I’ve been referencing “big plans” for awhile, now… And I think it’s time to share! I’m co-founding an ethical garment factory here in the Philippines!
As I've become increasingly disillusioned with the ethical fashion industry- "fair trade" factories that pay the same wages as sweatshops, "eco-fabrics" that shed plastic fibers into our water supplies, markups that thickly line the pockets of CEOs while giving an unfair slice of profits to workers- I've had this mantra beating in my head: we MUST do better.
Maybe I'm young and reckless, but I want to try something. I want to try to create Southeast Asia's most ethical and transparent factory.
How did this happen?
In March, I met someone who worked at a garment factory here in the Philippines for a big, fast fashion company. That’s when I gained a deeper insight into the limited facts that I knew about the state of the garment industry in the Philippines. And that’s when I got… mad. I learned that an increasing number of global fast fashion companies are closing down their manufacturing facilities in the Philippines, opting to move operations to other countries within Southeast Asia that offer less safety regulations and lower minimum wages for garment workers, and that thousands of skilled sewers in the Philippines are left with no work (and less than $1000 USD in severance pay, if any at all).
I started to think of ways that I could employ these garment workers. Expanding ABR with lots of outside employees wasn’t possible (a certain level of security is required within the walls of ABR because of the sensitive nature of the work that our non profit partner does). I started looking up empty warehouses, dreaming about the possibility of opening a fair wage garment factory- the first truly transparent factory in the Philippines, perhaps. However, as a foreigner, I’m not allowed to fully run a business in the Philippines. I needed a partner.
Also in March, I met ER (it’s a nickname, not her formal name), a talented Filipina designer. Her fashion label, Asurio Pinafico Enterprises, has received international attention and has been shown in New York Fashion week. I met ER at an event for Fashion Revolution Philippines, and immediately know that somehow, in some way, we would end up working together.
Over the past few months, ABR has been turning down orders. We’ve had big ethical brands (and even a huge USA grocery chain known for “healthy living”) inquire about orders for items we couldn’t produce (our ABR ladies are still working on their sewing skills and can’t yet manufacture garments) or for enormous quantities that we can’t produce.
ER’s brand has also been growing, and she’s also been finding herself in need of a better facility and more sewers to manufacture her designs.
ER and I decided, after many passionate talks about the state of the garment industry and our plans for the future of the industry, to go into business together. As partners, we’ll work together to open a factory where we can manufacture garments for the brands that we both run, as well as have the capacity to manufacture for many other ethical brands who are in need of a completely ethical and transparent manufacturing partner.
Where are we at right now?
So, when is this factory thing actually happening?
We're hopeful that we'll be open and ready for business before the end of the year.
We're doing the legal stuff
ER and I are caught up in a whirlwind of legal stuff- partner contracts and government paperwork and all of that. We're meeting with a few different lawyers to decide whom we'll keep on retainer to help out with our startup needs.
We have SPACE
We’ll be renting a wonderful factory space (a vacant portion of a floor inside of a larger functioning factory). of It’s already set up with the proper electrical to run tons of sewing machines, and the building has strict fire and safety regulations already in place. it's HUGE and well-lit and well-guarded. The company that still inhabits the rest of the space has many years of experience in garment manufacturing in the Philippines, and the owners and staff of the company have already proven to be a wealth of knowledge and very generous mentors to us as we begin our venture!
We have MACHINES
We are able to purchase second hand sewing and cutting equipment from this same downsized factory. All of our future equipment is set aside for us, and just waiting for us to gather the funds to purchase it all.
We're working on FUNDING
We're starting a FACTORY, and that takes money! I've written a few grants and we're reaching out to some investors, but we're also going after crowdfunding. We need to raise about $40,000 USD to start up the factory and to create a "cushion" of 6 months' expenses and worker salaries to start. It's important to both ER and I to have enough capital that our workers will receive on-time, full-time wages in our first few months of operations even if orders from clients are slow at first.
On November first, we'll be launching our Kickstarter to begin raising the amount we need. Here's where we need your help! We're designing a gorgeous line of ethically made garments as our Kickstarter rewards, and we want to hear from you. We've tossed around the idea of doing the following collections/categories of garments:
- Multi-wear garments (pieces that you can convert and wear several different ways for more closet versatility
- Workwear (garments that are office appropriate
- Affordable basics
What would you all be most interested in? I want the feedback of the community before we finalize the line. As a (self proclaimed) terrible fundraiser, I really crave your opinions!
Ya'll, we have so many dreams for this factory.
Big dreams about the people who will work in this factory. In addition to hiring highly skilled and experienced garment workers who have lost their factory jobs from big fast fashion companies, we'll hire unskilled and marginalized women (deaf students, women affected by human trafficking, women dealing with poverty) who will be recruited through a training program. They will learn basic sewing skills, and then fill an entry-level position at the factory while they continue to be mentored by senior workers.
Big dreams about transparency. I want a website that will include a real-time view into the factory as garments are made.
Whew! Okay. More to share, but I think I'll stop typing for now. I'm sitting in a coffeeshop as I type this with two of my best friends here in the Philippines, and I just told them "you guys, I'm so nervous to put this out into the world!". Writing it all down and sharing it with a couple THOUSAND people makes it so real. I'm just going to hit publish.
Let's talk about this! Give me your thoughts, comments, suggestions!