Ethical Fashion Initiative
The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) is a U.N. initiative established in 2009 to supply “vulnerable artisans with market access and training,” the U.N. website says. The EFI “acts as a bridge, connecting marginalized artisan communities in challenging and remote locations with global lifestyle brands” so that artisans may access the international marketplace. The result is increased employment and income-generating opportunities in Africa and Central Asia. The EFI helps to establish purposeful employment opportunities under fair and safe working conditions so that disadvantaged artisans may rise out of poverty. Overall, the EFI works to promote “sustainable and ethical fashion practices” in the fashion industry.

Bringing Ethics and Sustainability to Fashion

The EFI is helping the fashion industry, often criticized for exploitation and unjust practices, to put ethics at the forefront of its business endeavors. EFI considers fashion ethical when the production of the garment takes into account the well-being of the people creating the garment, the environment and the final consumer.

Simone Cipriani, the chairperson of the U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, founded the EFI after recognizing the issues of exploitation, poverty and disempowerment that plague the people at the lowest levels of the fashion chains.

Industrie Africa says, “Globally, fashion employs approximately 60 million people, including enormous numbers of low-income workers in developing countries. This means that if mismanaged, it negatively impacts human rights — a tenet of the U.N.’s mandate — at a global scale.”

The Work of the EFI

In an interview with Industrie Africa, Cipriani says, “EFI offers a supply chain that enables designers and people from marginalized conditions — the majority of whom are women— especially from the continent to become permanent suppliers of the fashion industry.”

The EFI manages groups of artisans, with females accounting for 95% of these artisans. The artisans typically come from disadvantaged backgrounds and war-ravaged countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Afghanistan. The artisans are typically “individual entrepreneurs looking for assistance, training or mentorship” who aspire to establish cooperatives and businesses and become social enterprise suppliers. The artisans would not have the opportunity to reach these aspirations without the support of the EFI.

Objectives and Goals

The Ethical Fashion Initiative has several objectives that fall under the overall goal of transforming the fashion industry into an ethical and sustainable sector. For instance, creating new jobs and opportunities for people and encouraging environmentally friendly production practices.

The EFI looks to uphold several U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): zero poverty, no gender inequality, “decent work and economic growth,” greater equality, “responsible consumption and production,” climate responsibility, “peace, justice and strong institutions” and engaging in partnerships.

Luxiders explains, “Through the social enterprise, artisans become suppliers of brands, and in this way, the Ethical Fashion Initiative coordinates the work of the artisans, enabling them to have their own company, profitability and negotiate terms and conditions with brands. The social enterprise then grows, accumulates profits and is able to offer credit, investment and other incentives to the cooperative’s artisans.” The EFI also provides training to artisans.

In this way, the EFI is able to align its activities to the criteria of the International Labour Organization (ILO), for instance, fair labor practices, just wages, a safe and healthy working environment and zero child labor/exploitation.

Latest Activities

The EFI is engaging in partnerships and collaborations to become more visible at a global level. The latest collaboration is the Mother Nature’s Dream AW22/23 collection, made in Burkina Faso with the brand Laurenceairline. The partnership employed 26 local artisans, with women accounting for 41% of workers. The production utilized natural materials and all artisans received contracts and benefits.

Another recent collaboration is the Wales Bonner Spring Summer 23 collection, also made in Burkina Faso. Women accounted for 72% of the artisans working on this project. With the income from the projects, mothers can take care of themselves and their children.

Exploitative and unethical conditions in the fashion industry continue to stand as a human rights issue as the people from the poorest countries are the ones suffering. However, the Ethical Fashion Initiative is contributing to transforming the industry into a sustainable and just sector that supports the most marginalized people.

– Elena Luisetto
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Ethical FashionWith a mission of empowering women through fashion, the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) unites people from impoverished communities across the world to turn their passions and skills into an income for themselves and their families. Women and men from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Kenya, Mali, Tajikistan, Uganda and Uzbekistan are able to sell their crafted goods through the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

Goal to Reduce Global Poverty

Beginning its work in 2009, EFI proudly creates long-term and sustainable jobs. Beyond this, they also contribute to six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) directly and two indirectly. The SDGs are 17 United Nations (UN) goals focused on providing a better and more sustainable future for the world.  The UN created the goals in 2015 with a timeline of achieving each by 2030.  EFI believes that to achieve the SDGs, sustainable and ethical fashion has to play a significant role.

The Ethical Fashion Initiative operates as part of the International Trade Centre’s Poor Communities and Trade Programme (PCTP). It continues the mission of PCTP to reduce global poverty through empowering entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. It also bridges the gap between development and fashion in these countries. Finally, it empowers community artisans to grow their skills and knowledge while making a consistent and reliable earning for themselves.

Supporting Communities and Building Infrastructure

Beyond just connecting these artisans to the fashion world, EFI works to support and sustain its artisan community. Beginning in 2015 with one hub in Kenya, the EFI now operates through hubs in various countries to create a business infrastructure.    With quality control initiatives, management support, workshops on industry education and professionalism, EFI does more than just provide a space to sell crafts.

Connecting Local Artisans to Global Brands

The Ethical Fashion Initiative has connected local artisans to global brands like Biffi Boutiques, Carmina Campus, Chan Luu, Instituto-E, Isetan, Karen Walker, Marni, Mimco, Osklen, sass & bide, Stella McCartney, United Arrows, Vivienne Westwood and Yanvalou Designs. Not only are these brands supporting the artisan of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, they too are working towards the end of global poverty.

Monitoring Progress through RISE

Respect, Invest, Sustain and Empower are the words behind EFI’s acronym RISE. RISE is the initiative’s program dedicated to monitoring and tracking the sustainability, supply chain and production of these artisanal products. RISE is also responsible for connecting the product to the consumer. The program is able to do this through its three-tier system: assess, control and trace. From “product passports” to highlighting specific local artisan communities, RISE communicates the EFI mission globally. RISE also demonstrates how the consumer can play a role in ending global poverty through sustainable fashion.

Beyond the products it connects the world to, the Ethical Fashion Initiative also connects the world to the people of its community. From purses and backpacks to pillows and shoes, the Ethical Fashion Initiative is taking a stance on global poverty. It is fighting for a better tomorrow through ethical fashion. This connected global market is more than just high fashion, it is a resource for many people to create a better future for themselves and the world.

– Annaclaire Acosta
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