Safia Minney writes: Great to see the new entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica for Fair Trade after over 30 years of what many would argue is the most significant grassroots movement for social justice and sustainability of our time.
It has also led to the development of the MDGs (Millennium Development goals) and SDGs (Sustainable development goals) and other new bodies of thinking on New Economics, and standards for ethical business, and a ground swell for ethical consumption, etc. Fair Trade was seen in the 70s as a solution to poverty at a time when people were becoming increasingly disillusioned with ‘charity’, people were calling for ‘Trade not Aid’, (charity being seen as often ineffective, unsustainable, paternalistic and often hampering local economic development initiatives). Fair Trade began to be seen as a way of bringing long-term support through a partnering approach to trade whilst promoting better livelihoods, prices, gender equality, environmental sustainability, local initiatives and self-determination to empower people and create healthy economies. (I’ve seen it close up – it really does reach the parts other trade cannot reach.)
Fair Trade started linking small scale producer groups, but today the principles of Fair Trade now coming to large scale factories and farming practice, which is good on the whole. (Although, I would always prefer earning a living working on a handloom in a village rather than in a large factory).
I very much hope that the Sri Lanka ethical line that we have just developed at Po-Zu will create waves. Not just because they are beautiful sneakers, but also because as Po-Zu orders grow, we will be able to further widen our collections by bringing new natural materials to the factory and work more closely with the community and support the workers in ways that will make the most difference to them.
This is your chance to become a shareholder in Po-Zu, to earn some lovely rewards, like a pair of our first Sri Lanka shoes, and benefit from the growing interest in ethical fashion. Trend forecasters agree that ethical footwear is the next big thing – and this is the chance that doesn’t come along often. We hope that you’ll join our remarkable, committed and talented team at Po-Zu.
(Safia Minney received an MBE for her services to Fair Trade and Fashion in 2009. She is founder and built People Tree as Global CEO for 24 years. She is now Managing Director at Po-Zu. Watch this space).
The Ethical Agenda is a blog/ online magazine about ethical business, ethical living and ethical thinking with interviews with people doing amazing things to set the agenda for a sustainable way of being…
Safia opens THE ETHICAL AGENDA with an interview with Fashion commentator & campaigner, Caryn Franklin.
How does fashion have to change to become more humane and ethical? Is it about brands, consumers, government or media taking the initiative?
I have chosen to work with the next generation of young creatives to empower them to challenge old systems and find new answers. There are many amazing educators out there that believe as I do that we can encourage emerging designers, journalists, art directors, PRs, image-makers etc, to channel their own anger and frustration at what we have now, into an authentic force for positive change. We all need passion in our lives and it’s these emotions that drive us to act. What I say to my students is don’t suppress it, express it look at how you can contribute even by bringing about the tiniest shift in another’s attitude. I’m always learning too and I really understand that finding the courage to speak, is a very hard step for some. But when you love an industry you can see its faults too and helping to make our industry better is my mission. I call myself a Disruptive Fashion Lover!
Why have you chosen to focus on body image and psychological well being?
The fashion industry is a powerful taste leadership energy in people’s lives, and with the ability to influence comes with accountability. Fashion must acknowledge that the promotion of unachievable body ideals and lack of appearance diversity is not good for the mental health of girls and women and increasingly boys and men. Studies show that we engage in social comparison to elevate our sense of self but if we feel our body type or appearance is not measuring up to idealized fashion imagery then this affects our perception of ourselves in a negative way.
In short… thin white models should not be the only type of appearance promotion, there are many visions for humanity and many others that deserve visibility too. In seeing them celebrated, we become more visible too. There are incentives for companies to engage with a broader spectrum of appearance. Diverse models can enhance the bond that the consumer will make with the model in the sales appeal and studies show this leads to increased intention to purchase by 300%.
The routine sexualisation of women in imagery is also problematic. This normalizes consumption of femininity as sexually available and objectified. Studies show we de-personalise both men and women who are sexually objectified in imagery. This has very negative effects on gender perception but also very negative outcomes for women who are far more frequently objectified in our media whether it be as a passive and perfected exterior, a coathanger for fashion or a sexualized fembot. Women who internalize these messages for their own femininity, also are more likely to go on to self-objectify. This does huge damage to self- esteem and can lead to depression and self-harm. I’ve been able to work with organisations such as The Women’s Equality Party, The Advertising Standards Authority, Graduate Fashion Week, The Age of No Retirement and many others to help disrupt thinking and belief systems.
3. How do we bring about the reduced rate of consumption?
I think many women and increasingly men, are trapped in a cycle of medicating low self-esteem with quick fix clothing buys. I say this because I link the proliferation of false realities in advertising, (dependent upon the unachievable body ideal and the perfected self) to rising rates of body image dissatisfaction and low self worth. To my mind, we have to address the way the repetition and ubiquity of these images can influence mental health. I studied an MSc in applied psychology, to be able to find the studies to make these claims and I feel very strongly that we must begin to break the hold fashion has on the viewer’s perception of self.
This can be done through realistic casting, diverse appearance ideals in race, size and age, body difference and of course disruption of gender norms. This is something I encourage my students to investigate. Creating a situation where we want to buy better quality and therefore less because we want to celebrate ourselves as individuals rather than clamouring to belong to a short lived trend that keeps on changing, could mean we begin to feel really good about ourselves as authentic beings. And this means choosing clothes to express who we are not who fashion thinks we should be. Studies show that our clothing can effect our cognitions – in other words what we are wearing affects how we feel as well as how we process information. It’s early days but I do feel excited by the things I am learning through psychology research.
4. Can you tell us about projects that you are working on and what impact you are expecting this to have? Is collaboration important?
I have just come out of a very tiring few weeks and I am hopeful that the cultural shift that we are currently observing will have long lasting impact. No one can have missed the debate around sexual assault in the workplace and the accusations about Harvey Weinstein that led to his immediate dismissal. I decided to use this film producer’s behaviour as a reason to re-visit protests I have made over the years, about fashion photographer Terry Richardson – also a predator. I wrote a piece for Refinery29 about my attempts to speak out and stop him from working with young women (this included writing for national press and giving an interview on Channel 4 news back in 2013 as well as continued initiatives through out the years). A few days after the Refinery 29 piece, the Sunday Times quoted me in their feature and in a very short space of time, brands were distancing themselves from him. I’ve made it sound very simple and it hasn’t been…I only started being vocal in 2013 after reading about him but other women and industry voices have been protesting for much longer. I’ve never written so many pieces this last week or given so many interviews. I’ve been glued to my social networking platforms because everyone wanted information and quotes. I’ve just done quite a few back-to-back 18 hour days spent in my PJs because as soon as I got up it started all over again! It’s been a revelation that this time round everything changed when this man had previously seemed untouchable. But that in itself has also been a wonderful education. Keep speaking out don’t let it drop!
5. Can you share with us the one positive phrase/ inspiring words or vision that keeps you motivated and moving the agenda forward?
Psychologist Hamira Riaz recently wrote “I used to keep a lot to myself, expressing opinions brings the risk of being judged. However, such reticence born of fear is the ultimate betrayal of one’s ability to affect change,” This really resonated with me. Perhaps everyone is waiting for some very big powerful initiatives to create change when all the time they could be actively involved by using their voice. I just try and use my voice is all – sometimes it leads to a shift.
6. What are you wearing in these lovely photographs we took of you and why did you choose the Stormtrooper boots? Aren’t they the bad guys? 😉
Love those boots so comfortable and sleek.
I am wearing them with a second hand laser-cut skirt from my local store Kensal Vintage and a wonderful sample garment jacket from Ada Zanditon.
I am enjoying what I am wearing because every garment embraces sustainability. It makes me feel nice to think about clothes this way.
2. Which book is a ‘must read’ to help understand the issues in your field?
One of my favourite books recently has been Dorothy Rowe’s Beyond Fear. As a noted psychologist Rowe explains how, when we begin to observe the stories we tell ourselves, we can move beyond the fear we all feel about life, unknown outcomes, death and humiliation. Well you asked!!! I really recommend it she’s a brilliant writer.
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Safia is often asked MANY questions about why she made the decision to make a career working within, and speaking publicly about fair trade and sustainable fashion, and eradicating modern slavery in the fashion industry. Here’s a few of those questions – and Safia’s thoughts in reply.
1) Safia, what made you decide to make a business from selling ethical and sustainable clothing?
I am simply an ethical consumer. I didn’t want my money to be spent with companies that don’t respect the workers that make their products and the environment. I realised that I would have to design products myself to get products that met high standards. That’s how People Tree started – we had to construct some of the first Fair Trade and organic supply chains in the world for clothing and foods.
2) How difficult/easy was it to find ethical manufacturers/suppliers?
I asked suppliers and Fair Trade groups how important women’s rights and the environment are to them. I would set up a new product with them, and we would work hard to design, sample and market-test it. Through that process I could see how sincere and capable the suppliers were.
It wasn’t difficult to find groups that share the same values, but helping them make good quality products when they needed help in so many ways: training in the design process and product development, in pattern-cutting and quality control management, and help with production and financial planning as well as building infrastructure, processes and procuring environmentally friendly materials in rural areas which is very very challenging. Also, you have to sustain orders. It’s a long- term partnership that helps achieve great things, not one-off orders.
3) Why do you think that some people have the impression that ethical and sustainable clothing is expensive?
Because fast fashion doesn’t cover the true costs: The social costs and environmental costs. Also, ethical brands haven’t reached the scale to make distribution costs really cheap because they don’t use slave labour to build up their businesses.
I always wanted ethical fashion to be “democratic” and affordable. People connect directly with the makers of what they consume. We started small-scale. That’s not very cost effective, but we always kept the prices at People Tree affordable and in-line with mid-market brands. So there’s no excuse not to be able to afford fair trade fashion.
Why Po-Zu Footwear shoes are perceived as expensive?
Our ethically and sustainably made Po-Zu shoes come at a cost (when compared with non-ethical mainstream brands) which we think is not just reasonable, but totally justifiable.
For those who are not aware of this issue, we highly recommend watching The True Cost movie which highlights the reason why most clothing items are in fact too cheap. And of course, reading my book Slave To Fashion published by New Internationalist.
Further information concerning ethical issues more specifically to the shoe industry can be found at the Better Shoes Foundation website. @BetterShoes_F on twitter – http://www.bettershoes.org/
4) How do you keep a good relationship with the suppliers to ensure that the quality of the working environment is up to standard?
We have bi-annual reviews that are monitored by The World Fair Trade Organisation. The Soil Association monitor organic standards for cotton and many of the food farmers. We also visit the groups regularly and work together with them to invest in better buildings, ventilation, water waste management systems and the kind of things that make life healthier where products are produced. We go way down the supply chain too to try to make the best job we can at influencing suppliers to do better. We invest in upgrading skills, and market exposure programmes.
5) Why is hand craftsmanship an important element within People Tree?
It provides more jobs and livelihoods in rural areas for women. That’s the point. Women with families need decent work and a chance to earn whilst looking after their children. People Tree hand knitting, hand weaving, hand embroidery and hand printing provides work for two thirds of the people who make for the company, even though it only accounts for one third of the product sales. I love hand craft skills. They revive traditional skills and celebrate the incredible ancient agriculture and textile heritage of our worlds.
6) Why do you think that most UK high street fashion brands do not follow the same ethics as People Tree?
They are beginning to emulate some aspects. Using organic cotton for example is great. Some progressive brands are starting to look at worker rights through their obligations to eradicate modern slavery.
Some are beginning to phase out the worst types of environmental production techniques.
The problem is that laws need to be properly enforced and business CEOs and Directors held accountable.
7) Why do you think that the general public are only starting to become aware of the severity of modern slavery in garment factories in the last 10 or so years?
I think many of us have been aware for years. Campaigning groups, media makers and ethical fashion brands have done a great job of raising awareness and the government has done little to lead in most countries.
The True Cost movie, Fashion Revolution and many books on the issues have helped get people angry and forcing change. So much is changing now. It’s cool to care. The problem is – is it quick enough and can we change things fast enough? We need collaboration on a huge scale and for business, consumers, govts of every nation and campaigning groups to work to reform business, financial and legislative systems as we know them.
8) Do you feel that UK fast fashion brands use sustainable and ethical fashion as a marketing strategy, therefore not taking these major problems seriously?
I think some are trying hard to revamp their out-dated ways of producing clothes and doing business. I’m hoping that they will share best practice more and more through many new initiatives and through the Ethical Trading Initiative and HULT. We have some very serious problems and very little time to solve them.
I wish that we hadn’t spent 10-20 years with what was generally a load of old ‘greenwash’ wasting time in grappling with the key issues: over production, over consumption, waste and prices so low as to result in a throw away culture that undermines workers’ rights, our planet’s resources and ecosystem and in many cases our physiological well-being.
9) Why do you think that some UK high street fast fashion brands do not take modern slavery in garment factories seriously?
They are beginning to now that the UK Modern Slavery Act requires them to declare what they are doing to eradicate slavery if they are a company of £36million turnover of more. Consumers need to be more demanding and not buy from brands that they don’t trust.
10. Prior to publishing your book ‘Slave to Fashion’, you wrote about SLOW Fashion – what drove you to write the ‘Slow Fashion’ book?
We used to say that clothes made by hand in this way weren’t well designed – now they are. The Aesthetics are good.
And that the shops retailing fair and sustainable fashion were ugly – this is no longer true.
We have many strong ethical brands and gorgeous eco-concept stores around the world. The book “Slow Fashion” features this, with interviews about the key influencers. I used to get so fed up with people using aesthetics as an excuse not to buy responsibly – it really used to make me mad! How can any new product innovation improve without customer support? This is especially unfair when fair fashion competes in the same market with fast fashion often produced by modern slaves.
I wrote “Slow Fashion” because over the last 20 years I have seen cotton grown organically and the care the farmers put in to manage the pests and improve soil fertility and the huge benefits this has to the environment, their incomes and promoting organic foods and health locally and their incomes.
Making fabrics and clothes manually, like hand-weaving fabric, hand embroidery and hand knitting, we create beautiful clothing, in a carbon neutral way, (no energy used except for people-power) and maximise the livelihoods created through this in rural areas. I believe that fashion can be a powerful tool for rural development and help women. We need fashion made like this to become the “fair trade gold label”.
11) What kind of problems do you face when you stock only ethical and sustainable fashion and accessories?
It’s hard work being a 100 percent dedicated ethical fashion company.
You don’t make compromises with workers’ rights or using sustainable materials. In fact you keep setting the bar higher and higher. You try to run faster that the best and set the agenda in your industry. It’s hard, but fun, working with other dedicated change makers – who love design and great products as much as people and our wonderful planet. You have to bring your customers on the journey with you. That’s part of the work that I really enjoy too.
Transcript of interview with Katie Edwards. Summer 2017.