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

Fast Fashion and Poverty

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

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

How to Participate in Slow Fashion

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

—Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Soles for Souls
Soles4Souls was founded in 2006 and is based in Nashville, Tennessee. It is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to providing clothing and shoes for the poor. It works in collaboration with local and global partners in the distribution of clothing and shoes, and provides micro-enterprise programs by creating jobs in disadvantaged communities.

Soles4Souls collaborates with various community partners, supporting them through organizational resources. Community partners include homeless shelters receiving shoe donations, women’s shelters receiving business wear donations and inner city hospitals receiving clothing donations. Collection and circulation of wearable donations, as well as providing micro-enterprise programs, are the organization’s focus.

There are two methods of collection that Soles4Souls utilizes. It provides clothing and shoes that are discontinued, floor models, non-marketable overstocks and returns from retailers in the United States and other countries. It also provides clothing and shoes that are collected from individuals, educational centers, faith-based organizations and other corporate partners.

Upon being collected, the items are shipped to designated micro-enterprise businesses in different countries. The organization then contracts with private and nonprofit organizations to provide business resources as support. These methods introduce additional streams of income, and the overall objective is to create self-sustaining opportunities in poor communities.

This initiation of micro-enterprise activities adheres to the Millennium Development Goals in terms of eradicating poverty. On the United Nation’s website, the goal outlines the ability to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.”

Creating micro-enterprise programs in poor communities is a main focus of Soles4Souls. It believes these programs are key components for the social movement to promote social change. It aims to assist communities by providing sustainable jobs to impoverished people through business start-up opportunities. Soles4Souls states, “The concept itself is simple, an embodiment of the old saying, ‘Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; give him a way to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.'”

Additional areas of interest include responding to natural disasters and orphanages by providing clothing and shoes. Soles4Souls has a “ready-inventory” in order to provide resources to disaster areas. In recent years, it has sent inventory to Hurricane Katrina victims. Orphanages in Central and South America, including Haiti, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Tanzania, receive recurring resources in order to help with school uniforms and other essentials.

Soles4Souls aims to impact the 1 billion children who lack basic necessities like shoes and running water.

Erika Wright

Sources: Soles4Souls, UN
Photo: Flickr

Sometime the desire to help others is smothered by the strain of life. Work, bills and other obligations can quickly pile up until any offer of assistance is impossible to carry out. But what if you could help others just by living? Here are three super ways to give something back and get some chores done at the same time.

1. Update Your Wardrobe

Cleaning out your closet can be tedious work, but it can also be therapeutic. Experts say that organization can improve a person’s mental and emotional state. Will Edwards, founder of White Dove Books, explains that organization has been proven to lower stress, boost motivation and save someone valuable time and energy. De-cluttering your wardrobe can help de-clutter your mind. Anything that hasn’t been worn in the last six months should be pulled. “Placeholder items” waste valuable closet space. Put unused clothes to use by donating to a local shelter or donating funds from a yard sale to your favorite cause.

For those needing to add to their wardrobe, online retailers offer weekly sales. Some sites, like Amazon, allow shoppers to donate a percentage of their purchase amount to their favorite charity. Beginning at their favorite charity website, donors locate the Amazon link and shop to their hearts’ delight. After checkout, a certain percentage is sent to the selected organization.

Need to compare different retailers? Some search engines donate change for each internet search generated.

2. Clean Out Your Pantry

Have a pantry full of staples that never seem to get used? Clean it out and donate non-perishables to the nearest food bank or volunteer your time. Fall and winter are the busiest times for charities and any assistance is appreciated. For those lacking the time, there are other ways to help others.

Non-governmental organizations worldwide have committed to providing food relief to developing nations. They recognize that people cannot focus on stimulating the economy if they go to bed hungry. Groups like Food for Life provide food relief for millions of impoverished people on a daily basis and donations are readily accepted.

3. Put On Some Music

When the stress of cleaning gets to be too much, turn on some music. It has been reported that music can greatly reduce stress and even reduce pain. Be sure to take a break and buy a new cd or check out a concert. But taking a break from chores does not mean that you can’t give back.

In recent years, musicians have redirected global focus to the plight of the world’s poor. Every genre has at least one song about poverty and recent collaborations have generated an explosion of music relief efforts. Organizations such as Music For Relief have raised over $5 million since 2004 and music providers like iTunes have designed a variety of apps to assist non-profits in fundraising.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: Amazon, Ezine, Food for Life, Huffington PostiTunes
Photo: All Posters

Although it goes against the conventional wisdom of globalized business, a new business model looks to spend more money, not less, on its employees. Fostered by celebrity activist Matt Damon and led by Rob Broggi, a hedge fund analyst, Industrial Revolution II (IRII) sets its sights on evolving the clothing world into an industry with a conscience.

Previously working for Raptor Capital and Tudor Investment Corporation (one of the top hedge funds in the world), Broggi vaulted himself into an industry that combines garment manufacturing with humanitarian mindfulness.

Creating its first garment factory in Haiti, Industrial Revolution II plans to improve workers’ standard of living in a variety of ways. First, IRII pledges to invest 50% of its profits into health and education programs within the local community. On top of that, IRII will treat its workers humanely and provide safe work conditions.

Opposed to the current model of manufacturers focused on the cheapest labor possible to increase production at the most profitable rate, IRII sees both a niche and room for improvement.

What makes Broggi’s endeavor revolutionary in comparison to clothing competitors is his attention to his employees’ wellness.

IRII believes this improvement in health and working conditions will increase workers’ capabilities and production. When it’s all said and done, IRII anticipates its sales to be as competitive, in both price and quality, with other major brands.

What makes Broggi and Damon confident in IRII’s model is their focus on social purpose. With humane conditions, they believe that if they attain competitiveness their benevolent work will tip them over the edge in shoppers’ eyes. “If you can offer the same quality product at the same price you are going to win a tie-breaker nine out of 10 times” IRII’s CEO said.

That’s assuming it can compete with the businesses now dependent on child workers, cheap labor, and terrible conditions to continue their cost effectiveness.

According to Broggi, increased quality of life and improvements to health and education programs will enhance his workers’ productivity and lower turnover rates. With lower turnover rates, IRII can invest more in training its workforce, which promotes greater quality clothing.

Damon and Broggi believe that  healthy and better trained workers with an incentive in the company’s profits will jump-start productivity and increase the quality of products, giving the major labels, quite literally, a run for their money.

With history and ethics on their side, Damon, Broggi, and their new founded workers hope to lead the garment industry as a new model to reduce poverty and increase profits. If successful, they may pull millions out of severe poverty.

– Michael Carney

Sources: Boston Common, Industrial Revolution II
Photo: Heritage Daily

How is it possible that your old clothes could be hurting Africa and its economy and you may not even know about it? The answer is not so simple.

Often times when Western countries have used, unwanted clothes they cannot get rid of, they end up a landfill. More recently though, charities that collect used clothes in North American and European nations can sell them to wholesalers who package and re-sell them to other countries, particularly those in Africa. Instead of decaying in a landfill, these clothes are desirable and affordable for people in lower-income countries.

“What’s the problem with that?” you may be asking yourself.

In the short-term it could be a win-win situation. People can donate their old clothes to charities, charities can sell them to earn revenue, third-party wholesalers can re-sell them to other countries, people in Africa have access to affordable, well-made clothing, and everyone’s happy. In the long-term, though, the African clothing manufacturers may not be so happy. If African countries continue to rely on Westerners giving away their old clothes, they may not be able to support their own clothing businesses within their borders. In fact, several Africa clothing industries have already gone out of business because of the cheap clothing coming in from other countries, which cuts jobs, decreases revenue, and increases reliance on Western nations.

So what can be done about this problem?

Some African countries are banning imported second-hand clothing to try to rebuild their own clothing businesses. But even with the ban on Western clothing, there is still access to hand-me-downs from other areas of the world – particularly China and the Far East, where clothing is even cheaper. Sylvia Owori, a clothing designer in Uganda, realizes the problem but is forced to accept reality. “As much as I don’t like second-hand clothes to be in the market, I don’t have an alternative,” she says. “I cannot make enough clothes to support a population of 33 million.”

Katie Brockman

Source CNN