Ethical Fashion
Slow fashion, also called ethical fashion, has become more popular over the last several years. Surveys showed that shoppers were 10% more interested in knowing how manufacturers make their clothes in 2020 than they were two years before. Meanwhile, the surveys showed that around 66% considered sustainability when purchasing products. Slow fashion has countless benefits from alleviating environmental strain to stopping animal cruelty. Also, slow fashion can help end world poverty. By buying ethical fashion, consumers directly aid companies that care about their employees. These shoppers are also opening many new industries within world economies and providing the makers who sew their clothes a better quality of life.

Brands that Care

People who desire change in the fashion industry and better working conditions for garment makers have created many ethical fashion brands. These companies seek to spread awareness about harmful working practices. They want to give back to the communities that contribute to their work. They aim to show the public that customers can have beautiful clothes without exploiting people in the process. These brands strive to support garment workers who would, otherwise, be living in poverty.

One brand that recognizes that slow fashion can help end world poverty is Able. The brand started in Ethiopia in 2010 to give women who wanted to leave the sex industry a chance to find work. Since 2018, Able has started a movement called the “Accountable” and published its worker’s wages. The movement aimed to give its customers full transparency and educate the public on what a “living wage” includes and inspire them to demand the same for other brands.

Another example of an ethical fashion brand is Seza’ne. Starting in 2013, Seza’ne’s focus is on “helping the next generation.” This led it to start the nonprofit Demain (meaning “tomorrow” in French) in 2017, which is focusing on improving education access for disadvantaged children worldwide. Partnering with other education charities, Demain has started a monthly program named “The Call of the 21st.” This program includes donating 10% of the profit Seza’ne makes on the 21st of each month to its supported charities. It also ensures that Seza’ne releases a new design each month with the intent of donating 100% of the profit. Demain supported over 30,000 children and has collected over $3 million for its supported charities.

Buying Less

Since ethical fashion pieces are more expensive, customers receive encouragement to buy less. Besides considering the price, the clothes last much longer and thus buyers do not have to replace them as frequently. Buying less helps garment workers because they have less pressure to make more clothing in exploitive working conditions.

A typical fast-fashion brand expects to put out a new fashion line every two weeks. Garment workers often experience inhumane working days, working 11 hours or so with no breaks due to the high demand. To make the clothing cheap for customers, these companies pay their employees very little. Sometimes, they receive as little as 50 cents an hour. This system limits workers to poverty, as they have no time to find other sources of income.

Boosting the Economy

Perhaps it is counterintuitive that buying less clothing could have a positive impact on our economy. However, slow fashion opens up many new industries that do not exist under the fast fashion model, particularly through a system called “circular fashion.” This aims to use and restore clothing for as long as possible.

Because people throw most clothes away when they do not want them or when garments have damage, they lose more than $500 billion every year. Meanwhile, clothing from slow fashion brands tends to last longer and customers can wear them longer, which opens up many new industries to increase a garment’s life. Examples of possible industries include clothing repair, fixing damaged clothing as well as adjusting clothing sizes or altering clothes to fit new trends. Furthermore, one can also partake in clothing resale, selling clothes so people who want sustainable clothing on a smaller budget can purchase them second-hand. Lastly, people can utilize clothing rental, especially in the case of when they will use clothing for a short amount of time such as in the case of formal clothing for children.

Outside Fashion

Outside of the fashion industry, slow fashion can help end world poverty and boost the economy in the same way other industries can. Giving the people who make clothing a livable wage and helping them rise out of poverty allows them to purchase more U.S./European products.

Slow fashion can help alleviate world poverty because it allows the people behind these brands to continue carrying out their beneficial work. It demands that the people making clothing receive just pay and have safe working conditions. When garment workers obtain support, they are able to have access to resources for themselves and their families.

Mikayla Burton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Future of the Garment Industry
Khadi Oaxaca is a small nonprofit with a big goal: community-based sustainable development. Comprising more than 400 families in Oaxaca, Mexico, this fabric and clothing producer is both contributing to local progress and taking part in a larger movement challenging what the future of the garment industry will look like. Seeking inspiration from the past, this avant-garde project has surprising roots in a tradition from across the globe.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Khadi Movement

Khadi refers to hand-spun, hand-woven Indian cloth. In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi began promoting khadi production as a means for impoverished individuals living in rural India to achieve economic self-sufficiency and consequently, liberation from dependence on British textiles. Khadi soon became a symbol of Indian national pride and the Indian independence movement at large.

Khadi Makes its Way to Mexico

Three decades after India gained its independence, Mark “Marcos” Brown—the man who co-founded the Khadi Oaxaca project—visited San Sebastián Río Hondo in Oaxaca. He subsequently traveled to India, where he lived in the Gandhi ashram for two years, learning about both the history of khadi and how to spin and weave the cloth. When he returned to Oaxaca in the 1990s, he brought with him a Gandhian spinning wheel and began teaching the other villagers, including the Ramírez family, how to use it.

In 2010, Brown, his wife Kalindi Attar and the Ramírez family laid the foundations of what would become Khadi Oaxaca. Together, they built what they hoped could be an alternative to conventional production for the future of the garment industry. They hosted a cotton-spinning workshop with more than 30 women from the town. In 2014, members of the group began designing clothing and using plant-based dyes. Today, the affiliation consists of spinners, weavers and embroiderers, as well as growers along the Oaxaca coast who supply cotton to these artisans.

Farm-to-Garment Economics

Khadi Oaxaca’s farm-to-garment model provides crucial income to indigenous Zapotec families living in the agrarian villages of Oaxaca. Though recent data is difficult to come by, Sedesol, the department of the Mexican Secretary of Social Development, reported in 2010 that more than 55% of the population of San Sebastián Río Hondo was living in extreme poverty. By promoting a “thread standard,” Khadi Oaxaca managers raised the market value of a kilogram of thread from 400 pesos ($18 USD) in 2010 to 1,500 pesos ($70 USD) today, enough to meet spinners’ basic needs of survival and incentivize the practice of spinning. The integrated supply chain offers autonomy and provides a reliable source of revenue that has only become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than Just Cloth: An Ethical, Sustainable Alternative

However, Khadi Oaxaca is about more than just business. The company aims to provide an example of cottage industry production as an alternative to today’s fashion industry, which is too-often exploitative of both natural and human resources. The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply and produces 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. Moreover, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second, amounting to 85% of textiles ending up in landfills every year. Furthermore, human rights abuses within the garment industry are rampant.

Fast fashion–inexpensive clothing produced rapidly in response to fleeting trends–is possible only through the employment of low-paid factory workers, a workforce that includes mostly females and may employ 16.7 million children in South Asia alone. Child labor is a major issue in Mexico as well, with several nonprofits currently working to eradicate its presence specifically from the fashion supply chain.

Weaving Sustainable Development

 Khadi Oaxaca believes that garment producers and consumers can and should do better. The company sources its organic cotton from local farmers along the Oaxaca coast and uses plant-based, regionally harvested dyes–never chemicals. While the project remains a small-scale one, it hopes to function as an archetype for what the future of the garment industry could be: an environmentally-friendly industry that supports the livelihood of its workers and delivers beautiful, high-quality clothing to consumers.

– Margot Seidel
Photo: Pixabay

garment industryThe garment industry in Asia, particularly South and East Asia, is one of the largest industries in the region. For example, in 2017, the textile industry was India’s second-largest industry, valued at about $108 billion and accounting for 5% of India’s total GDP. Since the 1960s, Asia has sent $670 billion’s worth of clothes, shoes and bags annually to Europe, the United States and wealthier Asian countries.

The novel coronavirus, however, has brought the global economy to a halt. As demand for clothing has fallen, many retailers have canceled orders from factories, forcing many to shut down. For example, in Cambodia, more than 250 garment factories have suspended operations, putting more than 130,000 workers out of work. Myanmar has seen around 150 of its roughly 600 factories shut down. Despite COVID-19’s effect on the global economy and apparel market, the garment industry could be critical in restarting South and East Asian economies. Here are five reasons why the garment industry will help Asia’s poor recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 Reasons Why the Garment Industry Will Help Asia’s Poor

  1. Asia is the West’s biggest supplier of apparel. The West and other advanced, wealthier Asian economies account for 60% of the Asian garment market. From January to May 2020, more than 80% of U.S. apparel imports, measured by value and quantity, came from Asia. With no other major alternative suppliers, Asia can continue to be the main source of garments for these nations.
  2. Asian garments are competitive in the global market. The low cost of labor in Asia makes prices competitive, and Asian garment manufacturers are viewed as reliable, flexible and fast to market, all of which are benefits that many other textile producers cannot consistently offer. Additionally, thanks to a highly integrated regional supply chain, garment factories can produce goods using automated technologies from advanced Asian nations, making Asian garments technologically competitive.
  3. Asia itself is one of the largest garment consumption markets in the world. China is the largest consumer of apparel, with around 40 billion units of apparel sold annually, above India (6 billion) and Japan (3.3 billion). As these economies continue to expand and advance, consumers will experience a rise in purchasing power, which could further increase the demand for garments. The rising trend of products “Made in Asia for Asia,” then, could significantly benefit garment manufacturers.
  4. Garment-making is a low-skill job. Low-skill jobs create work opportunities for those in poverty, who may not have had access to an education. Many countries in South and Southeast Asia suffer from high poverty rates: from 1990 to 2013, South Asia’s share of the global poor increased from 27.3% to 33.4%, despite the number of impoverished people in South Asia decreasing by 248.8 million. This means that South Asia is falling behind the global pace of eliminating poverty. The garment industry could be a solution to this problem, presenting a unique opportunity for the poor as a low-skill industry with quickly rising demand worldwide.
  5. The garment industry has lifted Asian citizens out of poverty in the past. For example, in 2016, the Cambodian garment industry provided jobs for 930,000 workers, nearly 79% of whom were female. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the garment industry was the fastest growing industry in Myanmar, accounting for 10% of its exports and providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom were migrants from rural villages. In 2018, the garment industry employed 1.6 million people in Vietnam, accounting for more than 12% of the country’s workforce. The garment industry is particularly noteworthy for providing jobs to female workers: women’s share of apparel employment is much higher than women’s share in most other industries in nearly every country in South and East Asia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the Asian garment industry to a standstill, with thousands of factories shut down and millions of workers kept from work and a source of income. However, the world’s largest markets still depend on Asia for apparel, and demand will surely increase as the global market recovers. The garment industry could provide jobs to millions in Asia who were pushed into poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially help to lift them out.

Harry Yeung
Photo: Flickr

Garment Industry in Bangladesh
The garment industry in Bangladesh is the number one business in the country, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. Four out of five of the 4.4 million workers employed in the garment industry in Bangladesh are women, so one can often consider issues facing this industry to be feminist issues. Here are five facts about the garment industry in Bangladesh including how they relate to feminism.

5 Facts About the Garment Industry in Bangladesh

  1. The garment industry in Bangladesh is huge. As previously stated, the garment industry is the number one business in the country. Bangladesh is the second-largest individual country in the world for apparel manufacturing, second only to China. H&M, Target and Marks and Spencer are among the global brands that contract with garment factories in Bangladesh for clothing production.
  2. The minimum wage is not a living wage. The average garment industry worker will work for 12 hours a day and make about $95 a month. The majority of these workers are women who support several relatives and live paycheck to paycheck. According to an international aid group Oxfam, only 2% of the price of an article of clothing that a person purchases in Australia go to the worker who made it. By contrast, a top fashion industry CEO will make in four days what a Bangladeshi garment factory worker will make in a lifetime.
  3. The garment industry in Bangladesh has a history of disaster. Two garment factory disasters, one in 2012 and one in 2013, left almost 1,200 garment factory workers dead. Following these incidents, many changes occurred to improve labor regulations and safety conditions in the garment factories. Many companies contracting with these factories also stepped up, paying full wages to workers unable to return, as well as providing compensation to injured workers and families of those who had died.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the garment industry in Bangladesh hard. Millions of workers are unemployed due to the global pandemic. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer’s Export Association (BGMEA) reported that 1,025 factories experienced cancellations of export orders totaling 864.17 million items worth $2.81 billion. The BGMEA president also reported a 50% decrease in orders and does not expect the sales to bounce back for at least another year. Although Bangladeshi law requires employers to pay severance, few actually do. There are no unemployment benefits in Bangladesh. Many displaced garment workers fear that they will die of starvation if they do not die of COVID-19 first.
  5. Pre-existing shortcomings of the Bangladeshi garment industry are being highlighted. Longstanding issues of the industry include a lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by industry owners and big brands, loopholes in the country’s labor laws and a disconnect between a practical living wage and the legal minimum wage. After most factories shut down because of COVID-19, the Bangladeshi government issued a $600 million bailout for all manufacturing industries in Bangladesh. The garment sector received the majority of this, but the amount barely covered about a month’s salary for all the workers in the garment industry.

Despite the seemingly dire state of the garment industry in Bangladesh in the face of constant poverty coupled with a global pandemic, some are making many efforts and are continuing to implement them in order to better the industry. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has launched many efforts to better the garment industry in Bangladesh since the disasters of 2012 and 2013. One of these efforts is called the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program which offers career progression opportunities for female sewing operators. They receive training in the soft and technical skills necessary for them to assume supervisory positions. The program also trains managers on how to select, promote and support female workers in the industry. Since the launch of this program, IFC has trained over 140 female sewing operators in 28 factories, 60% of whom received promotion weeks after completing the training. Remake, a nonprofit in San Francisco that aims to make the global fashion industry more humane and environmentally sustainable, has launched another effort. Recently, Remake has pressured big brands to pay back contractors in Bangladesh for whatever they ordered before the pandemic. Of these brands, 16 have already agreed to do so.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Flickr

Cambodian garment industryThe Cambodian economy is heavily reliant on the garment industry, and the global garment industry is heavily reliant on Cambodia. The nation accounts for 45% of employed garment manufacturers worldwide. As of 2011, the industry was responsible for 80% of Cambodia’s total exports. However, Cambodia is also infamous for its poor treatment of factory workers, particularly in the garment industry. Here are six facts to understand labor rights violations in the Cambodian garment industry. 

Facts About Labor Rights Violations in the Cambodian Garment Industry

  1. Fixed duration contracts lead to worker insecurity. Employers in the Cambodian garment industry have largely shifted from undetermined duration, or long-term, contracts to fixed-duration, or short-term, contracts. The employers said the shift was in the interest of competitive, flexible business. In reality, fixed-duration contracts have resulted in increased job insecurity, reduced enforcement of international labor laws, industrial relation breakdowns and massive strikes. 
  2. Production targets create high-pressure work environments. To meet quotas, workers are often either forced to work overtime or enticed to do so with a small bonus that is usually never paid. In addition, some workers are often too intimidated to take breaks, even to use the bathroom or drink water.   
  3. Gender discrimination is common. More than 90% of workers in the Cambodian garment industry are women, mostly from rural areas with only a primary school education. One example of gender discrimination is pregnancy-based discrimination, which is abundant in the industry. Employers are known to refuse employment to pregnant women, refuse to renew the contracts of women who become pregnant or even fire pregnant women as their due dates approach. Even if pregnant women remain employed, they receive no workplace accommodations and often have to quit due to fatigue.
  4. Factories frequently violate child labor laws. Though the minimum age requirement for employment in Cambodia is 15, many factories employ children between the ages of 12 and 14. Employers often require children to work long past their eight-hour workday maximum and pay them below minimum wage. To hide this violation, some employers tell the children to hide when visitors come to the factory.
  5. The government often busts unions. There were concentrated efforts to bust unions in at least 35 factories from 2012 to 2015. In December 2013, the Cambodian Minister of Labor introduced obstacles to union formation. The challenges included delaying union certification and giving factory management time to retaliate against union members. Similarly, poor government inspection of factories and labor law enforcement makes it nearly impossible for small unions to assert their rights. 
  6. The Cambodian Ministry of Labor is making significant changes. In January of 2019, the Ministry of Labor introduced several labor law reforms. Among these was the introduction of bimonthly salary payments and seniority payments: compulsory, periodic payments made to employees with long term contracts. The government also introduced severance payments, which require employers to pay fixed-term contract employees at the end of a contract. 

Many people in the Cambodian garment industry face labor rights violations due to a lack of enforcement of labor laws. However, the Cambodian government and international fashion retailers are taking measures to improve working conditions. These measures are the first step to creating better environments and living wages for Cambodian garment workers.

– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Garment Industry in Nepal
Nepal is one of many developing South Asian countries that plays a substantial role in the global ready-made garment industry. These mass-produced textiles have become a staple export from Nepal, but they have also normalized the unethical practices of fast-fashion chains within the country. Over the last two decades, Nepal has struggled to regulate both economic and ethical issues within the garment industry, but the last few years have produced a shift towards a brighter future for garment workers. Here are six facts about the history of the garment industry in Nepal and the efforts to address both the problems of fast-fashion chains and the country’s economic reliance on them.

6 Facts About the Garment Industry in Nepal

  1. In the 1980s, the garment industry in Nepal boomed because of interest and funding from Indian exporters. Due to the product quota limits in India, exporters looked to Nepal to increase their production. This expanded production served to boost not only Nepal’s economy but also its reach on the global production scale. Thus, Nepal became a viable option for countries to produce and export various textiles.
  2. In 2004, intense competition in the global garment market broke out after the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing expired. Nepal struggled to outproduce their competition and subsequently saw a fall in revenue from garment exports. The Multi-Fiber Agreement, an international trade agreement that allowed duty-free access to the U.S. for Nepal, also fell through in 2005 and further exacerbated the country’s declining international revenue.
  3. The international economic aftermath of 9/11 also negatively affected the U.S.’s reliance on the garment industry in Nepal. The U.S. was the recipient of 87% of Nepal’s readymade garments until 2002. In subsequent years, Europe, Canada, Australia, and India have become the largest markets for Nepali garments, making up 90% of the country’s exports.
  4. In the 2018 fiscal year, the garment industry in Nepal hit a new high. The industry made approximately RS 6.34 billion (approximately  $84.9 million), up 6.52% from the previous year. Despite this rise in revenue, Nepal had exported fewer garments than it had the year before.
  5. Chandi Prasal Aryal, president of the Garment Association of Nepal, claimed that the financial growth was due to a shift from quantity to quality. By focusing on producing better garments instead of more garments, other countries were willing to pay extra for better products. Because of the fine quality of the exports, those same countries are now willing to buy even more of the pricier garments.
  6. The focus on quality over quantity changes the focus of the garment industry in Nepal. Instead of relying on fast fashion practices that prioritize creating as many items as possible within a set amount of time, the industry can now shift to more ethical work forms. Thus, the quality of the garments will continue to improve and raise the value of each item, bringing more money back into the Nepali economy.

The exact reach and impact that the garment industry has had on Nepalese poverty remains unclear, but the future looks bright. The Nepalese government reports that employment data within the garment industry is “not readily available” but at the peak of its power, the garment industry employed 12% of the overall labor pool of the Nepalese manufacturing sector. As of 2019, the World Bank calculates the poverty line in Nepal to be $1.90 per person per day. Nepal lacked substantial policy in terms of a minimum wage, but the Library of Congress reports that since 2016, Nepalese workers across industries now make a minimum wage of approximately $3.74 per person per day. The modern garment industry, regulated with a minimum wage, can help lift Nepalese workers above the poverty line of the country, even if the garment industry of the past once presented a potential hurdle.

There still exists substantial work to transform the garment industry in Nepal into both a thriving industry and an equally ethical one; the country is making the first successful steps towards achieving both. This change will provide garment industry employees a better quality of life, as well as ensure that they and their families receive fair treatment.

Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: UN Multimedia

Clothing brands that pay a living wage

In the age of fast fashion, headlines about clothing brands often highlight unfathomably low wages and inhumane working conditions. Companies like Nike have been accused of using sweatshops in Southeast Asia to produce their clothing and shoes on and off since the 1970s. Documentaries like The True Cost have increased public awareness about the grueling working conditions in Asian garment factories, often illegal even when workers’ rights laws are far from comprehensive, all to yield excessive profit margins for large American- or European-based clothing brands. However, some clothing companies have made ethical production a key component of their business, and they prioritize living wage for their employees over excessive profits. This article will highlight five clothing brands that pay a living wage, exemplifying ethical and transparent production practices in garment factories in developing countries.

5 clothing brands that pay a living wage

  1. Matter is a Singapore-based clothing company that sources its materials directly from rural artisans in India and Indonesia. Its philosophy is to serve as a link between these rural artisans and the global market, thus adopting a hybrid supply chain model that combines hand- and machine-woven garments. Matter’s garment factory is closely monitored to live up to international compliance standards and provide its workers with a living wage. It also exclusively uses eco-friendly and natural dyes to protect the environments of the communities where its artisans live and work.
  2. Grana’s business and production both take place in Hong Kong, modeling ethical manufacturing in a metropolis known for its sweatshops while minimizing global shipping costs to maximize affordability for the consumer. Designing, manufacturing, and shipping from Hong Kong allow Grana to pay its workers a living wage while still having a mark-up of less than half of that of most brands. Its factories are visited regularly to ensure that they live up to the company’s high ethical and safety standards. Grana is dedicated to using the highest quality materials sourced from around the world, such as Peruvian Pima cotton, Mongolian cashmere, and Chinese silk, and all these high-end fabrics are produced by workers receiving a living wage.
  3. Everlane is exceptionally transparent about its production practices. Its website shows every single factory where its clothing is produced, which of its clothing is produced there, the number of employees, and a promise that this factory lives up to international ethical production standards. Every factory the company selects to produce its clothing has received a score of 90 out of 100 or better on providing fair wages, reasonable hours and a good environment for its employees. Its website also details the exact breakdown of production cost and profit for every piece of clothing, ensuring that consumers know they are paying a fair price for an ethically produced and high-quality item.
  4. Tonlé, a clothing brand based in Cambodia, is built on the philosophy of zero-waste clothing. Its website details the exact environmental impact of every item produced, which is always significantly lower than the waste created by conventional production of the same item. To live into its zero-waste philosophy, the company either uses all of a material to create a product, or it produces the product entirely from scraps. Its products are handmade without machine assistance, and the company exclusively uses natural dyes. On top of environmental sustainability, Tonlé is also dedicated to paying its employees fairly. In a 45-hour work week, the garment workers in its Phnom Penh factory make between 1.5-2.5 times what the average Cambodian garment worker makes in a 60-hour work week. Tonlé also ensures that factory conditions are safe, and it provides healthcare benefits, free lunches and paid vacations to its garment workers.
  5. Patagonia is one of the most well-known outdoor clothing brands in the United States, and it also prioritizes transparent and sustainable production practices. Every textile mill and factory it uses, from Sri Lanka to Nicaragua, is listed on its website with information including the number and gender breakdown of employees and the items produced there. Patagonia vets all of its factories to ensure that they are “safe, fair, legal and humane,” and it additionally pledges at least one percent of sales to grassroots environmental protection groups.

These clothing brands that pay a living wage are part of an ever-growing movement toward safe, ethical and sustainable clothing. While fast fashion is far from dead, many companies are choosing living wages over profits, a crucial step toward reducing global poverty and creating a more equitable global economy.

– Macklyn Hutchison
Photo: Flickr

Garment IndustryThe fashion tastes of consumers in advanced nations can have serious impacts on the well-being of workers that manufacture clothing products in developing nations.

Not only are these workers often paid unfair wages, but they also often suffer from extremely unsafe working conditions. In 2013, for instance, the collapse of a poorly-built factory in Bangladesh killed over 1,000 people, according to The Guardian.

Garment Industry in Bangladesh

Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, is highly dependent on the garment industry. This means that companies who fail to treat workers respectfully can defend themselves against critics by claiming they provide jobs to people who would not otherwise be able to work.

There is some sense to such a claim. According to The Guardian, 80 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP relies on the ready-made garment industry.

Nevertheless, it is certainly possible for garment companies to do more, both to protect workers as well as to support support development of the economies and societies in which those workers live.

People Tree: A Company Making Changes

One company that has proven to be true is People Tree, a London and Tokyo-based brand that aims to be 100 percent Fair Trade throughout its supply chain.

People Tree has attracted the attention of The Guardian, The Telegraph and other prominent publications for its commitment to Fair Trade policy.

In 2013, it became the first clothing company in the world to receive the product mark of the World Fair Trade Organization.

On its website, People Tree states that “people and the planet are central to everything we do.”

Central to its business model is what the People Tree calls “Slow Fashion,” which is a philosophy that rebels against the high-speed mode of trade that is standard in the fashion industry. It is that rushed mentality that leads to socially and environmentally hazardous practices.

As People Tree’s website defines it, “Slow Fashion means standing up against exploitation, family separation, slum cities and pollution—all the things that make fast fashion so successful.”

With regard to the environment, People Tree engages in a number of sustainable practices ranging from the use of certified organic cotton to dyeing with safe and azo-free chemicals. Products are sourced locally and from recycled material when possible. Once the products are made, People Tree prioritizes shipping by sea over shipping by air, thereby reducing the company’s impact on global warming.

Perhaps most importantly, People Tree’s fabric is woven by hand. Specifically, by the hands of real people whom the company strives to pay well and treat with dignity.

Indeed, one of the reasons People Tree cares so much about environmental friendliness is that it understands the effect pollution has on the environments in which their workers live. Environmentally conscious practices lead to sustainable development and happier workers, which in turn lead to higher productivity and more business, according to the company.

People Tree makes 50 percent advance payments on orders so that farmers and producers can more easily finance Fair Trade. And it manages its Collections so that workers will have enough time to produce garments by hand without being crunched, which the company says “is rare in the fashion industry.”

Setting the Stage for Sustainable Fashion

People Tree goes beyond paying fair wages and maintaining safe conditions, however. In some communities, it provides clean water and offers free education to poor families. In many cases, People Tree partners with organizations that empower disadvantaged workers, such as women and the physically disabled.

A new precedent has been established for the garment industry, as social business and corporate responsibility become increasingly popular in other industries. People Tree’s success demonstrates the potential for companies to think beyond profit and consider the wider impact business can have on impoverished communities in developing countries.

Joe D’Amore

Sources: Telegraph 1, Telegraph 2, People Tree, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: Flickr