Every time we decide to push the reset button on our closets and send a trash bag of last year’s trends off to charity, I want to issue a challenge: think about the women who made everything in that bag. Where does she live, how many hours does she work, what hurts at the end of her work day, and where does she sleep? How long did it take her to make the thing you’re now discarding? What do you think she thinks about when she pictures the person who bought it?
The Fabric Social brings a whole new meaning to socially conscious fashion. With a transparent, squeaky clean supply chain, the brand provides economic independence for women who have been affected by vulnerability and armed conflict.
What Makes Fabric Social Different:
Developing zero-waste, high quality clothing from sustainable materials like super soft khadi hand-spun cotton and eri ethical silk, The Fabric Social partners with producers in three remote villages in India. Their work supports women-led community development and ignites demand for diminishing generational crafts passed down from mothers to daughters. What’s more is that in partnership with anti-landmine organization APOPO, 5% of each Fabric Social sale goes towards clearing minefields in post conflict zones around the world.
Remake sat down with The Fabric Social co-founder Fiona McAlpine who gave us the scoop on her journey into fashion for justice and what developments the brand has in store for 2017.
How did you decide to become involved in creating ethical and sustainable fashion?
My Co-Founders and I shared a crumbling South Delhi apartment, and worked for various women’s rights projects. I was doing legal advocacy work for women’s groups in Northeast India. I fell head over heels with the women’s movement there, who are completely dedicated to anti-war and anti-violence principles, and work tirelessly towards peace and equality in a completely ignored corner of the world.
Women from the Northeast also happen to be incredible weavers. Across the region there are multiple strains of indigenous silks that have been handspun and handwoven for centuries, the craft passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. The fabric we fell in love with was eri – a silk that uses the discarded husk of the moth’s cocoon. These women were upcycling long before it was cool, and the fibre has the added bonus of being naturally chemical and cruelty-free.
We found a perfect partnership in a local group of ex-liberation movement women in an ex-rebel held part of Assam, who had commandeered an old government building to build their own production house.
They had the same flippant no-fucks-given attitude that mirrored ours. The Fabric Social was born.
What type of investments do you make in the lives of the people who make your clothes?
We listen, and we are there. It sounds simple, but it is a major point of difference. My Co-Founder Sharna has lived in the field for more than two years, asking the women what they want, and how we can help.
We invest in women at the co-op, and at the individual level. When one of our artisans fell off their scooter and hurt their leg, we knew about it. When our co-op asked for solar lamps, we sourced some. When there was flooding, we crowdfunded so that urgent aid could be distributed to the community.
The main investment we make is providing sustainable, regular income where there was none. But we also reinvest 5% of our profits back into the communities we work in so we can achieve these big picture outcomes that emphasize grassroots leadership. We also donate $5 from every sale so that 1sq meter of a minefield in our region in cleared. This is a pervasive problem across South and Southeast Asia, and aligns well with our anti-war dreams of yore. In terms of peace building in our region, we are burning the candle at both ends.
What makes your brand awesome?
There is nothing unique about our business model, we work with producers to sell products through e-commerce. But our business practices are unlike the norm. Because we are social impact driven, we work specifically with producers that no one else will.
By focusing on conflict affected, displaced and other insecure communities, we work with women who are otherwise outside the traditional development system.
We are much more substantive in our practices. A lot of ethical fashion companies outsource the work that comes with the fair trade label, but we get our hands dirty. We introduce quality control and fair trade payment systems where there were none. We work with women who share our values, and befriend the producers. We also have a strong design focus. Compared to an average NGO affiliated brand, we are much more creative – working one on one with designers.
We market on a platform of “this is an excellent product” rather than “buy this thing because the producer is poor”. We place a high value on the work, and on the product.
Do you think investments in makers and the environment are inextricably linked?
Our weavers in Assam don’t have any sexy certifications, but everything they make is organic, derived from the local flora and fauna and hand spun into fabric. It breaks my heart when you hear about all the cheap chemical ridden machine-made fabric that floods into the market, when there is an environmentally friendly alternative already in place. These traditional environmentally friendly practices die out as cheaper alternatives dominate.
Every time we buy a cheap shoddy item from a fast fashion chain we are cheating these women not only out of their income, but we are cheating them out of their culture, and we are cheating ourselves.
What do people love most about your line?
Our customers are primarily young urban women who care about the world.
Everyone moans about millennials, but we think it’s great that they aren’t satisfied with the status quo, and want to invest in experience, rather than things. You want everything you purchase to be an investment in the kind of world you want to see.
Consumerism isn’t dead, but mindless purchasing is dying, and we are totally on board. We get fantastic feedback for our products. From the second you feel something handwoven from scratch with absolute care, you can tell the difference in quality immediately.
We have become so used to clothes that fall apart in two washes, held together with the weakest stitching. You don’t need to know anything about fabric construction to be able to tell immediately that our products are a totally different ball game.
What’s next in your brand’s journey?
We just bagged a partnership with Action Aid Australia to start working with their weavers and tailors over the border in Myanmar. We are really excited to start this project and get to know these new producer groups.
Any advice for consumers on how to shop smarter?
You no longer need to read the label to know almost everything you buy from fast fashion chains is derived from crude oil and filled with revolting chemicals. The media is catching up to the reality that this is a major challenge for our century, and consumers are changing their habits in turn.
But the thing that really worries me at the moment is greenwashing by major corporations, as if the poisoning of the earth that they got away with for decades is the only problem in their supply chain.
Yes, a conscious collection piece might be made using organic cotton, but who stitched it? Who verified that the cotton is in fact organic? As an ethical fashion company, it is almost as hard for us to verify a complete supply chain as it is for the consumer. The only real way to know is to go and watch everything from beginning to end, over and over. From sourcing raw materials, all the way through to the last stitch of your brand tag being sewn in.