The Shocking and The Inspiring
Slave To Fashion is written by Safia Minney. She is somewhat of a legend in the ethical fashion world. 25 years ago she pioneered the first Fair Trade fashion supply chains, improving the lives of over 5,000 people in the developing world through her brand People Tree. So when she writes a book on slavery in the fashion industry, you know it’s going to be worth reading and that she’ll share insight only years of experience can gain. I want to share a few excerpts of the shocking things she writes about, as well as the inspiring.
We’ve heard of the fashion industry being a dark place, which is why I do what I do, and why you buy from us, but when you hear the stories, it brings it into a much starker reality.
S T O R Y 1.
Safia introduces us to Kausar, he’s 24, and works 77 hours a week (that’s double a working week in the UK) and he only gets 2 days off a month. Kausar said “Even in an emergency, if a family member is very sick, it is very difficult to get a day off even if we plead.”
Can you imagine needing to work that relentlessly?
S T O R Y 2.
'Jahanara is 14 years old. She started working as a tailor at the age of 13 … Jahanara’s basic salary is 5,200 ($66) taka per month; with overtime she earns 7,000 ($89).'
For context, that salary is less than half of a living wage in Dhaka City, Bangladesh.¹ Jahanara should be in school, learning, but instead she is caught in a vicious cycle where she has to work and can’t get out of it because education is often the route out.
Here’s a couple of stories of hope working in the midst of all this darkness.
S T O R Y 3.
‘Since 2001, Freeset Bags & Apparel has been offering opportunities in a Fair Trade workplace to women trapped in sex work.’ Kerry Hilton, Co-Founder of Freeset India said ‘“Freeset is about empowering women to choose freedom from sex-trafficking. They get a fair wage, a pension plan, health insurance and a range of support services. The transformation is amazing. The women, now full of hope, become seamstresses, screen printers, community workers, weavers and managers. In their words, ‘Now we can hold our heads up high’.”’
It’s projects like this which are changing the world one step at a time.
S T O R Y 4.
A garment company in India is working with the UK wholesale company Continental Clothing to pilot a living wage project in their factory. The FAIR SHARE project “calculated that, rather than the government minimum wage of 285 rupees ($4.18) per eight-hour shift, the lowest-paid workers should receive 466 rupees ($6.83) in order to earn a living wage … a premium is added to the garment price as a separate cost item and passed directly to workers through their monthly wage packet. The premium is equivalent to about 13 US cents being added to the retail price of a T-shirt”.
I love this project. A living wage is one of the areas that I see need for improvement most, in both the ethical and mainstream fashion industry. This project is proactive in increasing wages for workers and also highlights how little it costs to pay living wages. Because we love this pioneering project so much, Continental are now supplying our printed t-shirts, you can see them here.
Stories like these lead me to want to create change fast. Profits still rule over people. But we can’t create change on our own; so let’s continue sharing ideas, supporting good businesses and charities, starting new ones where we see need, signing petitions and raising awareness with our friends. Let’s live lives where our own stories inspire others. Those we inspire, will then inspire us through what they do, leading us to inspire them and so it goes on. That's the sort of cycle I want to be a part of.
You can buy the book Slave To Fashion here.
¹ According to the Global Living Wage Coalition a living wage for Dhaka City, Bangladesh in May 2016 was 16,460 taka per month. https://www.globallivingwage.org/living-wage-benchmarks/urban-bangladesh/