Look around your house today. Count how many things are NOT made in China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, or Vietnam. Now, compare it to the number of things you own that are produced in those countries. The number will undeniably be astounding. It is safe to say that many of those products were made in factories which operate under abhorrent working conditions and its employees are paid next to nothing ($2 dollars on average for a 12-14 hour day).
It is important to ruminate on these things, but it is even more important to do SOMETHING about it. Whatever that means for you – supporting your local artisans, boycotting goods made in those particular countries, or trying your hand at making more of what you own – do it. For me and my lifestyle, it’s a bit of all of those things, but what I find to be most important is to focus on supporting brands that are socially and environmentally conscious. Over the years I’ve generated a list of companies and non-profits that work to divert away from fast fashion and instead embrace women’s empowerment and craftsmanship – be it from a different culture or place or somewhere familiar. Though the following few companies are only a small preview into the vast world of fair-trade, ethical production, it is a start!
Piece & Co
Though micro-loans and women’s empowerment classes have become a popular focus for many artisan-focused non-profits, Piece & Co. cuts out all the fluff: they believe that sustainable employment for female artisans is the only way to keep these women (and their families) out of poverty – for good. After working for other globally minded non-profits, Piece & CO.’s founder Kathleen Wright started the company in response to a wave of larger fashion brands seeking authentic alternatives to fast-fashion, assembly-line creations. The result has been momentous: top global fashion brands like Nike, Tory Burch, and Opening Ceremony have teamed up with Piece & Co. have partnered with Piece & Co. to make exquisitely unique pieces for each respective brand. Let’s hope this trend continues to grow and means a forever goodbye to fast fashion and a hello to further investment into women’s empowerment!
After her years plugged into the high fashion world, designer Carol Miltimore decided that it was time to step away from that world. She knew that more could be done to steer the world of fashion towards socially conscious practices, and additionally, there were artisan communities with who could be employed to make shift this happen. And, Seek Collective was born. The company works with artisans skilled in hand-block printing, hand loom weaving, and natural dyeing both in northern and central India. Carol works diligently to ensure the groups she works with earn a fair, dignified income and that the communities these artisans come from are also prospering from this work; with the help of Seek Collective’s production, the artisan communities have set up various health and education initiatives for those in the nearby area. A major bonus point — the majority of the silk and cotton fabric and dyes used in their production is organic and non-toxic!
In college our lives are comprised of dreams, dreams, dreams…and more dreams. Dreams of what we could be and what our lives could be like. It’s raw and it’s real, and it all feels possible. With this brimming momentum of hope, four college students found their way to Uganda but quickly discovered that the limitless world they knew was not known by many. They met women their age who had grown up without an education, stripped of freedoms and opportunities due to poverty, war, and corruption. What these women did have, however, was a skill; they made beautiful beaded jewelry out of the few things they had access to, old papers and posters. After proposing their business plan to these women, the project quickly blossomed and has grown exponentially since then — they are in over 300 stores worldwide! In addition to these growing business initiatives, a five-year holistic development program was also implemented to provide each woman with health education, finance and business training, and counseling. Over 120 women have graduated from the program, with many more to come!
Raven and Lily
Based out of Austin, Texas, Raven + Lily is a certified B-Benefit Corporation committed fair trade company working to alleviate poverty among female artisans. Similar to many other artisan focused non-profits, its founder, Kristen Dickerson, came from a mixed background of fashion and international humanitarian work. After 15 years split between the two fields, she created Raven + Lily not only to marry her skill set but more importantly, to empower marginalized females by offering fair employment and furthered opportunity. Each product is a unique reflection of the woman, the region in which she comes from, and traditional craft she has learned throughout her life. Sourcing from all over the world, the company strives to work with only eco-friendly practices and organic, non-toxic materials in its production. Over 1,500 at-risk women are employed, subsequently strengthening their respective communities and generating opportunities for accessible health care and education.
Matt & Nat
A little different than the others here, Matt & Nat is a accessories-focused company which explores the synergy between MAT(T)erial and NATure, i.e.- they refrain from using leather or any other animal-based materials in their products. Instead, the company is committed to exploring the possibilities available through recyclable materials, such as bike tires, cork, plastic bottles, and cardboard. In fact, 100% of their linings are made from recycled plastic bottles. What does that actually look like, you might ask? About 120,000 recycled bottles a year. Talk about a doozy. Looking at their bags, you wouldn’t even be able to distinguish the difference between a bag of theirs (no animal products used) and another leather bag; the quality is high and the aesthetic is beautiful. So, next time you are trying to decide what your next handbag might be, opt for the sustainable choice and try Matt & Nat.
*To be totally transparent, some of their production has been recently sent off to China, but they have made great strides in building personal relationships with each and every member on their production team.
A few years ago, the two co-founders of Naja Catalina and Girald Gina Rodriguez met while filming “Nine Up and Coming Nueva Latinas.” Advocates of body positivity and women’s empowerment, the two quickly bonded and hoped to combine forces to create a company that might embody these passions. Truly an untraditional lingerie company, Naja abandons conventional tactics of objectifying women and instead seeks to empower them both in their marketing campaigns and production. For instance, single mothers or female heads of households are the largest demographic employed in Naja’s factories, AND two perfect of every purchase is invested into a local sewing program for women. In addition to their social commitment, Naja has incorporated digital printing into their production, leaving their water usage next to none.