Here's why the fashion industry needs to go the extra mile towards an ethical business model
- 04 March 2019
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In 2013, on an April morning in Rana Plaza Savar, a small city 24 km north of Dhaka, Bangladesh, an ageing building collapsed and killed more than 1,100 garment factory workers, injuring an additional 2,500.
The catastrophe highlighted the unethical conditions that millions of workers face in many parts of the world where cheap labour is used to run the supply chain that ultimately stocks shelves and displays for the world’s most well-known retailers. For many Muslims, finding ethical fashion brands has become more important than ever.
“[Ethical fashion] usually has two connections; being ethical by ensuring fair trade and labouring, the other side being ethical in terms of environmental friendliness, and not harming land for fabric production,” said Yasmin Sobeih, creative director of the sustainable modest athleisure brand UNDER-RAPT.
Pic: Yasmin Sobeih.
“Gone are the days when the bottom line is all that mattered,” said Roshni Govindaraj, founder and designer at Issara, a UK-based sustainable fashion brand that produces premium leather bags and apparel. In its place, she explained, a new way of evaluating business performance in the industry has emerged: the “triple bottom line”. This comprises social, environmental and financial results and helps companies to better measure the returns of their investments.
While it might be tempting for new fashion entrepreneurs to go for the most affordable materials to keep costs down, it’s not worth the sacrifice in the long run.
“These kinds of investments eventually pay off,” said Rania Rafie, co-founder and Managing Director of Up-fuse, a sustainable fashion brand in Egypt that produces handmade bags and accessories made out of recycled plastic. Committing to fair wages and proper working conditions, she believes, translates into greater trust from customers.
IDENTIFYING ETHICAL BRANDS
No single recipe exists for building the ideal ethical brand, but the process usually has a focus on people, animals and the environment at its core.
“I define an ‘ethical brand’ as [one which creates] products and/or services that improve the quality of life for people and the environment,” said Roshni, adding that Issara pays workers three times the national minimum wage and offers comprehensive health insurance plans. The company’s environmental considerations include avoiding wastage of water in manufacturing and using recycled packaging.
Yasmin’s UNDER-RAPT follows a similar approach. She chose to establish direct communication with her fabric and garment producers to ensure full transparency, and she makes regular visits to check on workers and see to it that ethical working conditions are maintained.
Other ethical brands are choosing to invest in the community as another way of helping society. Kotn, for example, is an international apparel brand with a supply chain that can be traced back to farmers and local factories in the Nile Delta. The brand has partnered with local NGOs to build schools to educate children in rural areas.
The ways brands can go the extra mile to be more ethical seem endless. While the transformation towards a more ethical and sustainable fashion business is likely to take a very long time, more companies are moving in the right direction by recognizing the positive impact these shifts have. However, the entrepreneurs all agree that consumers must also back this movement.
“Every step towards sustainability counts,” Yasmin said, “as what we implement now will reduce the impact for our future generations.”
(Writing by Ahmed Gabr; editing by Seban Scaria email@example.com)
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