Small actions can have profound consequences. I want to trace you through the supply chain of the shirt I’m wearing right now and explain why you are a hero when you buy clothing from The Fabric Social, even if just for one day. Your purchasing power is political power.
Last week I told you how you can be a hero by supporting Srishti NGO in Assam, where our fabric is made. Today I’d like to introduce you to our designer and tailors, the legends who turn our eri ‘peace’ silk into minimalist, contemporary designs for Australian women.
Our designer, Ally, is based in Melbourne, and came to us after we ran a competition searching for volunteer designers willing to donate their talent. Ally’s sketches stood out to us immediately: her style emphasises androgynous minimalism, perfect for our audience of mostly urban Millennial and Gen-Y feminist women. As a bonus, all of Ally’s patterns are designed so that no fabric is wasted in the tailoring process, which aligns with our sustainable goals. She was a perfect fit for The Fabric Social.
Our fabric makes its way from Assam to Kolkata, where it’s delivered to our dye studio. At the same time, our spec sheets and paper patterns make their way from Australia to our tailors in India. In Kolkata, we work with two dyeing and tailoring organisations, the Weavers Studio and Sasha.
The Weavers Studio is located in the divine suburb of Ballygunge – where creaking banyan trees frame the cheerily pastel painted estates of Kolkata’s hipster elite. This locale is very fitting to The Weavers Studio mantra:
“We look at the work we do as a kind of tree, supporting folk art, enabling artisans to flower: seeing their efforts bear fruit and earn rewards for them”.
The Weavers Studio works mainly for the niche market, taking small orders for high-end tailoring products that put a strong emphasis on process, fabric and craft. They know how to treat our fabric with the respect that it deserves.
Since the late 1970s, Sasha have been working in West Bengal and across India with a network of artisans marginalised by the introduction of machine-made goods. They work largely with home-based artisans, who are arguably the ones most negatively affected by the international fast fashion machine. Sasha are a Guaranteed Member of the World Fair Trade Organization – Asia and a founding member of the Fair Trade Forum – India. If anyone knows about supporting women collectively, it’s these ladies.
Contrast Sasha’s approach with how most clothes are stitched. Since the Rana Plaza disaster, the conditions of garment workers has been a talking point in the media time and time again. In a 2015 survey of Indian garment workers, the International Labour Organisation found that more than half had significant debt, four in five were unable to move on to better jobs, and nine out of 10 would not want their children to work in the industry. Seven-day work weeks, involuntary overtime and substandard wages are routine practice – and non-compliance is met with verbal (and sometimes physical) threats. Even if the building they work in is not falling down on their heads, many garment workers in India’s local industry feel trapped and unappreciated.
In reality, there’s a dichotomy of hero and horror, and a million shades of grey in between. There are bad guys and good guys in the fashion industry, and it can be difficult to navigate the waters of shallow marketing. Sometimes clothes are fundraising for a cause, but are still made for 10c an item in terrible working conditions. Other organisations use organic or recycled fabrics, but are tight lipped about their tailoring processes. This is the most common link in the supply chain that will be swept under the carpet when you click through to the about sections of your favourite brands. It is often the link in the supply chain that is easiest to hide, and even easier to exploit. The options for cheap labour, and for saving a few dollars on that final price tag can be tempting. That's why it is important to ask your favourite brands: who made your clothes? And even more important to scrutinize superficial answers.
The Fabric Social team works extremely hard to bring you fashion that not only gives the makers and artisans a fair go, but also helps them to thrive in their art – and in their everyday lives. We promote fashion in a sustainable and ethical way so that we can guarantee that no one will suffer as a result of the clothes we choose to wear.
Next week, I’ll introduce our new partners APOPO, and explain to you where our profits go, and the impact that we continue to see at The Fabric Social as our small organisation starts to grow.
Fi is the Co-Founder of The Fabric Social, a social enterprise working exclusively with women affected by armed conflict, displacement and other insecurity. The Fabric Social work to transform one of the greatest causes of poverty: armed conflict. You can shop, donate, or get involved here.