Women employed in formal and informal work settings fuel India’s fashion sector to meet the global demand for fast fashion. India’s garment industry is the second biggest exporter and manufacturer after China. By 2021, projections determined that the textile market will reach $223 billion. Predictions have stated that the domestic market will reach $59.3 billion in 2022 and the global market will reach $1.3 trillion by 2025. Despite the booming economy, Indian garment workers face exploitation, poverty wages and unsafe working conditions while working for fast fashion brands. Fair fashion in India presents a solution for workers to receive a living wage, to be empowered and to thrive during a global pandemic.
Fast fashion refers to when brands prioritize profit over people by pressuring factories to produce high quantities of clothing at a rapid pace and low cost. Indian workers experience unfair and abusive conditions in their workplace. About 12.9 million individuals work in sweatshops and millions more work in informal settings, typically in their homes. The United States and European Union receive 47% of India’s total fast fashion output. In March 2020, fast fashion brands refused to pay for completed orders, fired workers with no severance pay and left garment workers with little protection and safety nets. This caused millions of Indian garment workers to go hungry, become vulnerable to COVID-19 and suffer wage theft.
Fair fashion in India has been critical in providing fair and ethical employment opportunities to Indian garment workers. About 30% of the world’s poverty is in India. Garment workers with a fair wage are able to break cycles of poverty, support themselves and their families and enroll their children in school. Organizations demanding circular innovation and experimenting with business practices and technologies have made India the hotbed for circular corporate-startup partnerships. India is the second-largest spinner in the world and is consistently the top three producers of cotton. In 2018, Textile Exchanges Organic Cotton Market Report found that India was the largest producer of organic cotton. Sreeranage Rajan also explains that the proximity of manufacturing, processing and fiber production makes it easier to create transparent supply chains in India.
Garment workers benefit from fair fashion through the increasing demand for well-made clothing in safe working conditions. India houses 40% of certified Fairtrade cotton producers, 449 Organic Cotton Standard (OCS) producers and has the most Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Factories, totaling 1,254. According to Nivedita Rai, the Executive Director of Women Weave, the biggest problem for workers in the fashion industry is being underpaid. The benefits of more certified factories would ensure more dignity and respect for the garment workers spread across India.
Indian Fair Fashion Brands
KKIVI is a slow fashion platform that has been a pioneer in pushing for systemic change in the fashion industry. They encourage conscious consumption and minimalism by curating unique pieces from ethical and sustainable designers in India. Chosen designers uplift culture, promote timeless design and empower artisans. KKIVI’s platform also uplifts the designer’s stories to global markets while showcasing their creative abilities to the world. Limited quantities and small units highlight their meaningful sustainable and ethical pieces.
WORK+ SHELTER, an ethical sourcing and cut and sew business, empowers Indian garment workers by providing skill-based training and employment opportunities. Workers receive five times more than the average wage rate, work a standard eight hours per day and can earn promotions and raises. Theresa VanderMeer, CEO of WORK + SHELTER, spoke with The Borgen Project saying “Many of the women that work with us never finished school, so our job training in sewing and production management provides them with the means to find dignified work they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We provide a work environment that is safe and respects them as individuals.” During COVID-19, garment workers have still been paid despite products not selling. A second facility for social distancing, having all workers wearing masks and running air filtration systems 24-7 has also ensured worker’s safety.
Fair fashion in India is essential for the poverty alleviation of garment workers. VanderMeer explains that “Each woman has her own story of hardship. Some have had to make tough decisions on whether to eat or send their children to school, have suffered through forced arranged marriages, or have even endured coerced abortions….” Supporting fair fashion brands that produce high-quality clothing, therefore, uplifts the most vulnerable women in the world
– Giselle Magana