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From Who? To You

Images from here and here / / Edited by Khadijat Yussuff
On the heels of the first annual Fashion Revolution highlighting last year's factory collapse in Bangladesh (held April 24) it's time that we take a short break from going after non-transparent brands with our metaphorical pitchforks, and focus on supporting those brands that have taken the issue of unfair business practices in the fashion market very seriously. In understanding the many benefits of artisan trade initiatives, it becomes easier to appreciate brands who have made global fair trade an integral part of their image, especially in some of the world's most impoverished communities.

Enter stage left: the International Trade Center's Ethical Fashion Initiative. Odds are, you've heard a thing or two about the organization in past years, especially with their clientele spanning such prominent names as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Duro Olowu, Marni, Stella Jean, and more. At the helm is founder and head Simone Cipriani, an Italian-born UN officer. Cipriani saw the potential of women artisans in third world countries to not only earn income for themselves to better their families, and perhaps in time, their nations, but also to provide consumers with higher quality products and brands with an opportunity to improve their business practices when it came to production of goods. With major experience working with entrepreneurs in the leather industry and being essential to the establishment of first African luxury brand, Taytu, Cipriani decided to tackle the mindset that gave the fashion industry its bad rap in the first place: taking shortcuts. In an interview with fashion news powerhouse Business of Fashion in 2011, Cipriani made the relationship that should exist between brands and consumers clear:
"...there is a growing segment of of people who are affluent, who are able to pay $8 for that [same t-shirt] if you explain why they pay $8 and where this money is going. The only way is to communicate that to consumers, to enable consumers to see what it is about. If you don’t communicate to consumers it’s a problem and this is a fashion problem."
Understandably, the realization of the myriad opportunities that can be provided for the families of those women in abject poverty around the world through fair trade initiatives comes at a hard time for many in the first world, where the middle class is quickly disappearing, and the rich continue to grow in accrued wealth, if not necessarily in number. Pandering to the affluent, as Cipriani mentions, is no difficult task. But in a society where an eye for top-notch style has become an industry all its own and fashion designers are up in arms about the creation of "the knockoff market," how would one successfully justify the purchase of a $350 sweater over a $35 copy to the struggling class, relying on the buyer's compassion alone?

Luckily, regularly extending some goodwill to those with fewer opportunities overseas doesn't have to rip a massive hole in your wallet. Here, we're taking a look at affordable brands that have either worked with Cipriani's Ethical Fashion Intiative, or who simply embrace social and environmental consciousness and understand the importance of transparency with the consumer.

Fashion favorite brand ASOS started the ASOS Africa brand in 2009 as an initiative to help women in a rural Kenyan village. Working with Kenyan  production company SOKO for eight seasons, the  ASOS Africa brand is on its ninth season and going strong. The latest season, launched last month, was created in none other than my country, Nigeria. Pieces have been seen on the likes of Ashley Tisdale and First Lady Michelle Obama. With a price point that fits snugly in our wallets (especially with ASOS's amazing sales and coupons), grab a stunning item from this line with the leftover cash money from your next paycheck instead. Even better, all proceeds from the ASOS Africa line goes straight to the production company used to create them, so you know how every last penny is being spent.
Similar brands: Sass and Bide
H&M Conscious
Accessories fiend? You're in good company. Started in 2009 by college grads Kallie Dovel, Alli Swanson, Anna Toy, Brooke Hodges, and Jessie Simonson, 31 Bits is a brand that much like the others listed here, is helping impoverished women and their families in Gulu, Uganda by providing a marketable outlet for their artisanal skills (which in this case is quite innovative and resourceful). With beads made from recycled poster paper, and precise, beautiful detailing, each item produced by these women is equal parts chic, modern, affordable, and sustainable. If you can't stop at just buying a piece every so often, there are a plethora of opportunities to promote these ladies' work, from being a 31 Bits retailer to becoming a campus representative. Still not convinced? The modelling system used by 31 Bits not only provides the women and their families with an income, but with training in business and health education, the women graduate from the program in 5 years and go on to start their own businesses. Talk about a promotion!
Similar brand: Sseko

For the craftier folk among us, you'll be thrilled to hear of Wool And The Gang. Championed by the likes of blogger Shini Park of Park & Cube and models Rachel Rutt and Tara Stiles, Wool And The Gang (WATG for short) focuses on not only revamping the knitter's image by making cool, trendy pieces (that can also be purchased as a pattern, if you'd enjoy knitting your own), but also strives for utter transparency about the origins of their yarns and products. With a  worldwide "Wool Gang" in place to make each and every piece by hand, the cultural revolution that is WATG has no limits on its employees and clientele. And what's even better than the satisfaction of knitting your own truly stylin' sweater this winter? Getting paid  to knit lots of cozy goodies for other people! I will DEFINITELY be investing in a pattern or two to not only spice up my A/W '15 wardrobe, but to have an excuse to get back on the knitting bandwagon.

P.S. Check out Maiden Nation, an online global marketplace for ethically sourced and produced goods by women just like you around the world!


Which sustainable and ethically responsible brands have you got your eye on? Let me know in the comments!