Reblog: Will Gen Z help the fashion industry clean up its act?

I found this article on the Guardian’s Fashion page, and found some of the points raised about the way we’re thinking about our fashion shopping very interesting. It’s encouraging to see the wave of new brands catering to ethical production of our clothes, and demonstrating that the slow fashion movement can match seasonal trends and styles.

Here’s my Evernote clip of the article, where I’ve highlighted important snippets of information.

I’m trialling this method of reblogging and sharing pieces from the internet, and hope it works. I’d love to hear your thoughts – on the piece and the idea that the younger generation, especially younger millennials, might be our greatest allies in pushing for ethical fashion.

https://www.evernote.com/shard/s36/sh/b2cffbd9-6466-4888-9389-d3aacfcd185b/0f1c248f35ce81364c1625d39a64f796

 

‘Touch of Care’

 

I saw this video this morning, and I’m filled with optimism and joy.

I’ve shared posts before about encouraging movements from south Asia, targetting women’s rights, beauty standards and feminism. This is the first time I’ve come across a nation-wide campaign normalising transgender people and their lives.

I knew what to expect when I saw the article accompanying it on NPR, but it was still a wonderful surprise that the video didn’t preach, or generate a rallying call to arms, or worse yet, and as is often seen in south Asia, portray transgender people as caricatures or as objects of ridicule.

It’s a normal story about a girl on her way back to university, thinking about her childhood and her parent. Only at the end do you realise that her mother is transgender, though it’s hinted throughout the video through the partial shots of her mother.

The woman playing her mother is Gauri Sawant, an activist and head of Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust, an NGO based in Bombay which works with transgender people. The story in the video is based on Gauri’s life raising Gayatri, the daughter of a sex worker friend of Gauri’s. Many articles have sprung up in the past few days talking about it, Gauri’s work, and that’s generating even more discussion around the reality of transgender rights and equality in India – which gives me a lot of hope.

I’m buoyed by the fact that the social media response has been overwhelmingly positive, despite the – legitimate – cynical critique of Vicks. The link between the product and the video isn’t clear, this could just be PR stunt, etc. To me though, it’s not really an ad for Vicks in the way this was an ad for Tanishq, for example. So I’m treating it almost as a short movie, independent of the brand. It doesn’t matter to me if the ‘caring for families for generations’ super is accurate or not. This is an equally bold move for Vicks, and similarly to the Tanishq ad, makes a topic that’s either taboo or at best, marginalised, something for everyone to talk about. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Celebrate International Women’s Day differently

Today is International Women’s Day, marked around the world in many different ways.

It’s also the 100th anniversary of the start of the Russian Revolution – on 8 March 1917, female textile workers protested in Petrograd, forcing the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and Russian women won the right to vote.

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Cast a look on social media today and you’ll be inundated with photos, videos, memes, statistics, quotes and a host of other visuals commemorating women’s achievements through the ages, the further struggles that lie ahead, the reality of women’s oppression around the world today, or – sometimes – funny jokes. Many of these are informative, heart-breaking, inspiring and/or important to share.

But so many are mere platitudes, which illicit a response for all of five seconds before they’re gone from your mind. Like these ones, from Instagram and the official IWD page:

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This will form the bulk of most people’s contributions today; a simple message (sometimes with grammatical errors) saying ‘Happy Women’s Day’, and a few cheerleader-esque platitudes, and fin.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, simply because that’s the way most of us mark a special day/holiday on social media. I wanted to take the chance today to write about what it means for me, and why some of the ways in which IWD is ‘celebrated’ make me uncomfortable.

First of all, a cursory glance at social media or at the many protests taking place globally today (check out #DayWithoutWomen on Twitter and Instagram for some truly powerful photos and symbols of resistance) will show you that most of those partaking are women. That’s antithetical to a movement as powerful as feminism.

Feminism is about equality, opportunity, choice and freedom.

That’s universal, so I don’t like to see that mostly women are sharing these posts, or wishing each other, or being the most visible participants.

However, that’s an issue of the feminist movement as a whole, not necessarily with today – but it’s one of the many glaring examples of where we need to ensure we’re a more inclusive movement. During the Budapest Women’s March in January for example, about 95% of those attending were women, despite the organisers being men from Greenpeace. What’s wrong with today, and with the movement, that it’s seen to involve or target women, rather than address fundamental issues about opportunity, freedom and justice?

Secondly, these platitudes. What do they say of our struggle to date, of the millions of women around the world who have given their lives, freedoms and rights so we’re allowed the rights we have today (and so I can blog about it right now?)

It feels cheap, somehow, to quote a Beyoncé song or post a tokenistic picture of super-heroines. If we’re going down the diversity route, where is the Maori Wonder Woman? Where’s the tall, fat woman? Where’s the Native American, the south Asian, the hijab-clad Muslim Wonder Woman?

Attempts to get shares on social media, or reblogs of zippy soundbites, are not what we need. We need today to be about more than that, and for an actual commitment from more than just women to the longer term causes.

Feminism:

My dad, one of the first real feminists in my life and a constant source of strength and inspiration (fine, I may be a little biased) shared a series of Tweets which perfectly encapsulates the day and how we ought to think more about our movement.

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Third, I notice that people speak about women’s rights, opportunities and achievements only on this day. The struggle for equality and freedom is ongoing, and we can’t reserve all our activism, passion or anger for just one day. We should champion achievements, highlight the road ahead and speak about these issues constantly if we’re to make any impact.

We’ll post a picture, maybe share an article or two, and for the most part, I see so many people leave their activism there – it’s called clicktivism for a reason, and it’s not enough.

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So to that end, I’ve thought about ways we can make our dedication to the issues underlying today’s celebration more relevant and lasting – the easiest way is to donate to an organisation near you, volunteer time, arrange campaigns and join coalitions in your area. I’ve trawled the internet and my own database of resources, and here are some ideas for ways in which we can be of service to our global sisterhood beyond today.

 

CAF America shares this inspiring set of ways to educate yourself on the issues facing women, and the work done to combat it, here.

UN Women’s focus this year is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 505-50 by 2030.’ Read more about their campaign here, the events they’re hosting and the wealth of resources to support representation in the work place.

Women in the global workforce

Courtesy UN Women

Womankind UK shares this page of resources, with links to their global partners.

You can filter by geography, and learn more about the work of each of these incredible groups. Here are some examples:

Afghan Women Resource Centre (AWRC)

AWRC strives to help women improve their economic and social well-being and enables them to become active in decision-making processes. They encourage them to stand up for their rights and be active and confident members within their families and communities.

The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (Gender Centre)

The Gender Centre is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of women. It works with both women’s groups and other organisations providing support and training in areas such as implementing women’s rights, project planning and campaigning. The Gender Centre was established in 1995 to make sure women’s rights were included in development programmes in Ghana.

WHR Nepal campaigners

Courtesy Womankind UK

Here are some excellent globally-focussed groups working on women’s empowerment, access rights, championing leadership and representation, or working towards equality and justice:

 

Women for Women International

A nonprofit that works with women who have experienced war, civil strife and other conflicts, providing them with the tools and resources to become financially independent and self-sufficient, WfWI was founded in 1993 and has helped more than 351,000 women through direct aid, rights education, job skills training and small business development. They currently operate in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. Women for Women International offers a one year program that teaches job skills and business training to women in conflict, in addition to facilitating group therapy sessions for war survivors.

 

Every Mother Counts

An advocacy and mobilization campaign to reduce maternal mortality, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of women and girls worldwide by educating and supporting maternal mortality reduction. Hundreds of thousands of women die each year from pregnancy complications or childbirth difficulties, 90% of these deaths are preventable. No Woman, No Cry is a documentary by Christy Turlington that shares the stories of at-risk pregnant women from around the globe. The film spreads the message of the need for  resources and education to reduce maternal mortality. The nonprofit also collects old mobile phones to be donated to health care providers in rural areas to provide better communication and medical services.

 

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development is an international, feminist, membership organization committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. AWID provides comprehensive information and analysis on women’s human rights and global issues.

 

Samahope

Millions of people worldwide lack access to basic surgical care. Local doctors and resources are stretched thin to provide medical care on a large scale. To address this issue, Samahope enables supporters worldwide to fund these doctors through crowdfunding. Donations underwrite treatments for birth injuries, burns, birth defects, blindness and trauma-based injuries. The platform has activated more than 3,000 donors to impact the lives of over 6,000 patients.

 

Dressember

In 2013, Dressember’s fifth year, the organization aligned with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. That year, 1,233 registered participants around the world rallied to collectively raise over $165,000. Participation doubled the next year, and the campaign raised more than $465,000. Starting in 2015, the campaign will increase its partnerships with other anti-trafficking organizations.

 

Girls Who Code

Seventy-four percent of middle schools girls express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but only 0.4 percent of high school girls choose computer science as their major. Girls Who Code aims to empower girls with the computer science education and skill sets needed to pursue 21st century opportunities. The deputy public advocate of New York City, Reshma Saujani, the organization’s founder and CEO, started Girls Who Code to close the gender gap in technology. In 2014, its programs served 375 girls in multiple cities. Some 90 percent continued to pursue computer science or a closely related field as their major or minor, and 77 percent changed paths because of their time with Girls Who Code. By moving toward gender parity in computing fields, more girls will be equipped with the tools they need to innovate and incite social change.

 

Ultraviolet Edge Initiative

The Ultraviolet Edge is a global initiative of Urban Decay Cosmetics to empower women. By helping to fund organizations that fight for the rights of women everywhere, Urban Decay encourages all women to embrace their individuality in everything they do.

 

Women’s Partnership Market

Women’s Partnership Market supports grassroots organizations like Women’s Global to empower female entrepreneurs through access to business training and microfinance to address the root causes of poverty.

 

 

Bustle’s list of groups also includes some international organisations, such as:

We respect, protect and promote the dignity of our clients and their communities.

Courtesy Camfed

Camfed

International nonprofit Camfed has been pioneering girls’ education programs in sub-Saharan Africa since 1993. According to its website, the organization’s programs have directly supported more than a million students through primary and secondary school. To donate, head over to the Camfed website.

Engeder Health

Family planning is a pressing issue for women, and that’s the focus of global nonprofit EngenderHealth, along with STI prevention and maternal health. Check out the organization for yourself and donate here.

Pro Mujer:

Founded in Bolivia in 1990, Pro Mujer is a women’s development organization distributing small loans to women in Latin America. Since its creation, Pro Mujer has loaned out more than $2.8 billion, $340 million of which was distributed last year. Donate here.

Pathfinder: 

According to its website, global nonprofit Pathfinder “envisions a world where everyone has access to contraception, where there are zero new HIV infections, where no woman dies from preventable pregnancy-related complications, and where everyone leads a healthy sexual and reproductive life.” The organization is dedicated to worldwide sexual health using a groundbreaking community-based model. Donate here.

Reblog: What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable And Cheap?

I came across this article on NPR today and thought I’d share it with you – on the realities of our ‘fast’ and cheap clothing, and the cost behind what we pay for it.

When it comes to clothes these days, maybe you should ask: What’s your waste size?

You know you have those clothes sitting in your closet: That shirt you spent less than $10 on because it looked cool for a second, or that skirt you only wore once before it went out of fashion.

Fashion cycles are moving faster than ever. A Quartz article in December revealed how fashion brands like Zara, Gap and Adidas are churning out new styles more frequently, a trend dubbed “fast fashion” by many in the industry. The clothes that are mass-produced also become more affordable, thus attracting consumers to buy more.

“It used to be four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11 or 15 or more,” says Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

The top fast fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent of growth of traditional apparel companies, according to financial holding company CIT.

Fashion is big business. Estimates vary, but one report puts the global industry at $1.2 trillion, with more than $250 million spent in the U.S. alone. In 2014, the average household spent an average $1,786 on apparel and related services.

More styles mean more purchases — and that leads to more waste created. Journalist Elizabeth Cline writes in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion that disposable clothing is damaging to the environment and the economy. We are more likely to dispose of cheaper, mass-produced fashion garments than pricier ones.

“We don’t necessarily have the ability to handle the disposal,” Lewis says. “The rate of disposal is not keeping up with the availability of places to put everything that we’re getting rid of and that’s the problem.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded.

How To Deal With All This Textile Waste?

One way developed nations get rid of their excess clothing is by donating it to developing nations. According to the United Nations, the United States is thebiggest exporter of used clothes, and the top importing countries of used clothing are India, Russia and Pakistan.

But with the strong dollar and availability of cheap clothing from Asia, some are worried that demand for exports of secondhand clothing will decline — thus forcing developed nations to find new ways to deal with post-consumer textile waste.

Fast fashion and the disposable culture also hurt sorting companies that export second-hand clothing.

Adam Baruchowitz, founder of Wearable Collections in New York City, collects second-hand clothing collector and sells it to sorting companies. The companies then sort through the clothes, separating those that will be made into other low-grade fiber products and those that will be exported.

Baruchowitz says the most valuable part of a sorting company’s business is in selling reusable second-hand clothing. But if the quality is questionable, more of the garments collected might have to head to the shredding bin rather than the second-hand clothes market.

“It’s very damaging to the environment, this fast fashion culture, and it also affects the secondhand market because these clothes aren’t meant to be used for so long,” he says. “I can’t say for sure, but the secondhand H&Ms would probably be in less demand than a garment that was produced with more quality. I’m getting all this stuff from fast fashion and I’m hearing from clients that it’s hurting them.”

Do Retailers’ Recycling Programs Encourage Consumerism?

Several clothing retailers have announced take-back programs that collect used garments from customers to be recycled, sold or remade into other clothing. H&M, for example, has allowed customers to bring unwanted garments — which will be transformed to recycled textile fibers for new products — since 2013. The company aims to have “zero garments going to landfill.” Patagonia also recycles and sells used Patagonia products in its stores.

It plays into the concept of extended producer responsibility, which means the manufacturer has to take into consideration the product’s afterlife.

But does it actually encourage more consumerism? For many stores, customers can get store credit and vouchers for sending in used clothing.

“If you bring it back to the store and you see something new and you’re going to give me a discount, I’m having a buying moment I may not have had before because you’re having me back at your store. It’s very smart in terms of business,” Lewis says.

The concept, however, might encourage a different type of thinking: If manufacturers have to think about how they’re going to get the most out of the product after it has been worn, Lewis says, it might spur them to start designing products that can be taken apart easily, have better quality, or might be biodegradable, for example.

H&M introduced new garments made of recycled textile fibers two year ago.

Grassroots Efforts To Counter Fast Fashion

A year ago, a few users began uploading YouTube videos of themselves exchanging clothes with friends. It was either that, or they were showcasing how they made new styles out of their old, scrappy clothes.

“Today is fashion revolution day and I decided to take part in this movement by making a ‘Haulternative’ video,” says CutiePieMarza, a YouTuber from England, in her video. She was exchanging clothes with grav3yardgirl, a YouTuber from Texas.

“It’s part haul, part swap … she asked me about a month ago if I would be part of this awesome project,” says grav3yardgirl in her video. “I think it’s something mainly going on in the UK.”

“Haulternative” is an alternative to the traditional “haul” videos, where users post videos of themselves parading their latest buys.

It was an activity that was part of the larger Fashion Revolutionmovement started in the United Kingdom that aimed to bring awareness to the source of our garments — as well as the waste created by our consumerist habits.

“It’s an alternative haul. It’s looking at how people can do a different kind of haul, how people can refresh their wardrobe without having to buy new clothes,” says Carry Somers, co-founder of the movement. “It’s encouraging people to be more conscious when they’re shopping.”

Instead of constantly buying new clothes, the movement suggested people buy from vintage stores, make new clothes out of old ones or just swap clothes. Fashion Revolution Week will take place April 18-24 and participants are encouraged to upload their “haulternative” videos this year as well.

Some companies are experimenting with new ideas. Rent The Runway, for example, rents out branded clothes to customers who pay a monthly fee. Those concerned about the mounting waste hopped onto an opposing concept: Instead of buying cheap clothes, invest in slightly costly clothes with good quality that might last you longer. The 30-year-sweatshirt by Tom Cridland is an example.

San Francisco was aware of this problem in 2002 — and pledged a goal of reaching zero waste by 2020 by encouraging the recycling of clothes, shoes and linen.

“I think for clothing, because we’re a consumer culture, it’s hard for me to say don’t buy anything,” Lewis says. “We can probably slow down how much we buy.”

Project Just -the stories behind your clothes

If you’ve ever wondered what the story behind your favourite brand is, and where their material comes from, there’s a new website to help with just that.

I found out about Project Just through The Root Collective, a company which sells handmade Guatemalan shoes.

 

Let’s take one of my favourite brands for home decor and interiors – Anthropologie. The pros are that some of Anthropologie’s collections have a socially or environmentally positive impact. The cons:

URBN discloses very little about its supply chain and its social and environmental impact.

The company does not share any goals regarding how it is working to improve environmental and social conditions in its supply chain.

URBN is not a part of any multi-stakeholder initiatives and does not publicly share information on its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

The company has been embroiled in a number of controversies regarding some of the offensive products it has sold.

Project Just begins with a summary of who owns the company, and there are different sections targetting:

  • the pros and cons of each brand
  • size and business model
  • transparency
  • labour conditions
  • environment
  • intention
  • community
  • management
  • innovation

You can also download a data sheet with research done on each brand, shared via Google Docs.

A separate ‘Voices’ section shares testimonials by industry experts, journalists and advocates for ethical consumption. Anthropologie has been reviewed by the Huffington Post, Ecouterre and change.org.

There’s also the option for the company to comment on its ethical standards, though Anthropologie hasn’t said anything yet.

Interesting, isn’t it? Here’s a video describing how the site works:

It’s not a comprehensive list of brands by any stretch, but it’s a great start.

There’s also the option to request a brand you use often, for Project Just to research and add to their website.

What do we look for?

 

First and foremost, we are really interested to learn what a brand is doing to ‘do no harm’ as part of their business operations; how they are taking care of the people and the environment in their supply chain, how they are innovating in those regards, their knowledge of their own supply chain, and how transparent they are with their information. Secondly, we are interested to learn how they do more good; community and CSR efforts, and multi-stakeholder initiatives.

 

Therefore, we look for publicly available self-reported and third-party reported information for these main categories:

/ Size and Business Model: this category focuses on the size of the business and its operations; how many employees, their annual revenue, the type of business model, etc.

/ Transparency: this category focuses on how open a brand is about communicating about their supply chain, and its social and environmental impact.

/ Labor conditions: this category focuses on understanding how a brand is treating the people in their supply chain.

/ Environment: this category focuses on understanding how a brand is treating the environment.

/ Innovation: this category focuses on highlighting any innovative efforts by the brand to go above and beyond the status quo in any aspect of their operations and supply chain.

/ Intention: this category focuses on highlighting goals and commitments made by the brand to improve the social and environmental aspects of their supply chain.

/ Management: this category highlights the main leadership of the brand, the CEO, their salary and any reported issues or scandals.

/ Community: this category highlights the brand’s community and CSR efforts, as well as multi stakeholder initiatives.

 

We believe these main categories can really help inform the user about the brand’s ethics and sustainability. We divided these categories into detailed questions to help us get a comprehensive picture. You can access the full list here.

 

How do we do the research?

 

First, we dig really deep into their self-reported data: sustainability reports, website, as well as 10-Ks.

 

Second, we relentlessly scour every corner of the web, searching for third-party reported information. We look for investigative reporting on VICE, Ecouterre, The Guardian, Sourcing Journal, Business of Fashion, among others. We also look at industry reports such as Australian Fashion Report, Not for Sale, Labour Behind the Label, and Good Guide.

 

Third, from both the self-reported and third-party reported info, we try to answer our list of questions and we include all of our sources next to the information gathered. The list is meant to help us get a comprehensive picture of what’s available about the brand. Having said that, we are sensitive to the nuances of the industry and understand that some questions might not apply to all brands.

 

Finally, all of that research gets summarized with sources into a research summary document. We highlight some of the facts from that document on the brand page, and make all the remaining information available when you download the data.

 

Who does this work?

 

A team of awesome people, with backgrounds in fashion, business, history, and international development, who all share a huge passion for changing the status quo.

 

For each brand we assign two researchers; one assigned to self-reported information, the other to third-party reported information. Once each is done with their research, they switch roles and verify the research of the other person. All the information is verified one last time by a third person before creating the research notes document.

 

How frequently do we update the information?

 

We set up google alerts for all the brands we publish, so whenever new relevant data emerges we update the page.

 

We will also update the page once we receive additional or new information from the brand themselves.

 

Finally, and most importantly, we update the page in response to contributions from our community. We are humbled by the fact that we don’t have access to all information, and we really want this to be a crowd sourced and owned tool. So we are counting on you to contribute and comment, and we will update the page with those contributions.

With more and more information known and shared about where our products come from and more interest in tracing the supply chain, the room for a website like this to grow and gain interest is huge. I hope it grows and adds more brands from across the globe – it’ll be interesting to see what’s shared!

African Myths, Busted

We’re all guilty of some stereotypes about Africa – I’ve never been there and I can assure you I have my own, mostly based on literature and my academic interests in development studies. That’s not the problem, but we should ask ourselves why. This powerful video confronts them spectacularly and challenges many of the most common ones.

I’m surprised so many ridiculous myths about what Africans live, work and play like are so powerful, and so monochromatic.

For a continent the size of the US, China, India, Japan, Eastern Europe, UK and eight other European countries combined, the fact that there are still only a handful of images of its life and people is outrageous.

 

I hope you enjoy this thought-provoking video and its message. It’s high time we started a proper series of conversations about why we are painting an entire continent with one stereotype (and let’s not shy away from the racism inherent in all of these assumptions) and thinking nothing of it.

Tim Jackson on the Economics of Climate Change

I came across this incredible TED talk by Tim Jackson, the environmental economist, on how shifting the way we think about growth and prosperity could help us navigate the realities of climate change. It’s a brilliant summary of the moral and economic dilemmas facing the climate change debate and it’s also highly thought-provoking.

I am a huge admirer of Jackson’s work and if you enjoyed this talk, I recommend his fantastic book ‘Prosperity Without Growth‘ and his work with RESOLVE. You can read the book on an e-reader but there’s also a summary PDF here.