Today's post is sponsored by Slumlove Sweater Company. All opinions are my own, and I'm delighted to bring you another ethical fashion company that truly cares for people+the planet through the garments they create!
Slumlove Sweater Company might not be the first place you'd think to look when filling the gaps in your summer wardrobe, but this ethical company has a gorgeous selection of lightweight, cotton knits that are cool and comfortable to wear on even the hottest of summer days, while adding texture and detail to your outfits.
This summer, I've been wearing my own Slumlove piece, the knit tank in ecru. It's under $50.00, making it an affordable addition to your ethical wardrobe, and the undyed cotton is soft and smooth. I'm always worried about armhole-gape with tank tops, but the sizing of this tank is perfect (I went with a small). The tank also comes in black and grey, and there is a sweater knit tank dress option as well!
But Slumlove is about more than pretty sweaters... The commitment that this company has to ethics and integrity is inspiring, and I want to share a glimpse of that behind-the-scenes conviction with you. In preparation for this post, I asked Ava, Slumlove's founder, a few questions about the ethics of the company.
Ava comes from the non-profit world, having spent several years in Kenya with an organization that worked in the Kibera area. This nonprofit mainly focused on education, but Ava's passion for fashion (and high school dreams of working in the fashion world as a designer) began to open up possibilities for working with the people she loved while pursuing that love of beautiful, well made clothing.
During Ava's time in Kenya, she headed up a project that provided new school uniforms to students in Kibera. She started working with women who sewed and knit, and from there started to see how the project might become something more. Ava discovered that there’s actually a large knitwear industry in Kenya, due partly to the millions of school-aged children who wear sweaters as part of their school uniform and partly due to the cold weather (most people assume Africa is hot, but the weather in Kenya is actually quite cold)!
Ava started Slumlove by working with just one knitter in Kibera, creating a line of unisex, pullover sweaters for Slumlove’s first collection. From there, Slumlove has grown and expanded thier product line, begun working with new, more eco-friendly materials, and have moved production to a new facility outside of the slum. Ava purchased this new production facility, Mikono Knits, in the summer of 2015 and currently runs both companies!
Ava shared specifics with me on the process of determining fair wages for Slumlove. This is an area that's quite tricky with ethical companies... sometimes even fair trade companies that are technically paying "living wage" or "minimum wage" are underpaying workers and not providing enough income to actually live off of, so it's always a good idea to determine exactly what "fair wage" constitutes within the companies we support. I love Ava's transparency regarding pay for the 20 knitters employed by her company:
"Deciding on what a fair wage should be depends on several different factors. The biggest factor when calculating a fair wage is determining what the average person can adequately exist on in one day in the area they live. Slumlove works with a knitwear supplier called Mikono Knits, which is in a smaller, rural area outside of Nairobi, and all of the women live within walking distance of the workshop. We want to make sure we are paying the women enough to provide food for their families, school tuition for their children (no free schools in Kenya), and healthcare. We use this figure as the baseline and also factor in the time it takes per garment. We actually pay the women per garment they make and not based off of a day salary. We do this for several reasons, but the biggest being it gives our knitters more incentive to work - the more work they do, the more they will get paid! There’s times when production is much busier than others, and we want to make sure the women’s salaries reflect these busier seasons when they are working more.
Mikono Knits currently employs about 20 knitters - both machine trained and hand-crochet trained. We also have one full-time manager on the ground in Kenya who heads all of our operations."
I also wanted to learn more about the materials used in Slumlove's products, so I asked Ava to share a bit about the challenges of creating a start-to-finish ethical product:
"All of our materials come from a relatively close distance to our workshop. Our cotton is sourced in Uganda, wool is from Kenya, and we just recently started working with mohair that we source from South Africa. It’s super important to me to work with local suppliers for a number of reasons. You can easily find materials that have been imported from India or China, but the further out you go out, the harder it is to truly know where these materials are coming from and what the conditions are for the workers who made them. I love having a close relationship with all of our suppliers, it keeps everything accountable and gives me the ability to look our customers in the eye and guarantee them that their sweater was made ethically, from start to finish. But with that definitely comes challenges. Working with natural materials such as cotton and wool, there are several outside factors that effect your products. For example, Kenya has had an extremely rainy last few months, which is unusual for the area. Because of this, soil conditions are much different and our last few deliveries of cotton yarn have been a different color, which then affects the colors of our final products. We've also faced issues with our wool. We’ve been working with a local women who has been hand-spinning our material, but it hasn’t been able to dry fully because it’s been so wet outside, which has caused major delays of our wool products. This comes with the territory of working with these types of materials, and you just have to figure out how to work around it and keep going!"
Finally, I asked Ava to share: what would you like consumers to know about purchasing products made in fair wage facilities? If you could offer one story or fact to influence someone to purchase a sweater from Slumlove instead of Target? I'm loving her response, and hope that it serves to inspire you as it did me:
"Owning both an ethical fashion brand and an ethical production facility, I cannot stress enough how important fair wages and safe conditions are for garment workers. Being in this business for the last few years has taught me so much about how fashion works, and unfortunately, it can be a pretty dark industry. The idea that people living in a desperate and vulnerable situation are being completely taken advantage of so that we can have clothes for as cheap as possible is a hard pill to swallow. Garment workers all over the world are working 16 hour days to try and provide for their families, but the reality is that most are making only enough to barely scrape by. But this isn’t the way it has to be. It’s hard to explain the tight hold the fashion industry has on us, because we don’t even really see it or realize that there’s a problem. We get excited when we can snag a shirt that was originally $50 on sale for $10, but don’t grasp what a huge red flag that is! Large fashion brands can afford to slash the prices of clothing because their garment workers are being paid pennies for that $50 shirt and they’ve made such large quantities of it that most will just wind up in landfills or shipped back to these countries for them to purchase (which is quite ironic). It wasn’t until I really started to understand how messy the fashion industry is that I started to change my own habits. I only shop from ethical and sustainable companies, which, fortunately, there are a lot of great ones now! I do the vast majority of shopping online or at consignment stores. I can no longer run to the mall to grab a new dress quickly or buy new clothes just because I’m feeling bored or in need of a little retail therapy. But even though my habits and outlook have had to change, I actually find fashion and shopping so much more fun now! I am now fully aware of what’s in my closet, and only purchase clothing as needed. I rarely have buyers remorse or feel like I have nothing to wear when in reality I have a closet full of clothes. I think through every piece I buy, and know that my money is being well spent and my purchases are helping improve the fashion industry! And, most importantly, my style now reflects the things I value and find important. I believe that every human deserves respect, and I love that my clothing is a reflection of that."
I'm so grateful for people like Ava who are dedicating their lives + careers to making the world a more fair and ethical place through businesses that do good. Our choices have such a deep impact on other people and our planet, and it's always good to be reminded of that!
Life+Style+Justice readers can use the code LIFESTYLEJUSTICE at checkout to recieve 20% all Slumlove purchases through the rest of July!