Friday, 17 October 2014

Inequality is Never in Style!

In 2007 Blog Action Day was created as vehicle for bloggers worldwide to come together each year to discuss one important global issue. This year's topic is Inequality. There are so many forms of inequality at various levels, for example between species, countries, genders, cultures, and it can feel very overwhelming.

The Paraisópolis favela borders the affluent district of Morumbi in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Tuca Vieira

I want to take this opportunity to briefly highlight some of the examples of inequality within the fashion industry and showcase a few examples of those who are working hard to create a level playing field for everyone. In particular I believe there's massive inequality when it comes to the makers (most of whom are women) and the consumers of mainstream fashion. 

Earlier this year I had the honour of interviewing Aafreen Hasnain, an inspiring young woman working with and researching the artisans living in Uttar Pradesh, India. She told me that her research found that more than 60% of the artisans in the region are women, less than 10% of whom are educated beyond Grade 5 and due to a strict Caste System, a section of these women are given a lower wage than the others. According to not-for-profit Labour Behind the Label, "...the scandalous truth is that the majority of workers in the global fashion industry cannot afford to live with dignity, and earn no more than £5 a day in an industry worth over £28 billion across Europe". How is this not madness? 

Europe's Clean Clothes Campaign works extensively to try and close this gap. In Cambodia for instance, they've found that women are not being paid a living wage, meaning that they're constantly battling with the spectre of malnourishment, which in recent years has led to a spate of mass faintings due to overwork. The Clean Clothes Campaign educates and mobilises consumers, lobbies companies and governments, and offers direct solidarity support to workers in the garment industry. 

Greenola's Creative Director, Teresa Kuruvilla once told me that - "By paying workers a fair living wage, and creating a direct relationship built on mutual respect between the business and its producers, Fair Trade allows communities to develop sustainably and ultimately create a long-term, profitable, and ethical relationship between businesses, producers, and consumers". 

April 24th this year marked the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, where 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured. This was a terrible example of extreme inequality taking and ruining lives. In response to this tragedy, and others like it within the fashion industry, a global board of industry leaders, campaigners, press and academics from within the sector and beyond have come together to create Fashion Revolution Day.

The driving force behind Fashion Revolution Day has been a desire to use the power of fashion to catalyse change and reconnect the broken links in the supply chain. Our lack of knowledge can mean that our purchasing decisions can lead us to become unwitting accomplices to human rights violations and environmental degradation. I would argue that ethical fashion is everyone's business! 

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments! 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Jacob & Esau - A Creative Adventure in Fair Fashion

In the sometimes inwards-looking and selfishly motivated world of fashion, there are still those that are choosing to take a stand for better things. Two young women based in Melbourne have joined forces to start a new label called Jacob & Esau - with a deliberate focus on the makers of their clothing. I recently spoke to co-founders Joanne and Esther about their new adventure in ethical design!

Q. Where did the name Jacob & Esau come from?

J: This is an interesting one! Right before Esther & I even mentioned the idea of starting our own fashion label to each other, Esther always had this name in mind. She thought it was pretty cool to draw inspiration from the biblical siblings in the creative direction of her designs. Jacob for simple, everyday basics and Esau for the occasional wild pieces! So when the time came to decide on a name for our label, she suggested Jacob & Esau and explained the creative underpinnings of this name. I thought it was a fantastic idea and then only realised it also stood for the initials of our very own names! J & E, Joanne & Esther… there you go!

Esther and Joanne

Q. How would you describe Jacob & Esau in 10 words or less?

E: Easy peasy – “Clothing for the people”

Q. Why is fairness and transparency important to you both personally and professionally?

J: Honest and genuine relationships have become sort of a rare breed. It is much easier to do things which serves one’s self at the expense of another person and has probably become the norm in our culture these days; like the popular saying, “look after number one”. I take it as a personal challenge to dare to be a little different, both in the workplace and beyond! 

In the last few years, it has become increasingly obvious to me the need to maintain this stand for fair and honest interactions, be it in everyday choices, my own relationships and business decisions. The J & E initiative was born out of a collective desire to see an option for everyday people to choose clothes which are made fairly by people who are treated respectfully.

Q. What kind of aesthetic will your clothing have?

E: J & E garments are wardrobe staples, think of your favourite white tee, casual men's shorts or a throw-on summer dress in a cute print! Of course we are all influenced by trends to a certain degree, but J & E takes special care to design styles that can be worn for years to come and can be mixed and matched with an existing wardrobe, adding value to the life of the garment.

We are aware of the stigma that is associated with 'ethical or sustainable fashion' and are keen to provide the opposite! In essence, our clothes should look like 'normal' clothes, but upon further inspection a real story evolves, revealing the backbone of our label and it's ethical business decisions.

Q. What made you choose Bali in Indonesia as your manufacturing hub and who are your makers? 

J & E: Garment makers Kholil and Wiwik, a husband and wife team, will be producing our first collection! They work from home and are building up their own home business, enabling them to raise their young son, Dafar, in comfort and convenience, as well as earn a living. 

As you said, they are based in Bali, Indonesia, and we chose this location due to some contacts we had while researching into our business, which have led to strong relationships and really positive outcomes so far! 

Kholil, Wiwik and Dafar

It’s a bonus that Indonesia is a neighboring country for us (being based in Melbourne, Australia), so travel is shorter for this initial stage of launching our business and we’re able to learn the ropes quicker! Another important factor is that many Australians are familiar with Bali as a holiday destination so they can relate well to the culture and also the impact we are trying to make!

Q. Who or what is inspiring you both right now?

J: A great desire to see our vision of J & E becoming reality! Just the thought of being able to see, touch and wear clothes that were once paper designs, and knowing that there is a pretty cool story behind how it all started, is something which keeps me going!

E: People! People always inspire me, whether it’s like-minded creatives who are reaching for the stars, or people like Kholil and Wiwik, who (like many parents!) have the perseverance and the selflessness to work day in and day out to provide for their family. The desire to see J & E make a positive difference to people all around the world is what really gets me going!

Q. Can you tell us how to get involved in your Pozible campaign and why this would be awesome?

J & E: This is super easy! Just head over to Pozible and click the huge “PLEDGE” button if you wish to contribute an amount. This amount goes to the funds needed to produce our first collection. 

Another way to get involve is to share this initiative with all your friends & family. Be it via email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter…we are keen to have more people on board the J & E train! Your time and effort in choosing to partner with us would be so awesome as YOU would be A HUGE PART in enabling the first J & E collection come to life! Thank you in advance!

You can also connect with Jacob & Esau via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest