Ethical Fashion Growing From the Ground Up
by Andrea Shufflebotham
Last tuesday evening EcoChic went along to the latest in a series of talks from the Ethical Fashion Forum. The theme this time was on working with cooperatives. Safia Minney from People Tree sat alongside a representative from Soul of Africa, BodyShop and Made.
The focus was firmly on working with farmers, and workers along the supply chain. Whereas last month’s seminar saw the likes of M & S changing the business patterns tobecome more ethical, each of the companies on the stage on Tuesday began with ethics and grew from there.
Body Shop talked about the community trade partnerships they have had for over twenty years, in some cases. Interestingly they had a similar viewpoint to M & S. They began working with farmers using their community trade scheme for commercial reasons. They wanted to guarantee a stable price and stable supply for their products. They saw how finding a fair price for farmers and working with them, rather than demanding from them, they were able to get a better product and an increase in demand. The results have been mutually beneficial, there has been a marked increase in business acumen and living standards for the farmer, and the quality has made Body Shop a worldwide success, a win-win situation.
PeopleTree was founded on Safia’s belief in being able to create great fashion designs while providing a benefit to the people the environment along the length of the supply chain.
Safia talked about the training Peopletree privide to their cooperatives to help improve the quality of their work and their business skills, while reducing their environmental impact.
Made, is the story of a small group of people in South Africa using ancient and innovative craftsman skills to create fair trade designer jewellery which has been sold through Nicole Farhi among others.
The final business preswent was Soul of Africa, set up by the Clark’s dynasty, helping disadvantaged communities in South Africa.
The stories were inspirational, both in the dedication put in from the UK, but also the benefits and change that these companies have brought about. All of the panel agreed that alongside an escape from poverty, the resounding benefit the producers and farmers gain is a sense of dignity and self-esteem. They also all agree that there are still challenges. Fair trade production of clothes and accessories has received a fraction of the investment given to developing fairtrade farming production.
The word “Sustainability” also causes issues, as UK companies are constantly being asked to justify their carbon footprints “I find being asked about my carbon footprint nauseating” said Safia “it is impossible to have a blanket definition of sustainable. Yes we produce clothes in developing countries and carbon will need to be emitted for the clothes to reach the UK but the carbon footprint of hte producers is tiny, a fraction of any average person in hte UK. If anything they should be offered carbon credits for leading such a low carbon lifestyle”.
Despite the challenges fair trade shows no signs of abating with more and more people being interested in buying fairtrade clothes.
A final question proved extemely relevant to our work here at EcoChic. A member of the audience asked “What about UK production and manufacturing?” While all of the panel explained that their focus was on the most marginalised people of the world. We at EcoChic believe that UK craftsmanship should also be supported. See our LA Jewellery collection for a story of a UK artisan making changes with their ethics.
It was a great evening with an inspiring panel, thank you Ethical Fashion Forum.
Our image is courtesy of Gossypium, Pioneers of Organic Fairtrade Cotton production.