26 April 2019, it is the week dedicated to initiatives to change the fashion industry and avoid serious accidents like that of Rana Plaza (Fashion Revolution Week). We are in London for the awards ceremony for the winners of the first Be The Change Awards.
The project came about as a collaboration between Jo Salter’s ethical clothing brand Where Does It Come From? and Sian Conway’s online community Ethical Hour. “We’ve collaborated before on events and were becoming more and more aware of how much smaller brands struggle to be visible in the market”, says Jo. “They/we work so hard to make positive benefits to communities and the environment and just don’t have the time or the marketing budget to get their message out widely. We felt that these unsung heroes needed a platform to help get them noticed and celebrated for their positive impacts”. 160, the number of entries. Dress Ecode participated as a judge in the Fashion section.
Why have we decided to participate and support this initiative? “Supporting projects that can change our impact on people, animals and/or the nature is crucial to me. We need new ways of producing and consuming, so encouraging initiatives that propose those new ways is fundamental and necessary for the well-being of all the earth inhabitants, and for the earth itself. We will all benefit from those innovative projects. It is also a way for me to make another small individual action of helping to change the world towards sustainability. If we orient our choices towards companies, organisations, brands, professionals that value sustainable purposes, we can really positively change the world”. We tell more in the interview here: Meet the judges – Be The Change Awards
We interviewed the finalist brands in the Fashion section. Each is linked to UN sustainable development goals. Listening to the stories of brands that want to make a difference, you realize how often these projects are born from having seen with one’s own eyes the impact of our clothes, in the work done previously or during volunteer experiences. This is the common thread in the collected stories that we report here, in two episodes. Instead, we will dedicate a separate article to Bushbells project. To know the story of Where Does It Come From? you can read here: Interview to Jo Salter
Y.O.U UNDERWEAR – Winner 2019 of the Fashion category
Underwear for men and women in organic cotton (5% elastam), with shipping all over the world. Sarah Jordan started this project in 2017 after her volunteer experiences in Uganda. “I was shocked at the number of women and children I met who didn’t have access to something we take for granted every day – underwear. As a result they were being excluded from school, work and even their communities, especially during their periods. Now that’s just not right. In fact, it made me really angry”.
That’s why she created Y.O.U Underwear according to a ‘buy-one-give-one’ business model: every time you buy a Y.O.U garment, a pair of undies is provided to Smalls for All, the charity partner that collects and distributes underwear to women and children throughout Africa (when possible the donated clothes are made locally, favoring the development of the local economy).
Organic cotton is produced in India, as are the items, made in an ethical and sustainable factory, with GOTS, Fair Trade (ensuring adequate wage treatment of workers) and Peta Approved – Vegan certifications. The organic cotton packaging is recycled and reusable, with the intention of not producing waste. They also take great care to convey messages that promote a relationship of body confidence and positivity.
The challenges she faces: Sarah tells of fraudulent online purchases that have resulted in money losses not irrelevant to the brand. Furthermore, trying to legally protect the brand requires energy, time and money. Finally, it is a challenge the feeling of not doing enough, the desire to want to be sustainable and ethical in all aspects immediately, which clashes with the objective need to proceed step by step.
Next steps: Sarah is about to leave for India, in the factory that produces for them, with the aim of further improving the quality of the products, widening the range of colours and styles to be offered. She also plans to review the website. In the future she would like to produce in Africa too. Finally, her goal is to donate 23,000 pairs by 2023.
UN Sustainable Development goals: 1, 4, 5 and 12.
Activewear and swimwear for women, with shipping all over the world. Jo-Anne Godden embarked on this project in 2010. When I ask her to tell me about the spark that led her to act and start this ethical and ecological project, she tells me: “I have a story, it’s long, I don’t know if you want to hear it”. Of course yes. And a deep conversation is born in which I find affinity in the way of seeing the situation of our consumption, the questions that come to be asked, the will to stop the suffering of those who produce in conditions on the edge of humanity to satisfy our desire to buy without stopping and to appear. Jo-Anne has worked for many years in the lingerie and swimwear industry. In her international work experience, she was able to see how the garments are produced and, when she returned to live in the UK, she reviewed her life, deciding first working for an ethical brand and then starting RubyMoon, the only non-profit activewear company in the world.
Two books, which she read simultaneously, led her to change her professional life: Half the sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, about the ways to empower women, one of these through microfinance projects; To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?, on the inhuman and environmentally devastating history behind the clothes we buy and wear without having awareness of the origin.
Besides the reading of these books, it is a particular episode that comes to her mind thinking of what prompted her to do something. She describes her visit to a manufacturing plant of underwear in China, and while she tells me it seems to me to be there, to live that experience with her. In the middle of expanses of land cultivated with rice, only that and nothing else, neither a town nor a village, she arrived at the factory: unbearable heat outside, air conditioning inside. A square bunker, around nothing. It is all tidy, modern, clean, the women workers each at her workstation with the sewing machine. The canteen where they consume the three meals a day. The ping-pong tables for recreation. Upstairs, their dormitory. They share the room in five. They live there. There is nothing around. Not even a chance to take a walk. No cinema, no center to spend time, a night out. Anything. Only the awareness of being lucky because they have a safe job that allows to send money home. A faraway family, their faraway children. Jo-Anne asked the manager: “Do they have vacations to go home?” “Yes, of course, they have ten days for the Chinese New Year”. And then you discover that they can’t go home in ten days: three days of travel to go and three days to return. I am there listening, and the image of women in cages working on the sewing machine, to maintain the family, without having a free and normal life, far from affections, fills me with discouragement. I ask her, “Is it life?” “No, it’s existing …”. I ask myself the same questions as Jo-Anne: “Why are we doing this? Why is this ok for us, Western women, doing this to other women in another part of the world, making them live in a kind of slavery? By producing a huge amount of underwear, and not all will be worn?”. That’s why she decided to create a non-profit brand, RubyMoon (from the name of her grandmother from which she learned to sew), which does not give way to create profit of which only a few can benefit. Nor which gives money to charity, but instead allows women to have the tools to be independent. Through the Lendwithcare association they choose and finance, with 100% of their profit, entrepreneurial projects of women in developing countries.
Another aspect: RubyMoon wants to be a brand with products accessible to everyone, not luxury, to avoid the contrast between those who buy and those who produce for them, between luxury and poverty.
Not just the social aspect. RubyMoon is committed to reducing CO2 emissions and playing a role in the circular economy. They use the ECONYL® fabric, made from fishing nets recovered at sea, and other regenerated materials in an upcycling perspective, with Oeko-Tex certification. They collect old swimwear, proposing in exchange a 5% discount, and they reuse it. They want to produce quality clothing that lasts a long time. “Stop producing virgin fibres, stop creating new materials. We have already produced so much to cover all our needs forever”. Furthermore, they are involved in research and development projects, they are interested in solutions to recycle the material again, which they are currently reusing. In partnership with Slow Re Purpose, they are committed to influencing consumers on the value of clothes and on the circular economy.
The challenges she faces: Being able to totally produce locally (in the UK) in a circular economy. Being able to reach new customers, selling online. Finally, a thorn in the side that many sustainable brands mention: seeing the big brands announcing a single sustainable change, through a journalist who talks about it, thus easily convincing consumers to continue buying from them, falling into greenwashing, is a source of discomfort for those who are committed to every aspect of sustainability.
Next steps: They are evaluating a new aluminum packaging.
UN Sustainable Development goals: 1, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.