This past weekend, I had the honor of representing Remake as an ambassador at the “Smart Fashion = Slow Fashion” Event during Madrid Fashion Week. Set inside one of Madrid’s most popular concept stores, El Paracaidista, the event gathered fashion changemakers together to discuss how the fashion industry can contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The event was organized by Mariel Jumpa of Slow Fashion World, El Paracaidista owner and The Circular Project Founder, Paloma Garcia, Moda Sostenible de Madrid MSMAD (Sustainable Fashion of Madrid), and Asociación de Creadores de Moda de España ACME (Association of Fashion Designers of Spain).

Throughout the day, changemakers spoke about diverse topics such as alternative materials (banana fibers, etc.) zero waste, and circular fashion models. I spoke about connecting the dots between women’s empowerment and conscious fashion, referencing item #5 on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Gender Equality.

According to the United Nations, item #5 on the SDG’s is committed to eliminating discrimination against women and girls. This goal is a call to end all forms of violence, ensure that women have equal opportunities and participation in the political, economical, and public life, and overall, to adopt policies and practices that promote gender equality in all levels of society.

What does this have to do with the fashion industry? As it turns out, everything.

60 million people around the world are garment workers, and 80% of that number is made up of young women ages 18-24–the same demographic as the millennial women who consume Teen Vogue.

And while we women on our sides of the world consume fashion to empower our confidence and self-expression, her voice is in turn, suppressed and disempowered in the process of producing them. Every day at work, she worries whether she will get equal pay, if she will be sexually or physically harassed by her boss, or if she will remain safe.

So what can we do to help her?

1. Tell Her Story with Dignity

First, we have to lift her up by telling her story with dignity. The women who make our clothes are the hidden figures of the industry. While we are constantly bombarded with the glamorous images of fashion, her story is sealed behind the seams.

One of our core missions at Remake is to bring her story to the surface, so that consumers are introduced to the human hands that make our clothes. But we make it a point to introduce her not as a victim, but as her reality of being a powerful, resilient woman. She is not meek or weak. Rather, she’s a boss lady like many of us, who dreams of living her best life while striving to care for her family.

By bringing women on both ends of the supply chain together, we begin to spread the understanding that advocating for a more responsible supply chain is directly connected to empowering women.

2: Give Her Access to A Formal Economy

Second, women must be given access to formal economy. Too many women work off the record as sub-contractors, which leave them vulnerable to exploitation. Without a contract, union representation, or access to her own bank account, she is especially susceptible to low wages, excessive hours, and a lack of financial freedom. By giving her access to the formal economy, the industry can help her achieve economic empowerment, while creating a more transparent supply chain.

3. Take A Stronger Stance in Fighting Gender Violence

Third, companies who work with factories must take a stronger stance in fighting gender violence, in and out of the factory. 1 in 3 garment workers in Cambodia said they experience sexual harassment in 2016, and similar figures can be found in other countries like Bangladesh. Sexual violence is a result of a culture that normalizes gender inequalities, so making efforts to change that culture is imperative in shifting the balance of power. Not only must companies condemn sexual violence and implement educational and training programs in the workplace that engage men, but they must also create partnerships with multiple social and political organizations in the larger community that address violence, and provide direct services to support women.

4. Give Her Access to Affordable Childcare

Fourth, she needs access to affordable childcare. Lack of quality and accessible childcare is a barrier for a woman’s effective and long-term participation at work. By giving her an opportunity to be a working mom, she can excel and have the possibility to grow into a leadership position, thus equalizing the representation of women in economic and political arenas.

5. Participate in the Conscious Consumer Movement

And as consumers of fashion, we must do our best to buy better, and support brands that publicly commit to women’s well-being. If we are serious about empowering women, we have to do the best we can to wear that commitment on our sleeve. We have to stay connected to her story, and remember how much her fight is connected to ours.

When we have goals as big and as visionary as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, it is inevitable that a lot of work will be required to achieve it. But I invite you to begin by taking a small step by joining me and Remake in championing women’s stories and creating a wardrobe that reflects your values.

Want to know more about the women behind our fashion, and how to make a difference? Read on:

Watch: Made in Cambodia (Short Film)
The ‘Juki Girls’ Behind Our Fashion
Watch: Made in Pakistan: Meet Rubina (Short Film)
Top 4 Ways to Slow Down Fast Fashion
Check Out Remake’s Ethical Shopping Guide

Cover Photo: The Odyssey Online

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