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By Courtney Yalen
It seems ironic that women are the main consumers of fashion – and the main workers in the industry. Most garment workers around the world are female, and they’re badly exploited. They’re poorly paid, have no child care, are forced to work insane hours in dire conditions – all so we can strut around in ‘affordable’ fashion trends.
But some fashion labels are aware of this problem and are acting in solidarity with the women working in the clothing industry by ensuring that our love of fashion benefits more than the fancy of first world Instagram followers.
For example, various initiatives undertaken by these brands below are ensuring that the women who are employed to create their garments are empowered through education, furthered skills, and of course, receive a living wage or more. You could say that it’s feminism in fashion in action!
Supermodel / actress and former World Health Organisation’s Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Liya Kebede discovered that traditional weavers in her native country of Ethiopia were losing their jobs due to a decline in local demand for their goods and wanted to do something about it. Recognizing the beauty, quality and historic significance of their work, Liya started Lemlem in 2007 as a way to inspire economic independence for women in her native country and to preserve the art of weaving.
Today, Lemlem creates delicate blouses, dresses, tops and scarves that are light and airy – perfect for summer, or a trip to Ethiopia!
“It’s about being a woman and being a leader. The chief. The boss.” So says Lawrenson, a slogan T-shirt brand with a strong feminist identity. The T-shirts are designed to empower and inspire, to stimulate conversation, and provoke a change in perspectives. Each piece has a distinct concept behind it, explained alongside each product on their website.
Based in Toronto, Canada, these Bengal silk scarves are handmade and handpainted (with vegetable and eco-friendly dyes) by female artisans in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi workers are paid fair wages and are not subject to adverse working conditions, so these unique scarves are ethically produced. Nokshi has also embraced environmentally sustainable production techniques, which significantly reduce waste and the carbon footprint. The scarves are made of Rajshahi Silk, a rare type of silk found in northern Bangladesh known for its extremely soft buttery feel and durability. A beautiful, eco-friendly, handmade accessory that also helps women!
Why can’t we help lift up women while also feeling comfortable and confident in our undergarments? We can, thanks to Naja. Naja’s garment factory primarily employs single mothers or female heads of households, pays them above market wages, provides healthcare benefits and books, school supplies, uniforms and school meals to the children of the workers. On top of this, the lingerie bags that come with every order are created by women in the slums of Colombia through the ‘Underwear for Hope’ program. This program allows marginalized women to work from home and become their own “micro-entrepreneurs.” With seven shades of nude and a handful of lace and printed undergarments, swimwear and athletic wear, it’s hard not to love everything about this brand.
A simple, timeless bangle with significance behind the beauty. With every item purchased, Kula buys one coffee tree for one of their women in Rwanda, which provides income for her and her family for upwards of thirty years. This enables the family to afford education, food and health care, allowing themselves and their communities to prosper. These bracelets are perfect holiday presents for any woman in your life, and at just $12 per bangle (individual bangle price decreases per set), you can buy one for all of the women in your life while helping families in Rwanda. And as a 501(c)3 non-profit, Kula Project keeps their annual reports transparent.
With initiatives spreading from countries all over Africa, to Haiti, to the West Bank and Cambodia, the Ethical Fashion Initiative harnesses fashion design and production as a vehicle for positive social, financial, sustainable change for women garment workers.
They even invented a tool to monitor the impact of the products, RISE: Respect, Invest, Sustain, Power; and impact assessment reports from every line created are online. You have surely heard of some of EFI’s partners: Karen Walker, Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Isetan and many more. High quality and desirable fashion products can be ethical and empowering, too!