There is a quote that really speaks to me and underpins everything I wish to express in this article. It reads…
“The idea that some lives matter less than others is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
You’re at the shops and see a nice top, dress, skirt, whatever, for $9.95 and are tempted by such a bargain, but, have you eve stopped to consider just how these labels are able to sell garments for such incredibly low prices? Alternatively, if I proudly showed off to you a new top I had spent hours planing, designing, sewing and perfecting, would you offer me a measly few dollars for it, or would you pay me what you thought my efforts were worth? Each garment, whether the one made by me or the one sold for a pittance by H&M or any other fast fashion label, is still made by a human being who has needs, bills to pay and time and skills that deserve adequate reward.
This issue of foreign labour is as complex as it is massive. Fast fashion labels provide work for millions of people in third world countries who would otherwise have no means of earning an income and are responsible for propping up the economies of these regions. This is the side of the story they promote anyway, and sure, for the most part that’s true. What they’re less likely to explain is the excruciatingly small amount they pay for each garment, the impact their production factories have on the environment and the appalling conditions these people work under.
I couldn’t possibly cover every facet of this issue in a single blog post, nor do I claim to be an expert on the issue however it is something I believe we all need to become informed on because if you’re buying the end product, you’re a part of it. The True Cost is a hauntingly truthful documentary I highly recommend you take a look at as it succinctly explains all sides of the issue and what we can do about it.
I trust (I truly hope) no one reading this likes the idea of another human being, another equal, being forced to work in conditions you would never consider for yourself just so you can have the latest trend for a steal, so while we are on the topic of what we can do about unjust foreign labour, let me introduce, VIHN. An initiative by the same team who bring us my favourite fashion event of the year, Undress Runways. Edda, Judith, Ryan, and Monique have created something truly inspirational. Here is a little about VIHN…
The word ‘VIHN’ is derived from the Icelandic word meaning ‘friend’. This name was chosen because we often forget that there are real people behind our clothes…people, just like you and I. VIHN will fund projects at Lotus Silk, an ethical workspace in Cambodia.
When you buy a VIHN dress, you provide child-care to the workers. When you buy a VIHNjacket, you add solar panels to the workspace. When you buy a VIHN shirt and you fund education programs for the workers. VIHN’s mission is to boost ethical workplaces in developing countries and create opportunities for mainstream garment workers to move into ethical workplaces – and transform their lives.
VIHN are partnering with an ethical workspace in Cambodia called Lotus Silk. They currently employ 10 workers who receive fair wages, a comfortable workspace and training and accommodation (for trainees). VIHN wants to help them grow their workspace, invest in new equipment, install solar power and provide child-care support and education to take pressure off these hard-working women.
VIHN has chosen 3 key areas to focus their impact on: environment, working conditions and investing in the workers.
Cool/hot water for staff
Sewing machine maintenance
Chairs with back support
Investing in workers
Child-care for the workers
Education for their children
English lessons during lunch breaks for the workers
Staff retreat for International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2016)
The driving force behind VIHN is to create men’s and womenswear that challenges the aesthetic people often associate with sustainable fashion.
For the summer collection VIHN wants to create modern, minimalistic pieces that make a statement using bold silhouettes and sustainable fabrics.
The clothes are not chasing trends but are statement looks that are versatile, functional and empowering to wear. It’s the perfect look for an exciting business meeting that extends into a long Friday lunch and into the midnight society.
VIHN will be a sustainable fashion label from A-Z.
Using eco fibres, ethical manufacturing, waste management and versatile designs. VIHN is a label that will be a leader in sustainable fashion. The label will be selecting a range of organic cottons and Cambodian silks to create the majority of the collection.
A little more…
I urge you to follow and support the journey with VIHN as well as all the other ethical and sustainable designers who are doing their part to make the fashion industry a more pleasant industry to be a part of, for everyone. Many of my favourite ethical and sustainable Australian designers participate in the Undress Runways shows each year, so please keep an eye out for them.
I believe all my readers have a conscience and want to respect the people who make their clothes, please do this by taking note of where your clothes really come from, and what went into you getting them for such a bargain. Because when you factor in the price paid in lives, like the 1100 lost in the Rana garment factory fire, if doesn’t seem like so much of a bargain anymore, does it?