By now, it is no secret that the fashion industry has a huge problem with exploitation. Fast fashion in particular has played a damning role in perpetuating modern slavery, with low-paid garment workers often enduring sweatshop conditions. While migrants’ rights are those most often violated, some fashion brands are taking a stand.
Many supply chains across the globe – including within the UK – pay garment workers far below the minimum wage while ensuring that they have virtually non-existent workers’ rights. Those most subject to exploitation within the garment industry are women of colour and undocumented migrants.
Sustainable Fashion Brands Combatting Exploitation
Thankfully, a growing number of sustainable and ethical fashion brands are taking a stand against exploitation across the industry. Many are dedicated to championing migrants’ rights and those of refugees, attempting to shed light on humanitarian crises while actively supporting those who have been most impacted.
Those most subject to exploitation within the garment industry are women of colour and undocumented migrants.
A number of these successful sustainable fashion brands were in fact founded by refugees and migrants themselves. ImmiNews takes a look at those that are paving the way for change.
Indego Africa partners with artisan women in Rwanda & Ghana, providing them with a global market for their handmade products. Using local materials, sustainable practices and recognising the skill and talent which goes into producing high-quality goods, Indego Africa prioritises the wellbeing and dignity of its artisans.
Founded in 2007, Indego Africa’s talented artisans create a range of handcrafted accessories. The brand invests 100% of its profits into its own entrepreneurship programs which aim to educate and provide further opportunities for their artisans.
One example of this is the brand’s ‘Economic Inclusion for Refugees’ program. This specifically works to address the unique challenges faced by refugee women, providing those at the Mahama Refugee Camp and Kigeme Refugee Camp in Rwanda with artisan skills, business training, and market access.
Established in 2014, SEP produces hand-embroidered fashion and lifestyle accessories – most of which are crafted by refugees who live in Jordan’s Jerash and Azraq camps. The social enterprise is committed to paying their artists above-market rates and ensures that they have significant creative input in all of the company’s designs and products.
Beyond providing ethical employment opportunities for predominantly Palestinian and Syrian refugees, SEP is determined to defy stereotypes about refugees. They make clear that they work with refugee camp residents as artists as opposed to as recipients of aid, hoping to create economic independence for hundreds of women and their families.
The company reinvests its profits to provide services at the Jerash Refugee Camp in Jordan including training for parents, after-school programs for children and a publicly accessible library.
Kannava is an ethical, slow fashion brand which partners with refugee women to create luxury pieces using traditional hand embroidery techniques called tatreez.
It aims to empower refugee women through providing them with the opportunity to hone their skills and craft for a fair wage. The brand recognises that those living in refugee camps can struggle to earn an income and works to break the cycle of poverty that life in these camps can often entail. A portion of Kannava’s sales are donated to schools in refugee camps to help fund both educational resources and teachers who frequently work in classrooms that are way over capacity.
There is a growing demand for sustainable, ethical fashion brands that prioritise the dignity and wellbeing of their garment workers. With increased awareness that a cheap price tag often signifies dire working conditions and unethical practices, slow fashion is on the rise.
Most of the garments sold in the UK are in fact produced in Asian countries by Asian workers. Similarly, a large proportion of workers in UK garment factories that have become renowned for exploitation are born outside of the UK, with many coming from South Asia. Those with limited English language skills or who have issues with their immigration status are especially vulnerable to exploitation.
For too long, predominantly migrants and women of colour have been forced into the shadows despite being at the heart of many of the world’s most successful fashion brands.
Ethical and sustainable fashion brands ought to go beyond simply ensuring that their workers do not face exploitation and are granted a living wage – this is the bare minimum and an extremely low bar to aspire to. Instead, they should also promote their workers to the forefront of their brand – just as those aforementioned brands have worked to do.
For too long, predominantly migrants and women of colour have been forced into the shadows despite being at the heart of many of the world’s most successful fashion brands – their skills barely acknowledged, their labour exploited. Fashion brands championing migrants’ rights and refugee rights are tackling this and paving the way for a future which values the work of those who have long been cast aside.