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

Slow fashion and traditional Guatemalan textile production
Global interest in slow fashion and Guatemalan textile production often leads to exploitation of the designs and the profits. The weavers themselves often do not receive a fair wage for their work, which is incredibly time and labor-consuming. Fortunately, recent efforts are pushing for collaborations to protect these traditions and the indigenous weavers while still sharing their extraordinary work with the world.

The Guatemalan Textile Production Tradition

Mayan mothers and grandmothers teach women in Guatemala how to work with cotton from a very young age. They learn to use a loom and to create traditional natural dyes from ingredients such as avocado, banana, lemon and cochineal, a local insect. The hand-spun cotton and loom that the indigenous women use represents the very essence of their cultural practices. The result of this process is beautiful and colorful garments, bags and accessories that tourists have long purchased as souvenirs. People often purchase the goods and mark them up for resale, leaving the artisan behind.

An awareness of concerns about exploitation and cultural appropriation, along with movements of slow fashion has led to efforts to protect, preserve and appropriately collaborate and share traditional Guatemalan textile weaving.

Slow Fashion and Traditional Guatemalan Textile Production

A short documentary called “Artisans Guatemaya” sheds light on the complexities of the relationship between the 1 million Guatemalan artisans who need to have their opportunities and rights protected as well as the perspective of fashion industry leaders.  Mutual goals may include a vision of sustainability, collaboration, preservation of culture, knowledge-sharing and a mutually profitable model of cultural tourism which makes tradition and history economically viable today.  In addressing the ethics of this dynamic, it is important to move away from cultural appropriation toward cultural appreciation. The women face poverty and need to make a living. Therefore, people should place attention on these women’s economic and social development.

Small collectives of indigenous women join forces to protect their rights. Pablo Martinez of Etnica Travel Eco Tours says there are occasions when outsiders offer the women help that is inappropriate and therefore not useful. He emphasizes the necessity of listening carefully to the needs and wishes of local, artisan women and including them in the outcome of the exchanges. Through co-creation efforts, one should not lose sight of the artistry of the women.

A New Protected Artisanal Market in Guatemala

Slow fashion and traditional Guatemalan textile production also led to a specialized and protected artisanal market in Guatemala. Ethical Fashion Guatemala protects the rights of artisans and prevents high markup resale of goods purchased and then resold. James Dillon and Kara Goebel, both from the U.S., founded Ethical Fashion Guatemala. They bring the technology platform to provide a global market to local artisans. The pair also led the battle against 64,000 Etsy sellers for copyright infringement of Guatemalan patterns. This legal action was highly effective in curbing the blatant stealing of designs.

Ethical Fashion Guatemala claims transparency. It states that Guatemalan artisans receive 80 percent of the money that people spend on textile goods on its site and that all other sites that make such claims are imitations. Customers can purchase traditionally woven goods and can also arrange to have a tourism experience and connect with the local weavers. Many local artisans create very high-quality and high-fashion handmade goods. People especially know them for purses and bags.

The Consequences of Fast Fashion in Guatemala

One side effect of fast fashion that threatens traditional practices is the occurrence of pacas. Pacas are small, second-hand clothing shops that some indigenous women run as a small business. Indigenous women chose to run these as opposed to weaving as a matter of convenience. Weaving traditional textiles is time and labor-intensive, often with a small payout. It can take weeks or a full month to weave a traditional garment.  Resale of used clothes arriving from the U.S., on the other hand, is quick and easy. There is a concern that this model could be a threat to traditional practices as fewer women will pass on the ways of dying and weaving to their daughters. Pacas are one of the primary reasons that indigenous women have stopped wearing their traditional clothing. Guatemalan factories still churn mass-produced textiles (fast fashion), known as maquilas. This type of industry is highly competitive with China and continues to boom, despite a movement for more sustainable products. Ten to 20 years ago, the spotlight revealed the labor violations in these maquilas. There are still some labor violations, but paople have been paying much less attention to these factories in recent years.

In summary of slow fashion and traditional Guatemalan textile production issues, artisans can protect their heritage and legacy, and craft in collaboration with each other and with concerned and interested outside partners. There will always remain the vulnerability of exploitation, but awareness, legal action and strong relationships can minimize these challenges.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr

Ethical FashionOperating under a set of core ethics, sustainable fashion brands eliminate harsh impacts on the environment while also providing safe workplaces and fair wages for the individuals making the products, the majority of whom are women. U.N. Women says increasing female employment “boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality.” This is a major step forward to the alleviation of global poverty in developing nations. Keep reading to learn more about these five top ethical fashion brands.

5 Ethical Fashion Brands Focused on Poverty Reduction

  1. ABLE
    This brand focuses on providing ethical fashion by supporting economic opportunities for women in an effort to eradicate poverty. After seeing firsthand the effects of generational poverty in Ethiopia, Barrett Ward, ABLES’s founder, created the company to give “women an opportunity to earn a living, empowering them to end the cycle of poverty.” With 45 million women employed in the fashion industry, ABLE sees the investment in women as a necessary business strategy to bolster communities and economies worldwide. The company is proud that 98 percent of its employees are women and challenges the culture of the fashion industry by publishing wages, an act of transparency directly attributed to the protection and empowerment of the women it invests in.
  2. Parker Clay
    Parker Clay is a company that values timeless craftsmanship in order to provide quality leather goods to its consumers and economic opportunities for its artisans. But at its core, the founders saw an “opportunity to empower vulnerable women through enterprise” after learning that many women and girls are targets for prostitution and human trafficking in Ethiopia. In fact, in the country’s capital, around 150,000 work in the commercial sex industry.

    Parker Clay partners with Ellilta – Women At Risk, a nonprofit based in Ethiopia that helps women from being lured into prostitution or trafficking. Many of the women supported by this organization work at Ellilta Products where Parker Clay sources its blankets. Providing women with an opportunity to work is more than just a job, Parker Clay believes it is the start to social and economic stability.

  3. KNOWN SUPPLY
    By reimagining the process of apparel production, KNOWN SUPPLY works “with underserved populations … to show the powerful impact clothing purchases can have” by supporting the women who make the clothes in more than one way. KNOWN SUPPLY chooses to celebrate each maker by “humanizing” each product with signatures.

    The company also provides consumers with clear information about the country where each ethical fashion good is made, accompanied by a gallery of the women who make them. This feature gives consumers a look into the lives and communities being directly impacted by their purchases.

  4. Carry117
    At Carry117, providing economic empowerment to at-risk women is a necessary foundation for sustainable development. This brand, based in Korah, Ethiopia — a place where disease and poverty run rampant — believes that when women are empowered, families are strengthened. Their goal is to give these individuals “a hand up out of poverty, with a unified desire to bring change to the community.”
  5. Anchal Project
    In 2010, Colleen Clines, Co-Founder and CEO of Anchal, was inspired to start the company after a trip to India where she learned about “the extreme oppression women faced as commercial sex workers.” Today, the nonprofit not only sells fair-trade goods made of artwork and textiles significant to the artisans’ journey to empowerment but also provides holistic opportunities for the artisans to stay empowered in their communities.

Danyella Wilder
Photo: Flickr

Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh—designer, disc jockey, engineer and architect—has made major strides in the fashion world. His designs have also helped bring awareness and assistance to people in need.

Who is Virgil Abloh?

Virgil Abloh was appointed Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director in March 2018. Prior to his appointment, Abloh was running his own clothing line called Off-White. He launched Off-White in 2013 as a follow up to his streetwear project, Pyrex Vision, which he had started at Kanye West’s design agency, DONDA. His career as a designer serves as an homage to his mother, who used to be a seamstress, despite receiving a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in architecture.

Abloh’s Philanthropic Efforts for Solar Power

Abloh participated in the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair – Spring/Summer 2019 Edition by joining model Naomi Campbell, graphic designer Peter Saville and photographer Nick Knight in bringing awareness to the Little Sun Foundation, a program focused on the use of solar power. He designed a poster in which the main focus was a solar-powered lamp that comes with a strap so that it can be removed from its stand and worn around the neck like a torch.

This lamp is especially important in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where electricity is not readily available. People usually light their homes with kerosene lamps, which release toxic fumes that are extremely detrimental to the environment and those around it. When kerosene lamps are replaced with solar-powered lamps, users notice improvements in their health, which also results in better school attendance for school-age children.

The Little Sun Foundation was founded by artist, Olafur Eliasson, whose goal is to provide solar energy to those communities that lack electricity. The foundation also trains youth through solar-education programs. The programs “aim to provide children with tools and knowledge that empower them to shape a sustainable future for themselves and for the planet,” the foundation’s website says.

Without proper lighting, refugee camps can seem like a scary and dangerous place to live, especially for women and children. Wearing the solar-powered lamp helps users feel more at peace about their surroundings. Not to mention, the lamps provide extra light to students who need it to perform well on their homework.

Abloh’s Philanthropic Efforts for Children of War

Abloh contributed his talents in FAMILY’s creative charity initiative to design a graphic t-shirt collection with proceeds going to War Child. War Child is an organization that provides education and a safe space for children and families who have been displaced by war. They also train victims of war to be able to provide for themselves after suffering the loss of their homes and jobs. Their services are offered in Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan.

With his role at Louis Vuitton, Abloh hopes to accomplish great things, not just in the fashion industry, but in an ever-changing, diverse society.

“I want to use Louis Vuitton’s history with travel to really look at different cultures around the world to help make all our humanity visible. When creativity melds together with global issues, I believe you can bring the world together,” Abloh said.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

fast fashion and poverty
In recent years, brands like Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo, H&M and Forever 21 have come under fire for creating fast fashion. Fast fashion products are clothing and accessories that companies price significantly lower than the competition, produce more quickly and make of lower quality. Like many products, the world’s poor produces fast fashion, and thus, helps continue the cycle of poverty. Here are three facts about fast fashion and poverty.

Sweatshops

People create fast fashion in dangerous sweatshops. To provide cheap, ever-changing inventories for customers, fast fashion companies perpetuate fast fashion and poverty by relying on factories in countries with poverty wages, where safety, sustainable practices and suitable working conditions are nearly nonexistent.

One such factory complex was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the collapsing of a building in 2013 killed over 1,100 people and injured thousands more. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories that manufactured products for almost 30 major European and North American fashion companies.

Today, however, there has been an increasing demand for company transparency and ethical manufacturing practices. In the wake of the Rana Plaza Tragedy, the Bangladeshi government has sought to improve safety measures in garment factories and had 38 people charged with murder in 2016 for their roles in the building collapse. Along with the Bangladeshi government’s efforts, companies and trade unions signed two major safety agreements: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Brands like Nike and Patagonia committed to adhering to higher transparency standards after the tragedy.

Environmental Impact

The business model of fast fashion companies emerged from the idea that consumers always want to stay on top of trends, and thus, will buy new clothes as trends change. To change trends more quickly, fast fashion brands release new clothing once a week or more, which creates a great deal of waste. Instead of the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer clothing seasons that were once prevalent, fast fashion companies have created 52 micro-seasons.

Since the clothes are only trendy for one week or less, companies do not create them to last. Often, fast fashion clothing falls apart in the washing machine or dryer after only one or two wears. If the clothing falls apart in one wash and was no longer trendy anyway, consumers automatically go back out to buy new, cheap pieces from the fast fashion brands. The clothing is so cheap to buy that consumers may not realize that they are spending more money in the long run in terms of cost-per-wear on a fast fashion garment compared to a more high-quality one.

The destroyed and unwearable fast fashion, which contributes to nearly 70 pounds of textile waste per person, per year in the United States, ends up in U.S. landfills or ships, along with other garbage, to developing countries. Many of these developing countries do not have the capacity to deal with all of this additional waste, and therefore, cannot prevent pollution or other waste-related problems.

To combat the issue of the fast-fashion causes, retailers like Asos and Gap, along with dozens of others, signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment in 2017; the Commitment encourages brands to use monofibers instead of mixed-fiber and synthetic fabrics. These practices make it easier for people to recycle fabrics and garments going forward.

Chemicals in Clothes

Fast fashion products often contain lead to create bold colors and shiny accessories. Vinyl and plastic products that are red, green, orange and yellow are more likely to have high contamination than products in darker or more muted hues.

Even in low concentrations, lead is extremely dangerous to human health. When it comes to fast fashion merchandise, experts are concerned that these products will leave microscopic particles of lead and other chemicals on consumers’ hands; without proper sanitation practices, these particles can end up on food, drink and other accessories, which can create an environment for repeated exposure.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead contamination, even at low levels, can cause kidney failure, nervous system issues and cardiovascular risks. Lead accumulation in bones and tissues can also cause reproductive issues in women, such as infertility; lead released during pregnancy puts both the mother and fetus in danger. Many experts, considering these risks, have stated that there is no safe level of lead contamination.

The women and children charged with producing these garments and accessories are in danger of lead contamination, just like the women purchasing and wearing these products. For these workers, treatments for health conditions related to lead contamination are either too costly to afford or unavailable. Often, workers may die from complications related to lead contamination in the products they manufacture.

To combat these problems, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is fighting against fast fashion companies to eliminate lead contamination on clothing and accessories. In 2010, the CEH sued retailers regarding toxins in accessories; since then, the CEH has been testing accessories sold in-store and online by fast fashion brands for lead contamination.

As more disturbing facts come to light about the fast fashion industry, consumers continue to demand change. With the rise of ethical fashion brands and the increased popularity of secondhand shopping, both fast fashion and poverty may disappear in the future.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

People Tree FoundationWithin the last two decades, the fashion industry has become increasingly cheap and accessible. The term fast fashion refers to rapidly and cheaply produced apparel that cycles out according to ever-changing trends. This term has been integrated into most fashion brands’ profit-oriented business models and has negatively impacted impoverished communities in developing countries.

Fast fashion brands often exploit poor countries for cheap labor, and many supply chains that are connected with big-name brands do not provide safe working conditions or sufficient living wages. For example, nine out of 10 fashion workers in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for their families.

The People Tree Foundation

However, People Tree is defying the harmful practices of the fashion industry. People Tree is a fair trade brand, based in London and Tokyo, which takes a more people-oriented approach to fashion. People Tree’s work focuses on promoting sustainability, empowering women and improving conditions in poor communities. This fair trade brand is dedicated to producing ethically-made and sustainable clothing by using environmentally friendly materials and implementing good working conditions. People Tree refers to their practices as “slow fashion.”

People Tree is not just a fashion brand; it also works alongside an independent charity called the People Tree Foundation. The foundation works to accomplish three main goals: reduce poverty, protect the environment and spread awareness about fair trade. To reach these goals, People Tree raises funds to provide education and training to people in developing countries, protect the environment by using organic materials and campaigning to raise awareness about sustainable and ethical fashion.

The People Tree Foundation works in countries that are vulnerable to exploitation such as Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Kenya. These countries are susceptible to the injustices of fast fashion because the garment industry dominates their economy and comprises the majority of jobs. The foundation is involved with a variety of fair trade projects in these developing countries that aim to empower artisan groups in small communities.

In 2015, the People Tree Foundation generated more than £10,000 from sales and donations. The funds raised for that year were donated to projects such as Thanapara Swallows. Thanapara Swallows is a nongovernmental organization in Bangladesh committed to educating and training the poor population and creating health awareness and self-employment opportunities. Thanapara Swallows built a school in Bangladesh that educates nearly 300 students who are getting five years of primary education, and People Tree supports 50 percent of their school’s running costs.

Other Sustainable Solutions

In the fight against fast fashion, People Tree is not alone. Many fair trade organizations and brands have been on a rise in popularity. For example, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which People Tree is a member of, is among the organizations leading the movement toward ethical and sustainable fashion.

The WTFO has over 330 Fair Trade Enterprise members and over 70 supporting organizations that are committed to abiding by fair trade practices, including respecting the environment, ensuring gender equality, providing fair wages and good working conditions and ensuring opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers. The WTFO has impacted over 965,700 livelihoods by creating a fair trade standard for brands to follow. Brands verified are by the WTFO through peer reviews and independent audits.

Ultimately, the future of fashion remains in the hands of the consumer. Making conscious purchases makes the world one step closer to making the production of apparel more sustainable and humane. Other ways to practice sustainability include reducing consumption by buying only what you need, buying only secondhand clothing and researching the companies behind products online or on the website and mobile app Good On You.

– Louise Macaraniag
Photo: Media Server


Chicago-based fair trade fashion company Mata Traders, all began when three women went on a trip to India. Mata Traders now provides a steady income for many women who find themselves in poor conditions in India and Nepal. The name is a nod to the universal power within us all, the power of the female, as Mata means mother in the Hindi language.

The company’s selection is entirely for women by women, spanning all types of clothing and accessories. All the patterns seen on Mata Traders goods are its own design creations. In production, the designs utilize the processes of block printing and screen-printing, which have been widely practiced art forms in India for centuries. Everything Mata Traders sells is handmade, whether it is a pair of earrings or a dress.

The company partners with cooperatives in the region, which are practically operating as a type of social service. This means that women members are provided with a variety of health, social and educational resources. Mata Traders founder Maureen Dunn says it also provides “healthcare, daycare and scholarships for the women’s children, paid maternity leave, retirement pensions, vision testing: all part of the membership package. Social workers on staff assist the women in addressing their personal needs, from opening a bank account to situations of domestic violence and dealing with HIV/AIDS.”

Women are paid by each individual piece they create and play a role in deciding the prices for which items sell. The Huffington Post recently named Mata Traders one of the top five brands that are empowering women. Mata Traders products are now sold in every U.S. state, online and in many countries around the world.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

 Fashion and Ethical Fashion
The fashion industry is having a dramatic impact on the environment and on the lives of people around the world, predominantly those in poverty. Fashion can be bucketed into two categories: fast and ethical. To the regular consumer in the United States or in Europe, it might be hard to know the difference between the two.

Negative Global Impacts of Fast Fashion

We are living in a world of fast fashion, a term Merriam-Webster defines as, “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Some of the large-scale fast fashion brands include H&M, Levis and Nike. With fashion trends changing quicker and fashion seasons getting shorter, cheap clothing is purposely being made poorly in order to not last.

With these big brands producing so much clothing at such a fast rate, there are more and more amounts of clothing going to thrift stores. Thrift stores can’t keep up either, though. What many don’t know is that about 40 percent of donated clothes end up getting baled up and sent to different countries overseas. In New York City, most donated clothes end up making their way to Africa.

Besides the overwhelming amount of tangible fabric leftovers, fast fashion is having a dramatic impact on the people who make our clothing. Garment workers are practically invisible, with 97 percent of our clothes being made overseas in developing countries.

Workers in the fashion industry are exploited; they receive extremely low wages while working in inadequate conditions. About 40 million people around the world (85 percent who are women) create clothes. In 2013, an eight-story garment factory called Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh killing 1,135 people and injuring around 2,500. The average monthly income for a garment worker in Bangladesh is only 68 dollars.

Ethical Fashion is Gaining Visibility as a Solution

With such problematic issues surrounding the fashion industry, it is increasingly important consumers make responsible and sustainable purchases. Ethical fashion has gained popularity as many companies and organizations are adopting fair-trade and other responsible business practices.

The United Nations’ Ethical Fashion Initiative is just one of many such initiatives. Seeing fashion as a means for development, this initiative upholds that, “in all things, people need to come first.” This initiative also stresses the significance of “fair supply chains” and “dignified working conditions” that do not involve “any form of labor exploitation.”

There are many people who put work into creating the things we purchase. There is fast fashion and ethical fashion – it is our choice which one to support.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr