“Women constitute one half of the world’s population, they do two-thirds of the world’s work, they earn one tenth of the world’s income and they own one hundredth of the world’s property including land” – UNSECO
Global fashion industry has bitterly evidenced the social and environmental implications associated with fast production cycles, overuse of resources, waste generation, environmental pollution and unethical labor conditions. Growing consumer awareness regarding social and environmental impacts of fashion products has led to create a new marketplace for sustainable and ethical products.
The textile and clothing industry is the second largest employer after agriculture in the developing world, and a large percentage of this workforce are women. Research shows that empowering and investing in women has a cumulative bonus: women are likely to spend their income on their children and families, on education, health and nutrition, bringing long term positive change and prosperity to communities.
For the fashion industry, sustainability means the ‘environmental protection, social justice, economic fairness and cultural validity’. Globalization and technological advancements have made a dramatic change in production and consumption patterns of the world’s fashion. This global industry started to pose many challenges for sustainability efforts as fashion has become a throw-away commodity, and rapid phase production of short-lived products have become a normality. Cultural flavor of fashion has diminished as fashion became globalized and influenced by global trends. Vast availability of cheap, low-quality clothing allows over consumption and premature disposal of fashion products.
As a consumer, we have the power to empower the makers, help sustainability movement and protect our planet. Why not empower those who are working hard to bring sustainability in fashion and textile industry which is one of the top three polluting industries in the world. But how can a common buyer take part in sustainability movement?
Know what are you buying. Learn about the maker, the brand, the designer and empower those who support sustainability movement. Today, more and more consumers are becoming socially conscious about their shopping habits whether it be by choosing fair-trade products or merchandise that supports a good cause. Below is some information on some countries, brands, designers involved in sustainable fashion industry with women as majority workforce.
Many women in developing countries lack the monetary resources they need to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle for their families. According to the Mekong Development Research Institute, approximately 49% of ethnic minorities in Vietnam live in poverty; that’s over 6,357,451 people who lack proper education and decent living conditions. Most Vietnam’s ethnic communities are located in the northern mountains, meaning they have to deal with harsher environmental surroundings and live in remote locations which makes trading very difficult. These local families live on less than a few dollars a day, so just a slight increase in their wages could really make a world of difference in their lives.
The Vietnam Handicraft Research and Promotion Center (HRPC) – a leading nonprofit, non-government organization committed to the sustainable development of artisan crafts and creation of rural economic opportunities in Vietnam. The Vietnam Handicraft Research and Promotion Center (HRPC), as a member of Vietnam Ethnology Association, is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 to promote, preserve craft villages as well as to support disadvantage people through handicraft development in Vietnam.
In Sri Lankan hand loom industry women represent majority of the workforce.
Sri Lankan hand loom textiles are highly recognized both locally and internationally not only for its innovative and modern design trends entwined with traditional craftsmanship but also for its premium quality. The products are often offered to global niche markets where handcrafted items of high value are preferred.
Rags2Riches is a brand creating positive change through fashion, working with women in Payatas, one of the poorest parts of the Philippine capital. According to the Payatas Poverty Alleviation Foundation, almost 40% of the active population are unemployed and nearly half are earning less than 4,000 Philippine pesos ($100) a month.
Many women living in Payatas were part of the cottage industry of rug weavers controlled by middle men, leaving them with minimal money for the work they created. Rags2Riches was created to give these skilled women fair access to the market. It has formed a partnership with well-known Filipino designers who have transformed the scrap material into high-end fashion accessories. In three years, the brand has supported more than 400 women, up-cycled more than 500 tons of scrap cloth, and increased the earning potential of artisans from less than $0.02 per day to more than $10 per day.
In Rwanda, Indego Africa is working with women to support them through economic empowerment and education. It has launched a leadership academy in Kigali that will provide business training for 100 emerging artisan leaders over the next two years.
Another social enterprise, Sougha, was established by the Khalifa Fund in the United Arab Emirates to preserve and promote the traditions of women emirati artisans. Sougha creates economic opportunities for isolated local communities by reviving their skills and connecting them to new markets.
Due to religious and cultural restrictions, the women don’t have access to the outside work, so the Sougha team visits these artisans, refines their products and sells them to a global market.
Designers Lindy Fox and Aimee Kent are leaders among the trendy and empowering creatives who focus their talents on wearable art that benefits the environment. Lindy Fox has line, Organic Beginnings.
Aimee Kent, who has been designing clothes since the age of 16, studied design at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, where she currently resides. Sustainability has always been important to Aimee Kent, who focused her final year at school on the future and sustainability of the textile and fashion industries. Aimee Kent launched her brand focusing on highly innovative designs and products using a special environmentally friendly textile screen printing system and fairly traded organic and recycled fabrics.
Ayesha Mustafa, founder and director of Fashion ComPassion says, ”As consumers, we need to assess our needs, desires and the part we play in the cycle of consumption. Fashion has the power to bring positive change to the most disadvantaged women around the world, but it is only with the support of us all that the sustainable fashion industry can boom and grow”
Featured image courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lonqueta/3975118189
Sri Lanka bamboo dresses image courtesy: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/111204/BusinessTimes/bt34.html
Rags2Riches image courtesy: http://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/people/rags-to-riches-a-fashionable-way-to-empower-poor-filipinos.aspx
Indego Africa image courtesy : http://theschereport.com/love/2011/01/19/i-do-good-indego-africa/