On April 23rd, we kicked off Fashion Revolution Week at the Fashion for Good (FFG) Center in Amsterdam, where we premiered Remake’s “Made in Sri Lanka” film. The FFG Center was an inspiring and optimistic space to explore how fashion can be a force for good, and it was the perfect setting to host the film’s European screening.
The audience was made up of an international community of students, professionals, sustainable fashion advocates, as well as impact investors and philanthropists. Everyone there shared a common interest: learning how to maximize social responsibility in the fashion industry.
Katrin Ley, Managing Director of FFG, kicked off the evening with a warm welcome:
“Fashion for Good first got connected to Remake when we started curating this experience- we were really inspired by how Remake tells the story of the people who make our clothes in a real and dignified way. As we honor the fifth year anniversary of Rana Plaza, we are excited to hear voices from Sri Lanka,” she said.
Steph Cordes and Christian Birky, co-chairs of NEXUS Ethical Fashion Lab, introduced the film, as well as the importance of investing in sustainable fashion solutions. “No matter what your interest is, whether its climate change or women’s empowerment or human rights, all of those issues overlap in the fashion industry. And there’s tremendous opportunity to invest in solutions, because not only can they solve problems, but they can increase business as well,” they said.
After the film was screened, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel with women who are changing fashion for the better:
Safia Minney, the founder of pioneering ethical fashion brand People Tree, ethical shoe company Po-Zu, and the author of Slave to Fashion shared her knowledge as a fair trade fashion veteran.
Antoinette Klatzky, Executive Director of the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute, helped make the connection between women’s empowerment and responsible fashion supply chains.
Antoinette and Steph also shared their experiences from Sri Lanka, as they were both present for the immersive journey that the film captured.
Recalling some of the thoughts she had while in Sri Lanka, Antoinette shared, “What stuck with me is the paradox that exists within the industry: Designers/Creators say, ‘I want it to look this way, I want it to be achieved in this time frame, and I want to fulfill the instant gratification of my consumers’. But then we get to the factories, and talk to the managers who are forced to tell their workers to take 12-hour shifts, cut their tea breaks, and to do what they can to fulfill the order, because otherwise, the client will hire someone else. All of these pieces are tied together. It was good to see the young designers Remake takes on its journeys, making these connections so that they can begin asking themselves how they can do it better, “ she said.
Meanwhile, Steph shared her new understanding between a living wage and a minimum wage. “This journey showed me that living wage and minimum wage are completely different. Minimum wage in Sri Lanka is about 86 dollars a month. A living wage is a different concept than a minimum wage, because garment workers also support other family members; one garment worker shared that she had to turn to sex work in order to support her family. I thought about the cheap clothes we purchase, and how the woman on the other side of it has had to turn to prostitution to make this; it was really eye-opening,” she recalls.
According to Safia, social dialogue among companies and workers is an important tool for establishing a living wage. “When you have social dialogue with workers, then you have a greater understanding of what living wages actually mean. You start understanding what it truly costs to give workers access to health, education, shelter, cost of living,” she said.
Safia also shared that designing products that use women’s craftsmanship talents can not only help to promote a better work environment, but also in producing higher quality products. She said that creating opportunities to support them as artisans is a way to provide more meaningful work, and better wages. “For me, looking at how democratic fashion could be, I ask, how can we get the maximum social impact and support the livelihoods of women from one single dress?” she asked.
Overall, the conversation not only drove home the fact that ethical fashion is a women’s empowerment issue, but that for change to happen, it must be a collaborative effort between many actors.
As Safia says, “We need new ways of thinking, a new way of financing, a new way of distributing – not just a new way of designing. We need collaboration at every level. We desperately need to work together to change the system. This can all be done profitably. We can run sustainable businesses profitably. It can be done.”