Ethical fashion is the new frontier to responsible production.
Environmental sustainability tends to get the majority of attention in the conscious discourse these days. Nevertheless, social sustainability, the realm that considers the impact of production and consumption on people and society, is also essential. Fashion has a tremendous capacity to shape lives, both producers and consumers, and so it needs to be understood as a system, in which all entities affect one another. There is no ethical activation if only concerns one group, but hurts another. As Gandhi famously said:
There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness
Turning vulnerable populations into empowered artisans
While they do provide a safe, and harassment-free work environment, the brand does not stop there. Outland Denim prides itself for knowing all employees’ names, and considers their employment as their pathway to stability and wellbeing.
Seamstresses, 750 to date, are provided a living wage that covers comfortably their food, housing, transports, health care, education, discretionary items, and some savings. These employees are rigorously trained over two years to learn all steps that are needed for garment production from cutting through sewing to finishing.
They realize that by upskilling them, they are essentially empowering these women to find independence even after their employment at Outland Denim. To do so, they teach a skillset that would serve as the foundation for salary negotiation, ultimately eliminating their dependency on one employer. This, in fact, is an issue that is highly neglected by so-called ethical brands who enter developing countries, only to create reliance on their resources.
Outland Denim also provides additional education programs to expand on this idea. This includes budgeting, women’s and infant health, computing skills, human trafficking awareness, English, and self-defense.
Focusing on ethical to create change
In short, the brand applies a 3 pillar framework.
- TRAINING: They provide opportunity to work and take care of their families in a dignified way, using sufficient training that allows employees to find employment independently from the brand.
- LIVING WAGES: Outland Denim yields living wages that provide them with financial stability and freedom.
- EDUCATION: Education yields them with essential skills for a safe and well-rounded life.
By focusing on these key areas, Outland Denim ensures continuous improvement, liability, and guidance to choose partnering institutions that can provide additional skill sets for ever improving the quality of initiatives.
Ensuring genuineness by practicing transparency
Transparency is huge for the brand as they realize that only by storytelling social issues will not stop.
Because most (ethical) labels do not own manufacturing and supplier facilities, there is an accountability gap. Without accountability, poor work conditions, factory fires, unbearable pollution and frequent accidents will be scarcely addressed.
This can only be mitigated if brands seek out factories, and carefully monitor their workings, something that is very close to the heart of Outland Denim. To keep open discourse, accountability and engagement, they regularly publish sustainability reports that address both their environmental and social impact.
Moreover, they also work together with the University of Nottingham. This is an independent body to systematically study modern day slavery. They create business structures and practices that help eliminate slavery from the supply chains by creating labor standard requirements that can be multiplied and standardized across the industry, becoming a torch bearer for future generations.
Power is in the community
This brand is also not afraid to share out its success to achieve social good on the global scale.
Good intentions are the foundation of social sustainability. Nevertheless, it is only through rigorous investigation, systematic toolkits, and continuous verification that one can make sure not to fall for greenwashing, a concept that is based on intent but no substance.