creating new textiles is becoming a global operation, presenting job opportunities everywhere the company reaches. In Brazil, Infinite fiber’s work to erase fashion waste and poverty involves taking wood pulp and turning it into new textiles. The company’s goal is to slash fashion waste and poverty that result from waste. Infinite Fiber is dedicated to improving the quality of the fashion industry, which comes with living wages for all workers, minimal waste, and job opportunities worldwide.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Fast Fashion Waste
Across Africa, there are massive piles of unwanted, low-quality clothing sporting familiar brand names like Target, H&M, Shein and more polluting waterways, village centers and fueling a dangerous resale business. Many blame the fast fashion industry for fueling this issue and creating immense waste, which often arrives in developing countries as donations from more developed nations. African-owned fashion brands are providing a solution to fast fashion waste currently.

According to Merriam-Webster, fast fashion is “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Mckinsey-Sustainability, a sustainability consulting firm, found that from 2000 to 2014, clothing production doubled and people began keeping clothes for half as long. According to the World Economic Forum, 85% of all textiles become waste each year.

Results of Fast Fashion

The results of the practices are evident. When Western European countries ship their unwanted garments to West African nations, many cannot be resold or worn in their shipped condition. As a result, in Accra, Ghana’s capital, a 20-meter-high cliff has formed from unutilized clothes on the shoreline of the city’s Korle Lagoon.

The usable clothing from the shipments usually resells in large clothing markets. It is largely the poor and desperate, often young women, who have to do the back-breaking work of carrying bins of clothing from stall to stall needed to run these markets. One worker in Accra, who had traveled there from northern Ghana, reported making only $4.50 a day moving clothes. The worker also stated that she even needed to send some of it back to her family.

In June 2022, “fast fashion giant” Shein announced that it would be donating $15 million to workers in the Accra resale industry, drawing mixed reviews from the public.

Beyond donations, some African businesses have begun actively fighting the pileup of wasted textiles. Here are three African fashion brands creating change:

1. NKWO

NKWO is fighting the modern world’s desire for “more.” It is a Nigerian-based company that uses slow fashion techniques and locally-sourced materials to celebrate traditional African artisanship and extract the most from fast fashion waste. Among its products, NKWO primarily sells a mix of shirts and dresses made of a patchwork of scraps and patches of unwanted jeans.

NKWO also has a commitment to the concept of zero waste. It has invented an innovative African textile called “Dekala cloth,” which uses a modernized method of strip-weaving to create high-quality garments from bits and scraps of clothes that would otherwise be thrown out. The innovative designs and practices have earned features at Lagos Fashion Week.

2. Suave Kenya

Suave Kenya is an East African fashion brand that uses materials taken from last-chance clothing to create stylish bags. It focuses primarily on repurposing denim and the company incorporates a variety of recycled materials, from dress shirt silk to worker jacket leather into their backpacks, totes and more.

The Gikomba Market in Nairobi inspires the brand, which is the largest open-air flea market in East Africa. Similar to the markets of Accra, fast fashion waste goes there either for the market to sell or condemn to a landfill. Suave Kenya chooses to save as many textiles as possible and reintegrate them into entirely different products, showcasing the numerous possibilities of recycled textiles.

3. Ahluwalia

Visiting Aswani Market in Panipat, India, which is “the global capital of recycling garments” and seeing the heaps of clothing waste in Lagos, Nigeria inspired Priya Ahluwalia to create Ahluwalia. The fashion brand combines its founder’s Nigerian and Indian heritage to create designer clothing out of a mix of recycled, surplus and natural materials. London Fashion Week and Vogue have shown Ahluwalia’s clothes, bringing revitalized fashion from the developing world to the global stage of high fashion.

On top of its dedication to fighting fast fashion waste, Ahluwalia makes all of its clothing in woman-owned factories. It has also produced collections in partnership with SEWA Delhi, an Indian women’s union.

Looking Ahead

At the moment, brands fighting fast fashion waste are focused on creating designer and luxury goods. Many of the listed items cost well over $100. The products and brands are out of reach for many, especially the 80% of Africans who live on less than $5.50 per day, because of their high cost.

The lack of affordable clothing made from recycled materials leaves ample space for new businesses to truly put a dent in the unwanted clothes piling up in the developing world. Until then, these businesses provide a model for actionable solutions to fighting waste, a showcase of African artisanship and quality opportunities for African makers.

Ryan Morton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Fair Fashion Industry
In 2019, an Oxfam report exposed the conditions of workers who were making clothes for the Australian fashion industry. The report showed that these workers, predominantly women in Bangladesh and Vietnam, were making wages as little as 51 cents per hour. Oxfam is taking action to spread awareness, create a fair fashion industry and ensure that these women receive a living wage.

Poor Wages for Workers

The 2019 report interviewed nearly 500 women making clothes for the Australian fashion industry. It concluded that they often do not make enough money to meet their basic needs. Nine of 10 workers in Bangladesh cannot afford to feed themselves and three quarters cannot afford medical treatment.

In Vietnam, more than half of workers cannot afford medical treatment and three-quarters of workers cannot afford to make ends meet in general. The report found that the workers are making clothing for major brands that Australians enjoy wearing.

Oxfam’s Initiatives

As a result, Oxfam is campaigning to create a fair fashion industry. The nonprofit’s campaign, What She Makes, has taken several steps to secure appropriate living wages for those workers making some of the continent’s most beloved brands.

Oxfam Australia spreads awareness by publishing reports detailing the relationship between major brands and their underpaid workers overseas. There have been four reports since 2017. The most recent one is Shopping for a Bargain, which anyone can download for free. It outlines price negotiation, poor management of orders and other practices to help keep wages low.

Another way Oxfam is campaigning to create a fair fashion industry is by publishing its Naughty or Nice List. The list shows how different brands have fared in regards to paying workers. It ranks companies in order, using a sliding scale ranging from being transparent, making a commitment, separating labor costs and ultimately paying a living wage.

The Naughty or Nice List did not list any companies as paying a living wage. However, a number of companies, including fashion giant H&M, have separated labor costs. Even more brands such as Target, Kmart and Cotton On have made commitments to fair pay while others such as Zara have yet to make a commitment.

Oxfam is campaigning to create a fair fashion industry by appealing to private citizens. While the nonprofit does not advocate for boycotting any specific brands, Oxfam involves people by asking them to sign a pledge. This demands that Australia’s major brands pay workers making their products a living wage. The nonprofit reports that because of the public’s push for transparency, 14 major brands have published their factory locations online in the past three years.

Signs of Progress

Oxfam’s campaign is not without adversity. COVID-19 has slowed the global supply chain, cutting employment and leaving many workers without severance pay. However, many companies have made clear commitments to pay workers living wages. In January 2021, H&M’s regional manager for Bangladesh made an argument to increase workers’ minimum wage and stated that the Swedish retailer had paid more for garment items the increase of wages.

In the past, protests over low wages in Bangladesh have resulted in retaliatory dismissals, blacklists and even criminal charges. However, Oxfam’s campaign to create a fair fashion industry, coupled with other nonprofit work and public opinion may be a step in a different direction.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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