Sustainability in fashion isn’t just about using natural organic materials and reducing environmental impact – although very important in working towards sustainable business practice. Many suppliers, manufacturers and related organisations are doing some inspiring work to improve the lives for farmers and garments workers across the world.
Creating sustainable livelihoods, reducing poverty and deploying resources and initiatives to local communities will enable poor communities to take control of their future and develop their skills and capacity further.
As part of this year’s SOURCE Expo 2012, we present some of the most exemplary fashion and textiles suppliers and production models from around the world that are achieving big impact in terms of creating sustainable livelihoods, reducing poverty and adding value.
The key areas where suppliers are working to change lives for disadvantaged or marginalised communities include:
- Fair trade – securing sustainable livelihoods
- “Skilling up”, scaling up and capacity building
- Promoting women
Image: Eternal Creation tailor
Fair trade – securing sustainable livelihoods
According the Fairtrade Foundation, the mission of the fair trade movement is to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position in world markets and take more control over their lives. Fair trade in the fashion sector began with small cooperatives developing textiles and handicrafts and since 2004 has grown to include fair trade certified cotton, which is now produced in 7 countries by more than 55,000 farmers.
Many suppliers are tackling issues of unequal trade and poor working conditions by forming networks whose mission is to enable producers to improve livelihoods through trade. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA), British Association for Fair Trade Shops (UK BAFTS) and Commerce Equitable in France are some of the leading fair trade associations that deal with regulation and supervision of the work of their members. Fairtrade certification systems include the Fairtrade Foundation, the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and Fair Trade USA.
We highlight some exemplary suppliers that are either Fairtrade certified or working to fair trade principles in order to secure sustainable livelihoods:
Aslli Sac is a Peruvian supplier of hand knitted organic cotton yarns.. By offering fair prices and wages, the company focuses on building sustainable livelihoods. Aslli is also committed to enforcing a no child or forced labour policy, a no-tolerance on gender discrimination policy and to provide employees with clean and safe working conditions.
For the past 15 years, Avani has worked with local communities to bring economic development to the rural Central Himalayan region. Avani operates a craft and livelihood program focused specifically on utilizing spinning and weaving skills sustainably and expanding capacity to support more local artisans through a for-profit enterprise. Today, Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative (KEC) operates from four centers and employs people from 50 villages.
Avani supplies the following textiles:
- Silk/wool blends
- Pure silk
- Pure Merino wool
- Pure Tibetan sheep wool
Avani also manufactures garments, including:
- Silky dresses
- Tweed jackets
ARMSTRONG KNITTING MILLS
An Indian based company, the Armstrong was founded in 1969. What started as a textile-knitting mill had turned into lucrative business with an annual turnover of more than $25 million. As part of company’s social agenda, Armstrong Textiles has engaged in various social activities. From establishing mobile hospitals for free checkups, medicine and treatments to opening a school for underprivileged children, the company’s mission is to reduce poverty in the rural areas surrounding Tirapur, India.
Recognised as one of the first companies in India to use organic cotton in knitted garment manufacturing, Assisi Garments was also the first of its kind in India to employ physically challenged people and underprivileged women. More than 1500 women workers have benefited from their pro-women empowerment schemes.
Certified as SA 8000, GOTS and FLO-CERT, Assisi ensures greater equality in trade through offering better trading conditions and securing the rights of its workers. Assisi also focuses on educating the deaf and blind, as well as providing homes for the orphans across the country. It runs an HIV treatment centre and a hospital for treating patients suffering from cancer.
Assisi is also vertically integrated and offers sourcing, spinning, knitting, dyeing, processing, finishing and garment manufacture. Their facility is over 50,000 sq ft and they can produce up to 10,000 pcs per day.
- John Lewis
Ayni Bolivia is a fair trade organisation made out of 25 small producer workshops all working toward achieving a common goal – to improve the quality of life for all craftsmen. As a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the aim of the organisation is to create opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers.
Ayni collaborates with more than 160 different small producers providing fair working conditions, health benefits and education for their children. Furthermore, the company offers fair prices for its customers, fair wages for its employees and uses no child labour.
Ayni is a supplier of handwoven jipi japa and alpaca as well as machine knitted alpaca textiles.
Ayni producers can also produce garments such as:
SOKO Kenya is a clothing production workshop for the export market that aims to create sustainable, fair employment and offer training and skills to some of Kenya’s poorest people. The company aims to create a sustainable and creative long-term solution to Kenya’s economic crisis.
Through promoting community driven, ethical and environmentally aware trade in fashion, SOKO’s aim is to provide quality production and improve the quality of life for the local population through vocational training, employment opportunities and improved social services. It provides fair employment to the impoverished community, by investing profits into its growth, as well as the support of local community projects.
- FAIR + true
- Jessice Ogden
“Skilling up”, scaling up and capacity building
Many suppliers have recognised the need to invest in its workers, by supporting education and skills training, by investing in health and well-being and by building infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals. Happier, better-trained, healthier workers is good for business – meaning effectively that their teams are more efficient and profitable.
Here we showcase some inspiring suppliers and manufacturers that are helping to change lives through skills training, capacity building and scaling up its successful and ethical business practices:
In 2005, Eternal Creation, one of the largest private employers in the Himalayan area, opened its Himalaya Tailoring Centre. The organisation is dedicated to improving the lives of recently arrived political refugees by providing jobs training, health care and accommodation. Rather than outsourcing to meet the growing demand, the company has concentrated on increasing the capacity of their workshop through providing more jobs for the local community and ensuring that its high quality standards and ethical principles are maintained. Eternal Creation is also part of the Fair Trade Association of New Zealand and Australia.
Having started with only a handful of local tailors, the workshop now employs over 70 staff, most of which are ex-political Tibetan prisoners, and has grown to encompass cutting, sampling, tailoring, finishing, embroidery, press and packing and quality control.
Maya Traditions is a fair-trade producer based in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. For more than ten years Maya Traditions has worked with indigenous weavers in the highlands of Guatemala. Its mission is to support weaving groups and small family businesses through providing consistent income, as well as health and education projects such as offering scholarships, providing mentoring and tutoring programmes, conducting leadership trainings as well as supporting local community service projects.
By continuously inspiring and supporting young women, the company has also established a health programme. The programme promotes preventative health practices and treatment of common illnesses through the use of medicinal plants.
Maya Traditions’ artisans are expert in backstrap-weaving, naturally dyeing techniques and traditional ikat printing. Maya’s retail partners have included: Overstock.com, Global Exchange, Global Crafts UK and The National Geographic.
In many countries, there is a rich textile and garment history that has traditionally been led by women. Today, many suppliers are working to promote these traditional skills and techniques in a way that facilitates economic development for women, their families and communities. Providing women with more sustainable economic opportunities is one way of dramatically reducing poverty and promoting gender equality.
Here are several suppliers working with and to support women in the textile and apparel sector:
TAMMACHAT NATURAL TEXTILES
Tammachat Natural Textiles is a company that imports high quality, fairly traded and handwoven silk and cotton textiles from women artisans in Thailand and Laos. The women the company works with are offered fair prices for the products they make. By supporting the tradition and skills of these women, the company empowers them, by strengthening their position through ensuring dependable incomes and preserving of the traditional sophisticated skills.
Their textiles are hand woven, organic and naturally dyed. Available in 40 metre batches, these textiles are wholly unique.
Panachuli Women Weavers is an organisation that facilitates economic and social independence for women in the Indian Himalayas using the traditional arts of weaving and knitting.
The programme has provided women with an alternative way of earning their living and has contributed significantly to the structural development of the Kumaon region. With over 800 women involved in this programme, the Panachuli Women Weavers represents the largest women’s cooperative in the state of Uttaranchal. The women receive regular wages and are also shareholders in the cooperative.
Today, the women weavers of this region are an interest group with political power, which has helped women to claim their rights for the first time and influence local politics.
Maki International is a non-profit organisation, based in Peru. It supports previously incarcerated women, women who are victims of domestic violence and mothers coming from rural areas. The organisation provides these women in need with the necessary resources to lift them out of the poverty. Workers are paid directly and all the profits go back to skills trainings, infrastructure improvements and empowerment related events and activities.
Located in South Africa, Abacus Beadwork was originally founded in 1985 to empower local women through the art of beadwork. 20 years later, the company still shares the same values and vision. Employing solely women coming from the rural area of Durban, this enterprise gives them a platform to develop their skills and support their families. Abacus Beadwork provides its women employees with stable incomes and opportunities to further develop their skills.