Deadstock fabric is quickly becoming an increasingly popular material choice for up-and-coming sustainable fashion brands and designers. Deadstock fabric is any uncut and still usable material that is leftover from normal garment factory production. This waste occurs for several reasons, the most common being a 1-2% tolerance that is standard for factories to order in case of mistakes or defects. Another factor that contributes to waste is a high minimum order quantity (MOQ) when ordering fabric that forces factories to purchase more of one type of fabric than they truly need for a given order.
It’s incredible how quickly fabric loses its value. In the fabric warehouses here in the Philippines where factory surplus fabrics are dumped, you’ll literally climb over piles of fabric laying on the dirty ground. Much of it will inevitably be ruined and tossed out. It’s a shame to see such a waste of resources. Much deadstock fabric continues to sit wasted and unused, simply because it’s more difficult for designers to incorporate into design/production than simply ordering new fabric in the exact color, weight, and material needed. It’s a struggle that I’ve been hassled through myself: If a TELAstory client wanted a batch of purple tee shirts made from deadstock fabric, I’d spend hours commuting to the warehouses and combing through messy piles in hopes of finding what the client is looking for. Many times, I’ve been unsuccessful in finding exactly what’s needed. Another con when using deadstock fabric is that once the textile you source is gone, it’s gone- no chance of finding it again for another batch of the same product or a re-order.
A typical scene in a fabric warehouse where excess/waste fabric is sold by the kilo.
Looking for a specific type or color of deadstock fabric is like finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s definitely more environmentally kind to use already-existing deadstock fabric rather than contributing to the production of new textiles (especially synthetics). But there’s got to be a way to make this method of sourcing easier and more accessible in order for it to truly be a viable option for many brands. Enter brand-new startup, Moreloop.
I first learned about Moreloop last year when I was speaking at a government conference on promoting circular economy within the textile industry. It was there that I met the two brilliant young entrepreneurs from Thailand, Amm and Amorpol, who created the company. Moreloop aims to promote the use of deadstock fabric through connecting factories with buyers for their waste fabric.
Amorpol, myself, and Amm on the day we met.
On the consumers’ end, Amm and Amorpol have made sourcing deadstock fabric streamlined, efficient, and easy through creating an online marketplace where buyers can shop for available textiles by color, material, and quantity. Unlike the normal experience of purchasing deadstock fabric, Moreloop’s textiles are conveniently labeled with their exact fabric content, weight, and price. It’s a game changer for factory owners and ethical designers alike. I love that Moreloop’s website gives me the ability to filter results to search for only fabrics made with natural fibers, or to look for a specific color.
A screenshot from Moreloop’s website. Deadstock textile sourcing made easy! Find what you’re looking for in just a few minutes with a few clicks of your mouse.
I asked Amm and Amorpol to share a little bit about the background behind Moreloop, and the specific problems they’ve seen in the fashion industry that they’re trying to solve. Amm grew up in textiles, and helps run the family business, a garment factory in Bangkok. Amorpol comes from a background in the corporate world.
LSJ: Without a background in textiles, how did you get interested in sustainable fashion?
Amorpol: Originally, I wanted to make an online space for leftover industrial waste, mainly leftover / surplus materials from all industries. While i was testing my pain point assumption , Amm said there are surplus fabric piled up inside her factory. I realized that was a perfect starting place as it fits the criteria assumption; sunset industry, sizable (scaleable), there is an existing market and the waste is in a readily logisticable.
Then, when we try to find the environmental impact from fashion industry, it turns out to be enormous and there is already an existing term for this subject, sustainable fashion. As a result, I became passionate about the subject and tried to absorb any information available in order to use it to promote the idea that our business’ impact on the environment and profit and go in tandem.
To learn about a subject that makes a real impact makes me love solving this problem every moment.
Organized and labeled deadstock at Moreloop HQ waiting to be purchased and used!
LSJ: What is the problem in the fashion industry that you are trying to solve with Moreloop?
Amm and Amorpol: On the demand side, we want to improve accessibility to quality resources. Moreloop can enhance small or starting businesses’ opportunity to access a variety of quality fabrics at affordable prices and low MOQ. We also want to educate on fabric construction. Most local designers and fashion entrepreneurs lack fiber and fabric construction knowledge. By labeling out our textiles correctly, we ensure that they can learn to differentiate each type of fabric and select items to suit their design objectives. We also believe that the material knowledge can entail better design overall. On the supply side, the main motivator is the environment. We want to reduce the existing material usage within the “fast fashion” system and help to curb new material production which not only consumes a vast amount of resources (water, energy), but also releases vast amount of pollution (chemical, CO2) in the process.
LSJ: Why should designers and brands choose deadstock? What are the positive aspects of choosing to buy deadstock and are there any drawbacks?
Amm and Amorpol:
LSJ: Have you been able to connect with a lot of other factories to sell their deadstock fabrics? What have the reactions of other factory owners been like regarding your project?
Amm: Yes, I have connected with over 10 factories currently. The owners are quite interested in the idea because they also want to sell their fabric at its original price or as close as possible. However, given the factory structure, they can’t open up textile sales personally to every small brand or individual designer so we are their solution to show their surplus fabric to others. We now have around 500 different type of fabrics on our platform and are continuing to add more!
LSJ: What is your hope for the future of MORELOOP? What impact do you hope the business can have on the fashion industry over time?
Amorpol: In the short term, we hope that Moreloop can prove that an online circular market such as Moreloop can become a sustainable and scalable business. In the long-term, we hope that, by using circular economy principles, we can create a new sustainable business model that makes multiple wins to all business stakeholders and the environment. Also, we hope the latter will incentivize consumers and businesses in the fashion industry to adopt the circular mindset as a norm, leading to a positive contribution towards sustainable fashion.
Visiting Moreloop HQ in Bangkok, Thailand January 2019
Interested in learning more about Moreloop or sourcing fabric with them? Reach out through the company’s Website , Facebook, or Instagram. Alternately, shoot me an and I’ll connect you to Amm and Amorpol personally.
For companies interested in more information about purchasing Moreloop’s available deadstock, I’ve got the details for you:
o A swatch (2”x1”) will cost you THB20/pc (less than $1.00 USD) excluding shipping fee.
o Sample yardage costs x3 the original price listed on the Moreloop website.
o Bulk MOQ is 1 roll (for small quantities available) or at least 50 yards or 20 kg. (for big quantities available) For example: If the platform shows 46 yds available, buyers are expected to take a whole roll. On the other hand, if the platform shows 500 yds available, a buyer can purchase at least 50 yards without surcharge (no need to take all 500 yds).
For additional information, visit Moreloop’s website.
Moreloop also has production capacity for men and women’s knitwear made from deadstock. I’m excited that Moreloop exists, and hope that it’s the start of an even bigger push in the fashion industry to move toward a circular economy model and use up the waste we’ve created before choosing new resources. Let’s all support Amm and Amorpol’s efforts as innovators and agents of change!
Every once in awhile, I come across an ethical brand, look at their website, and think “I would wear every single thing in this shop!”. That’s the case with The Fabric Social. Natural fibres? Check. Neutral colors (I pretty much only wear black, grey, and navy blue)? Check. Simple, clean, modern cuts? Check.
Each style in The Fabric Social shop is named after a notable female activist- Warsan Shire, Arundhati Roy, Clementine Ford- and The Fabric Social is quite vocal about their own causes and values as a company founded by female activists! Each clothing or accessory purchase sends a donation to non-profit organization Apopo, which in turn results in one square metre of a mine field being cleared for good (by trained rats!).
The manufacture of The Fabric Socials’ clothing is, in a way, an act of activism as well. The beautiful silk and cotton handwoven fabrics that are used to make the garments are handwoven by women around India, many in areas of unrest, and then dyed and sewn at a Fair Trade workshop in Kolkata.
In this post, i’m wearing the Charcoal Roy. I’ve recently discovered a love of crop tops (as a short girl, crop tops allow me to feel a bit less drowned in fabric while still professional and covered up). I enjoy how the Roy allows me to wear that every popular “boxy” silhouette, but I don’t look like I’m wearing a flour sack. The Roy is made from a delightful fabric that is somewhat stiff (which means that it holds its shape nicely), while still very soft and breathable.
The Roy is available in two additional colorways- olive and navy- and is currently on sale for nearly 50% off!
Vegan handbags usually fit into one of two categories: “vegan leather” (which is usually made of polyvinyl chloride and other non-natural materials that are actually quite awful for the environment) or cloth/canvas (cute, but not very sturdy and a bit casual for those who prefer a more traditional looking purse). Up-and-coming Sri Lankan brand Kantala is bringing something new to the table with vibrant, woven handbags using carefully sourced, all natural materials paired with traditional shapes.
While visiting Sri Lanka earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Vikum and Nadishan, co-founders of Kantala, and to learn more about the process used to manufacture Kantala bags, which are are comprised of four different materials: handloomed cotton, Pinatex, coconut shells, and hana, or agave plant fibers.
The best fibers come from plants that grow in a rocky, drier area, as the water content in the plant’s leaves will be just right. The hana leaves are harvested, and then scraped by hand with a wooden tool that removes the green, pulpy parts of the leaf and leaves behind strong, white, thread-like strands.
The fibers are then dyed and prepared for weaving. Weaving is still done on the same type of wooden loom that has been used for hundreds of years.
The resulting woven “mat” is sturdy, flexible, and soft, the perfect material for Kantala’s line of purses, clutches, and bags.
Much like the situation here in the Philippines with traditional weaving techniques, the Sri Lankan weaving industry is struggling as many weavers grow older and few younger artisans choose to learn the craft and follow in their footsteps.
Vikum and Nadishan are hopeful that by providing better wages and “modernizing” the products made with traditional weaves, Kantala can be a part of revitalizing the weaving industry. The hope is that when weaving becomes a more valued and profitable form of work, a new generation of weavers will commit to keeping the art form alive.
Kantala is currently raising funds on Indiegogo to scale up their production and launch a new line of bags. You can be the first to get your hands on a purse or clutch (in the color of your choice) by supporting the campaign!
After visiting Kantala’s artisans in person, I’m a huge supporter of the brand. I truly believe in and support what Vikum and Nadishan are trying to do through their company, and the products are beautiful and high-quality! I’ve been “field testing” the Kantala bags that I brought back from Sri Lanka and I’m impressed with the durability of the materials and the sleek look of the designs.
Everyone, meet your newest ethical fashion related obsession: Walk Sew Good. Made up of two smart and sassy women, Megan and Gab, team Walk Sew Good is currently walking across southeast Asia to gather positive stories about how your ethically-made clothes are produced and the affect that ethical business practices have on the people who make your clothes.
I was lucky enough to connect with Megan and Gab over Skype, where we proceeded to have an hour and a half conversation that “felt like 30 minutes”. We laughed, we talked about deep and difficult questions, and shared our thoughts on the future of the ethical fashion industry.
First, I wanted to know what sparked the Walk Sew Good project. Megan, the initiator, had become passionate about ethical fashion after being enlightened to the poor treatment of garment workers. Recently, she decided that she was not doing enough of what she was passionate about. Inspired by an article that she read about a man who walked across the world, Megan cooked up the idea to walk across southeast Asia to promote ethical fashion and tell stories that matter. In Megan’s words, she “dragged Gab along”- but it’s apparent that Gab’s own interest in ethical fashion and social justice makes her the perfect partner for the job.
So far, Megan and Gab have been on the road for several months, and have already managed to visit an impressive number of factories and workshops, like Dorsu in Cambodia (featured below)! I love that Megan and Gab have chosen video as a medium to tell the stories of the people that they meet, because it’s the next best thing to visiting and having a face-to-face conversation on your own.
I asked Megan and Gab if they had a favorite place that they’d visited, or if there was a place that stood out in their minds, as a good example of what fair manufacturing should look like. Pactics in Cambodia was a favorite with both, a large-scale manufacturer that mostly deals in active wear and those microfiber cloths that you’d use to clean your glasses or electronics. This factory is able to employ around 300 employees, paying a fair living wage. The facility boasts a library, green space, and solar power, and includes perks and benefits for their employees, even down to providing helmets for the workers who commute by motorbike.
My favorite story from Pactics was regarding their advocacy for their workers. The factory recently agreed to send several female workers to university to become engineers for the factory. They didn’t take “no” for an answer when told that those workers couldn’t enroll in the engineering program because they were girls, and the workers were able to get their education and move up in their careers.
Beyond just talking about the places the Walk Sew Good girls have visited, I wanted to pick their brains on what they’ve learned thus far on their journey. I drew out a few main points from our conversation that I thought would be interesting to you, dear readers:
There are no easy answers.
We simplify “ethical fashion” so much when we talk about it -“why can’t garment manufacturing facilities just pay everyone fair wages?”- When it’s really much more complicated than that. A “fair wage” in one area might not be a fair wage in another, factories are often struggling to get the companies that send them orders to pay high enough per piece the pay a decent wage, while still attempting to not lose the huge contracts that employ their workers to a competing factory. When we discuss ethical fashion, we can’t be too wide-eyed and idealistic, we must consider the realities of how the business world works!
Wages are… complicated.
I asked Megan and Gab if, in their travels, they’d been able to gather a lot of specific information on wages. I was curious about the actual dollar amount that workers in the ethical fashion sphere in Southeast Asia are making, and whether it is all across the board or somewhat consistent. As I suspected, it’s sort of all over the place. Similar to the Philippines, many countries have two seperate “living wages”- one for the city and one for the countryside. We talked about whether “fair trade” should standardize wages- a tough question with many pros and cons to consider. As Gab stated, “If I was being paid less than my counterparts for the same job, I wouldn’t feel that that was fair”- but it is true that the cost of living is drastically lower in the country than in the city. Megan offered, “I don’t know if there should be a set standard amount because it makes it difficult to actually set fair wages in different situations and locations. I think that the questions that should be asked are; ‘Is this enough to break the cycle of poverty, pay for food and housing comfortably, and allow for growth in the future?'”.
Let’s stop pretending every ethical fashion company is perfect.
During our conversation, Megan said something that really resonated with me: “What I think is missing in the ethical fashion world is honesty- not pretending everything is perfect. It’s actually so hard to get information from brands. They may be ethical in some ways but that doesn’t give them a free pass to withhold information about the other areas they’re not being super sustainable in”. I think that many ethical companies are intimidated by sharing honest details about wages, production, etc because they feel pressure to be perfect. Let’s acknowledge that 100% ethical is rarely a thing- a company may use hand-dyed, hand-woven, eco-friendly fabric but also package each garment in plastic and use zippers that come from a sweatshop-type factory in China. Maybe then, we can start to have open dialogues about what “ethical fashion” really looks like!
Thanks so much, Megan and Gab, for taking the time to chat about your project and the future of ethical fashion with me!
For more insights and inspiration + beautiful, positive stories, follow the Walk Sew Good project:
All photos in this post are courtesy of Walk Sew Good’s Instagram account
The longer I’m here in the beautiful Philippines, the more personally connected to the cause of “fashion revolution” I become. In just a few short months, I’ve befriended women in the garment industry, met local, small ethical fashion businesses and listened to their struggles to survive and “make it” without compromising on fair wages, and have even gotten the inside scoop on the big fast fashion manufacturing factories here.
And in the space of these past three months, I’ve gone from a generally-positive ethical-lifestyle promoter with a “yes! We can do this!” attitude to a pretty angry and slightly more angsty tortured social justice warrior (that’s only half tounge-in-cheek). I find myself wanting to post long facebook rants about greed and capitalism far more often than I want to post about a brand or a new ethical living find.
Why? Because now things are getting more personal. I’ve cared about the people behind my clothes ever since I started this ethical consumerism journey, but It’s different, more intense, now that those people are my friends, now that they are people I’ve sung karaoke with and joked with and shared meals with.
Last year when I launched A Beautiful Refuge I sat with my new friend M over steaming bowls of tinola and learned about how she was just a teenager when she started working in clothing manufacturing for brands like The Disney Company and Victoria’s Secret. She made very little, and by the time she’d paid for her jeepney fare to and from the factory and for food there wasn’t much left.
A few weeks ago I talked with K, another friend who worked in the garment industry before she was sucked into a life of commercial sexual exploitation through promise of more income and an easier method of survival. I felt a wave of hot anger pass through me as I thought of the wealthy high-level employees of the same multi-billion companies that “couldn’t afford” to pay my friend and countless workers like her a few more dollars a month. “How can they live with themselves when their success comes at the expense of the broken lives of others”?
I grabbed coffee in a mall recently with another new friend, C, who worked in the garment industry in the Philippines for two years before quitting just last week to form her own label + employ at least a few of the seamstresses she saw being treated unfairly in the factories where she worked. Here in the Philippines, the garment manufacturing industry isn’t as large as other countries in Southeast Asia. Do you know why? Because big fashion companies don’t want to pay the required minimum wage. And the required minimum wage here is not even a living wage- it’s under 10 dollars a day! C told me how Express, one of the larger international fast fashion brands that has been manufacturing here in the Philippines for 17 years, is pulling out of the Philippines and moving their factories to Vietnam “because there are even less regulations there, and because they can pay an even lower wage”.
I mean, this is nothing new. I knew before moving here that Express didn’t pay fair wages and that factory conditions weren’t great in the Philippines… but moving from “I read some info on a website” to “my friend shared how this is affecting her life” kind of increased my level of investment.
So, what do I do with this anger? How do I turn it into something constructive?
I can, for starters, continue paying fair wages to the women at A Beautiful Refuge (twice what other “fair trade” businesses I’ve visited here pay). I can continue tirelessly working to expand the business so that we can hire more women.
Maybe, in the future, I can help start a factory. An actual fair wage factory, a completely transparent factory. One that can employ all of the skilled garment makers who are losing their jobs here in the Philippines. It’s a dream that I’m actually taking (scary) steps toward with some friends.
Being in Southeast Asia during Fashion Revolution Week makes it all pretty personal. Three of my friends here used to work in the apparel industry and they’ve all separately told me stories of low wages and poor conditions while embroidering tee shirts for Disney (shame on you, Disney!) or sewing bras for big USA lingerie companies.
We had a pretty sober moment in the A Beautiful Refuge workshop as we all talked about the Rana Plaza collapse and shared stories and experiences.
Even though it’s not a fashion brand, My thoughts have centered around a particular company with white-hot anger for the past few days. They’re a fair trade certified company operating out of the Philippines that I’ve recently visited. They market themselves as a Fair Trade Federation member and a cause based company that “provides employment for sex trafficking survivors”. Their website is full of photos of women who have “escaped prostitution”, and stories of their lives and how this company is “helping” by employing them.
Beside the very obvious issue of the re-exploitative, sex-trafficking focused marketing (what other business would put personal stories of their employee’s pasts up on their website? Or sell their product by talking about the past difficulties of their employee’s lives? “You should buy this insurance package from Sue, she’s a survivor of domestic abuse who is trying to get her life back on track”- see how ridiculous that is?), if you look past the cheery feel good language – “when you buy our product, you know you are creating jobs for women who need them! Hooray!” There is actually no mention of how much the women working at this company make.
One of my friends, a single mom with several kids to care for, worked briefly for this particular company. She showed me one of the small products she’d made- which I recognized from the company’s website. I told her that I’d seen the same product sold at some of my favorite fair trade shops in the US. I asked her how much she was paid. She answered with a number that in US dollars equals less than $0.33. Less than $0.33 for a product that retails in the US for $6.00. Because of the detail involved in making each tiny product, there was no way that she could make enough cards each day to live off her earnings, even with the relatively cheap cost of living in the Philippines.
What I want to know is, who is getting the other $5.67 made from the sales of that product? And why wasn’t my friend paid more? Yes, I know that there are expenses involved in running a business… but even after paying rent and water and electricity for the workshop, even after paying for shipping and tariffs and taxes to get your product overseas and paying a staff member in the US to ship out orders and maintain the website… there should still be plenty left over to pay workers decently (I should know, I’ve had to go through all of this while setting up A Beautiful Refuge)!
What’s really horrifying is what another of my friends told me- that because of the low wages, many of the women who were supposedly “rescued” from sex trafficking and prostitution through working at this company are actually still forced to stay in that lifestyle- working at the company during the day and then selling their bodies at night.
I wonder how many other “ethical” companies aren’t quite as honest and ethical as they seem. I think about the fair trade sewing workshop that I cut ties with a few months ago (I was planning on placing a big production order with them) because they wouldn’t tell me how much the women there made as opposed to the “higher up” staff and owner.
This year, for Fashion Revolution Week and beyond, I’m not only asking “Who Made My Clothes?” but “How much are you paying him/her?”. I’ll be asking this question to both ethical and non-ethical companies alike.
It’s easy to talk a good marketing game, but I won’t be fooled. Know that I’ll be asking the tough questions. I won’t support a company that barely squeaks by with offering workers the lowest possible wage that could be considered “fair” while the CEO buys a summer home and a yacht.
I often get asked “WHY do you live in Manila?”. I get it- as a foreigner there’s a perception in others’ eyes that I have the resources to live anywhere I’d like. Taking into account Manila’s pollution, traffic, and corruption, it’s a fair question.
The truth is, I love Manila. I love her history, her quirky, eclectic food scene, her people with their quick smiles and fascinating stories. I love discovering the hidden gems that you’d miss unless you spent time hanging out with the locals and allowing yourself to slip into their world.
My love for Manila in recent years has been stoked by my self-proclaimed “history and culture nerd” friends, Dustin and Noni. Dustin owns Manila For A Day, a no-bullshit tour company that he started after growing tired of telling a “sanitized” version of the Philippines’ history as a government employed tour guide for foreign VIPs. Dustin is the reason I can show up many of my local friends when it comes to history knowledge- I’ve been on multiple tours with Dustin and he’s been the only person I know who could explain the origin of certain elements of Filipino culture to me. Noni is a Manila For A Day guide- or “cultural navigator” and the creator of Manila For A Day’s newest offering, “Colors of Manila”. Colors of Manila brings travelers and locals alike through one of my very favorite areas of Manila- Quiapo.
Quiapo streets. Don’t laugh at my tourist hat unless you’re also lily-white and can burn painfully in 5 minutes.
Quiapo is home to the world’s oldest Chinatown. Once, it was old Manila’s central business district and “downtown” area. Today, it’s still a bustling hub for commerce, but you’ll see streets full of roadside vendors instead of men in suits with briefcases. Everywhere you turn, there’s vibrant color, chaos, and an explosion of life.
There’s also a beautiful cross-section of diversity in Quiapo. Here, one of Manila’s few mosques exists just beside an iconic old Catholic church. You’ll meet hijab-wearing women selling halal food, vendors selling prayer candles, and fortune tellers offering up a dose of mysticism.
Sampling as many different fruits as possible.
You could stroll through this area on your own, taking in all the sensory stimuli and exploring- but if you want to take a deep dive into the neighborhood, go with Noni or Dustin.
Piles of fresh gulay brought into the city to sell from provincial farms.
Noni and me buying suman- rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves.
Welcome to a brand new series on Lifestyle Justice: Brands I Believe In. Since I stopped doing sponsored posts, I haven’t been sharing many clothing or goods recommendations. I want to start popping in to this platform from time to time to share un-sponsored reviews of products that I love from truly ethical brands that I believe in. For this first installment, I reached out to my friend Molly to let her know that I’d like to write about her brand Fair+Little. She was kind enough to offer an artisan-centered discount code to you all- read ’til the end for more details on that.
Molly and I first connected over her online shop, Fair + Simple: a boutique full of carefully sourced and fairly made gifts from all over the world. I loved the business model: You buy someone a Fair + Simple gift card, give it to them for their birthday/Christmas/wedding/special occasion, and they can go to the website to choose any gift they’d like. It’s ethical gift-giving made easy, in a way that lets people choose the object they’ll love, cherish, and use the most. I loved it. Molly has been sending work to the women at A Beautiful Refuge for years now: custom screen printed totes and wall banners, and, more recently, a linen home goods line. The women in the shop love “Ate Molly”- they’ve facetimed, swapped photos of kids. The ABR women are so proud every time I pull up the Fair+Simple website and show them one of their products listed for sale with beautiful professional photographs.
I’ve always found it easy to talk to Molly- it feels like we’ve got hearts on the same wavelength. On one phone call, Molly shared her dream of creating an ethically made children’s line, and I shared my goal of beginning to manufacture not only home goods and screen printed tees, but garments here in the Philippines. And so, Fair + Little was born.
Molly’s main vision for Fair + Little is to open up the conversation of ‘who made my clothes’ with children: “I personally hadn’t given a thought to who made my clothes until I was in my early 20s. Once I started asking questions, my purchasing practices made a big shift as I began to realize the negative impact a clothing item can make on people and planet. If we teach our child to turn over a tag and consider the person behind the product, awareness can happen very early. It can be as simple as noticing the country of origin, pointing out a seam that was made by a human, and looking at the material content. We don’t have to teach children all the answers, but at least they can start to ask the questions themselves.”
Fair + Little includes skirts, pants, capris, and the sweetest little dress, all made of 100% linen. There are also 3 tee shirts (all made from deadstock fabric sourced here in the Philippines, and illustrated by my favorite artist in the Philippines, my good friend Elle). One of the things that I love most about Fair+Little is the fact that the prices are affordable. It’s really important for me, personally, to work toward more inclusive ethical fashion choices and at $16-$36 these pieces fit the bill. I know personally how hard Molly worked to crunch the numbers to buy really beautiful quality fabric, pay fair wages to the women who made the garments, and cover all the expenses that come along with manufacturing, and still offer prices that many parents will easily be able to afford.
Molly designed and graded each pattern herself, wear-testing each design on her own kids. She chose a nature-based, treasure hunting theme. There is also an undercurrent of gender equality present in the design. Molly says It’s always bothered her how girls clothing often comes with fake pockets, but this is rarely found in boys clothing. “Girls need pockets too, and not everything needs to be pink or purple with a princess on it”.
I have to admit that I teared up a little when I say the images of the garments when they made their way from the Philippines to the Oregon coast for a photoshoot. These clothes are everything I would have wanted as a child. I lived outdoors, building forts in the woods, collecting pressed flowers, insects, rocks, and fossils, picking berries and fresh veggies from my families garden for snacks. I wore boys’ camouflage cargo pants because I wanted pockets to carry my pocketknife and other outdoor survival tools, just like my younger brothers. It’s beautifully nostalgic for me to see wild and free kids stuffing the pockets of their Fair + Little garments with shells and treasures.
I’ve struggled in the past year with finding the information I want about ethical brands. That’s why I took down my shopping directory here on Lifestyle Justice: I just didn’t know that I could guarantee that the brands I were recommending were 100% up to the standards that I want to see for wages, materials, and more.
That makes sharing Fair + Little SO satisfying. Because I worked so closely with Molly on this project, I know the details behind every aspect of production. I know exactly the amount that each seamstress was paid. I know where each material came from- I could take you to meet the vendor in a tiny stall in the market in Binondo where I purchased biodegradable coconut-shell buttons, and I could show you the warehouse where I found the tee shirt fabric- discarded from a local factory.
Because Molly wanted to produce Fair + Little in the most sustainable and impactful way possible, she definitely didn’t choose the easy route. It was a TON of hard work and problem-solving! I asked Molly what the “worth it” moment was, for her, in creating Fair + Little, and I love her response:
“It has not been an easy road to bring Fair+Little to life, but seeing children learn about who made their clothes has been worth it. It is a privilege to be the first encounter with shopping for good in some cases. It is so rewarding to hear stories of kids telling others people about what makes their pants or dress with big pockets so special. Change in the apparel industry happens slowly, but it can also happen EARLY.”
Each Fair+Little purchase comes with an information card designed for kids (yes, this also made me cry, because it’s so beautiful and pure).
In order to keep ethical items affordable and impact great, Molly is keeping Fair + Little margins tight and almost non-existent in advertising and promos. For here, It just doesn’t fit within her “why” and who her customers are.
Molly wanted to offer something special to Lifestyle Justice readers, and you can get free shipping when you use the artisan centered promo code: LIFESTYLEJUSTICE
What’s an artisan-centered promo? It’s a way that Molly is cutting an even bigger slice of the profit pie for the women who made your kids’ clothing. Instead of 40% off the price to you, the customer, 40% of your purchase goes to the artisan. I’ve never seen a brand do this before, and I love the concept.
If you have any questions at all about Fair+Little, leave them in the comments below! Either Molly or myself can share whatever additional information you’d like to know about the brand.
Thanks so much for reading, and I genuinely hope you’ll follow and support the work that Molly is doing to bring ethical shopping to kids!
Some images in this post are by Betsy Blue Photography
In June 2017, I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, and to the site of the Rana Plaza tragedy. The trip was entirely on my own, with no agenda other than to learn. These are the thoughts and stories that have emerged as I’ve processed that trip.
Bangladesh ended up being my favorite country visited in 2017. Landing in Dhaka, I noticed that there was quite a lack of tourists- at least tourists that I could identify as European or American- and I spent the next few days wondering why! Dhaka’s traffic may be intense, but the city makes up for it in unique architecture, fascinating (if a bit tragic) history, amazing food, and a thriving academic scene bringing art and life into the city (college students are quite politically active, and the student population has sustained many casualties throughout Bangladesh’s history as a result). Andrew and I met up with a new friend and walked through museums, sculpture gardens, a lithograph studio in a college art department, and more. People were kind, getting around was fairly easy, and I found myself wishing within the first day that I’d set aside more time to explore the country.
While in Bangladesh, I wanted to know more about the current state of the country’s $28 billion dollar garment industry (did you know that only China does more business in this area than Bangladesh?). With several years gone by since the world’s eyes were opened to the plight of workers through the Rana Plaza tragedy, I was hoping to hear good news. I reached out to Fashion Revolution Bangladesh, who connected me to Asif, a FashRev member in Dhaka who happened to work with SNV, an organization focused on many projects around the world, including bettering the situation of women working in Bangladesh clothing factories.
Asif graciously answered my many questions, and helped me put the pieces together of what factory environments look like currently. I was happy to learn that due to the tireless work of local advocates, most Bangladeshi factories are improving the benefits offered to employees. Out of the 4000+ documented factories in the country, 2300 are now complying with government regulations for health and safety, providing basic healthcare funding and education for workers, and even opening up to the outside influence of local non-profits and worker’s rights groups. SNV is specifically working on a program for female garment workers to help them gain access to medical care, reproductive health services, and training on how to advocate for themselves.
I learned that big brands like H&M won’t work with factories that haven’t signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety (read it here), A very useful legally binding document between brands and factories ensuring safe facilities in the wake of Rana Plaza. Since this accord’s inception, inspectors have flagged more than 118,500 hazards (mostly fire and electrical) in nearly 2000 participating factories working for 200+ brands (source).
Encouraging, in a way, I guess, but also the bare minimum. It seems as though big brands have done just enough to get reporters and consumers off their backs, and have mostly avoided responsibility for the suffering caused by Rana Plaza. If you exclude Rana Plaza and other mass killings, 2017 was the deadliest year yet to be a garment worker in Bangladesh. Wages are still very, very low (hovering at just over $80 per month) and haven’t been increased to a liveable wage. “That’s next”, Asif told me, after current initiatives for basic safety and benefits are successful. Most of the work that is being done right now is simply to enforce and encourage compliance with building safety measures and basic benefits that the factories already should have been implementing. Any extras, higher wages… that will need to come with time. Bangladesh’s labor secretary has proposed a wage increase to $150 per month in 2019, which would nearly double the current salary.
Armed with this new information, I still wanted to walk around and talk to the people around the area where Rana Plaza’s ruins and many still-functioning factories are located. I’ve always felt that the news coverage of what happened at Rana Plaza was a bit limited and controlled.
I guess, also, that visiting Rana Plaza was also a sort of a pilgrimage for me… A very tangible reminder of why I hold the values I do when it comes to my purchasing habits and my life work.
To get to the site of the Rana Plaza collapse, we needed to travel to Savar, a short drive outside of Dhaka city proper. On our drive we passed lots of high-rise housing, built to accommodate garment workers, factories, and training facilities. Walking down the street to view the Rana Plaza monument, I noticed that the drainage gutters alongside the road were running red- dyes from nearby factories were being flushed out and making their way into the soil, and eventually, I’d assume, whatever unfortunate body of water was nearest.
The monument itself is small and simply constructed from cement. I was told that no one (government or brands or advocacy organizations) stepped up after the Rana Plaza disaster to create a monument, so workers and their friends and family members pooled money to erect it. The government doesn’t want it there (for obvious reasons), but there it stands on the side of the road. The space where the Rana Plaza building once stood is still vacant. Our local friend who accompanied us told us that a few student groups have come up with ideas to build a resource center for garment workers on the site, but no one has stepped up to the plate to fund such a project.
There’s a plaque on the monument that, translated, reads:
Protest – Preclusion
24th April 2013 witnessed one of the most bizarre worker killings in the history of the garments industry of Bangladesh with the collapse of Rana Plaza building. Although the building was declared unsafe on 23rd April, the greedy building and garments owners forced the workers to come to work by physically assaulting them and threatening them of dismissal on 24th April. After the building collapsed few of the trapped workers were rescued by the relentless efforts of the civilians. Civilians were evacuated from the rescue operation on 29th April and rescue began using heavy equipment. During this period the government started covering up by hiding dead bodies. According to the official statement the number of dead bodies and survivors recovered during the rescue operation was 1,130 and 2,438 respectively. However according to the locals and survivors, the actual number of workers was much higher. This alter stands here in protest against the planned killing of countless workers and coverup of their bodies, and also as a symbol of unity among the working class.
Sculptor : Antu Modak
Assistant Sculptor : Rakib Anwar
Temporary Alter Built : 24th May, 2013
Permanent Martyr Alter Built : 2nd August, 2013
While I was taking in those words, a tea vendor who’d set up shop near the monument motioned us over. We sat on wooden benches and sipped from our glass cups while I asked many more questions and learned many details that I hadn’t been aware of before.
The death toll could have been lower. It took days for local police and emergency workers to begin rescue and recovery operations within the Rana Plaza Ruins, due to worries about the instability of the pile of rubble and a lack of training in how to deal with a building collapse. In desperation, family, neighbors, and students from a local university climbed the piles of cement, looking for survivors.
The death toll could have been higher. The Rana Plaza building had a retail space and a childcare facility in the lower portion. The store and daycare were shut down the day of the tragedy. People knew that the building was unsafe, even beyond the workers who pointed out structural damage. And yet the workers were manipulated and threatened into working that day.
It was a bit shocking for me to process these new details- to learn that something already so horrific was even more horrific than I knew. I felt angry, I felt sad, and I felt motivated by the idea that we can’t stop at “better”, when it comes to improving conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh, we have to at some point get to a place where life is not just bearable, but GOOD for the workers who have already suffered much injustice.
I saw a few posts on Instagram recently from a well-known advocacy organization praising several mainstream Bangladeshi factories they’d toured for the environment they’d created for workers with healthcare, childcare, and an up-to-code building. While any progress is wonderful and necessary, I do worry that glowing words might falsely give advocates and consumers alike the feeling that it’s okay to take pressure off of brands having clothing manufactured in Bangladesh, or feel comfortable buying clothes manufactured there in factories claiming they’re “better” now. Based on my conversations with locals, and what I experienced myself, I believe that a “made in Bangladesh” label still comes with unnecessary hardship for workers. Even if a garment comes from a “better” factory, It’s probably not coming from a “perfect” or even “good” factory.
So, the answer to “what’s really changed in Bangladesh since Rana Plaza”? Some things have changed for the better, but at the same time, certainly not enough has changed… yet.
Wages need to be higher. A CEO from one of the world’s top five global fashion brands has to “work” at a comfy desk (or, let’s be real, sit on a yacht) for just four days to earn what a garment worker breaking her back in Bangladesh will earn in an entire lifetime (read this report from Oxfam if you want to get good and mad) , and that is despicable.
Brands need to be given more of the responsibility for making things better for garment workers, since they are the ones disproportionately profiting off of the cheap labor. Factory owners in some cases can be terribly unethical, true, but many of them are trying to be fair but are often “pushed” into making bad decisions for their workers because they are at the mercy of the brands. For example, here in the Philippines, workers are paid too low, but factory owners literally can’t pay them more fairly because if they don’t meet a big brand’s price standards the brand will just opt to go manufacture in Vietnam where labor is even cheaper and their cost per piece can be even lower. What’s worse: to pay your workers too little, or to shut down your factory and put all your workers out of work because you refuse to take jobs from big brands that pay so little?
The reality is this: Things won’t change in Bangladesh simply from the efforts of local advocacy groups, or the actions of “ethical consumers”. They only way things can really, truly change is if companies shift from the current capitalist model of profit-maximizing-at-all-costs, and start focusing on the well being of the human lives they are affecting.
This is where we, as consumers, come in. We can’t just be easily quieted and made content with a small step in the right direction, a “fair trade” label, or a clever marketing campaign or a few sentences about sustainability on a brand’s website. I’m calling myself out on this, as well, remembering my own experience of happily purchasing an overpriced, fair trade certified product only to find out later that the company’s overseas workers were still being paid poorly and all that profit was just going into the pockets of USA staff and resellers.
We can, and must, keep asking for change.
What can I say? I sort of pulled an Alexander Hamilton and wanted to “fight, not write”. The ethical fashion space felt too crowded with white-blonde-girl voices, too catty and competitive. I checked out. But after two and a half years of being totally immersed in the lives of garment workers in Southeast Asia, two and a half years of pouring blood, sweat, and tears (All three are meant literally) into collaborating with Filipina garment workers to build a business that gives more power and better profit to them… I’m back. And no more nice-blogger Hannah. I haven’t got much time these days to write and I’m not going to mince words or warm up to the tough stuff.
Remember back when I was an “ethical influencer” and tried to convince you to buy $200 jersey sundresses and $50 tee shirts that were “ethically made”?
I’m back to tell you that at least 80% of the time you should probably not waste your money- that garment is probably not all that ethical anyway. The longer I am in this sustainable fashion world, the more I become convinced of three things:
1. Words are meaningless. Don’t believe a company when they tell you that they are “ethical”, “fair wage”, “sustainable”, etc unless they can tell you what they mean by that and back it up.
2. Not all conventional factories are big, bad, and evil. Take Saitex or Pactics, for example. Many of them, even if they’re not paying a living wage, are providing more decent work than some fair trade cooperatives.
3. See above. Not all small artisan or “fair trade” businesses actually are, despite how many smiling women they have in their marketing photos. You might remember a post that I wrote about a fair trade certified brand that I visited that was not even paying their workers the government minimum wage.
4. See above. Certifications are good, but they don’t guarantee good ethics.
So, like I said, I’m back. Either jaded as hell or a lot wiser and less susceptible to cause-based marketing, greenwashing, and fair-wage-washing. You decide!
To dig deeper into why I’m making this outlandish statement, Let’s look at a few specific examples of companies that I have a bit of beef with:
Take Everlane. The brand that claims to exhibit “radical transparency”, the darling of so many “ethical influencers” (Everlane give pretty great rewards to bloggers who promote them, not that that has anything to do with anything… or does it?) .
On to the beef. Everlane has these lovely, transparent pricing graphics on their website below, which seem really great. It’s easy to look at a nice slick marketing visual and feel that warm do-gooder sensation about your impending purchase. Almost $8 for labor? That seems like a really fair price to pay a sewer for a shirt! It can’t be that hard to zip together a simple garment like a button down, and the cost of living in China is way lower than it is in the USA.
But look closer, think deeper: $8 isn’t the portion of the cost of the garment that’s getting paid to the person who sewed it. It’s the cost paid to the factory. The factory that still has to pay their owner/CEO and all their high-level staff, keep a massive building operational, buy new equipment and fix broken machines, and the umpteen other giant expenses that come with running a garment factory with that money. How much of that $8 actually trickles down to the laborers? How much of that $60 you’re paying actually goes into “providing fair wages”? Are those wages even fair?
Everlane has very few (if any) marketing pieces surrounding their standards for what laborers are to be paid in order for them to partner with one of the many factories around the world they produce with. Instead of even the simplest of statements outlining what a living wage means to them as a company and guidelines for how they ensure that living wage is met in each area of the world they work in, they’re strangely silent. Their “radically transparent” factory information posts focus far more strongly on “state of the art equipment”, “health initiatives”, “education programs”, etc (newsflash: I’ve been to several conventional garment factories that pay a poverty wage but have great safety programs, health classes -obviously your production will be more efficient if your workers aren’t sick as much, duh).
Their “traditional retail” price makes it seam like you’re getting a really great deal… but really, how many of us shop in stores with $115 button downs? I’d venture to guess most of us would be choosing a $60 Everlane cotton button down over something more along the lines of a $35 one from Target. For most of us, it’s a hike in price, not a “savings”. And we pay it because we want to be ETHICAL.
Here’s the thing: Everlane doesn’t own any of the factories where their products are made, and aren’t the only client of said factories. This begs the question- isn’t it possible that any random garment that you could pick up in Nordstrom or Target could be made in the same Chinese or Vietnamese factory as your almost-twice-as-expensive Everlane button down? There’s a reason that Everlane, even with
Am I saying that Everlane isn’t ethical? Well, not exactly- they certainly do offer up more information on their suppliers, which is nice, and use alot of natural materials, which is nice! But honestly- I can’t tell you to buy an Everlane shirt over a J Crew shirt on the basis of ethics.
Then there’s Reformation. The brand that claims “being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2” and has been seen on not only all the most popular ethical bloggers but also Taylor Swift and Kendal Jenner. The brand that built their popularity on such sustainability stunts as creating their designs from deadstock fabric and taking guests on walk-through tours of their LA factory.
If you look a little closer, you’ll find that only 15% of the fabrics that Reformation uses are actually deadstock. They say they “want to use 75% natural fibers” in their production, but we don’t learn where the company is at in that goal… so for all we know they’re using 15% synthetic deadstock, 50% new synthetic fiber, and just 35% natural fibers. If that were the case, is that really “ethical” enough to justify the high markups?
I also have issues with Reformation’s labor practices. Reformation focuses on their own ethical factory in LA, but are less vocal about the fact that a) only 22% of their production takes place there and b) only 22% of their factory workers in their own factory make LA’s living wage. Instead, they write more about how they celebrate staff birthdays and what kind of eco-friendly pens they buy.
Am I saying that Reformation isn’t ethical? Again, not exactly- They do share alot more information than other, similar fashion brands, and produce a lot of items in the USA which generally means workers are paid at least US minimum wage… but that doesn’t change the fact that you pay well over $200 for a synthetic fabric dress that has very little information on where it was made and how the workers making it were treated. They’re taking you for a ride, yo- I buy synthetic deadstock fabric and I know that it’s cheap. Those markups are no joke.
Now, is this post permission for you to scrap all those pesky “ethical consumerism” ideals and go on a shopping spree at H&M? NO, definitely not. Just because alot of popular brands aren’t as ethical as they seem or the best place to spend your money.
The best option is always, well, don’t buy stuff. Or at least don’t buy as much stuff. Or buy stuff that’s used.
But we all already know this, and we all still want to buy things. It’s human nature, I suppose, and also the fact that not everything can be bought second hand and not everything can be done without.
When you do buy stuff, really try to buy from companies that can actually give you specific answers to ethics-related questions. If you’re gonna spend big bucks, make sure that you know their promises are true. Companies that can really show you where your money is going, companies that will actually talk about wages. There aren’t that many out there and they’re pretty small, but they are worth the support. Otherwise, if all else fails, make that one well-thought-out purchase at Old Navy without guilt, I say- and just make sure that you take into account that item’s entire life cycle and how you’ll dispose of it when it reaches the end of it, plus commit to love and care for it as long as you possibly can.
I, myself, have adopted a “little-of-everything” approach. I bought $30 jeans from the mall (after failing to find a secondhand pair) instead of a $80 Everlane or $160 Reformation pair and used my money, instead, for healthy food and to help out a friend. I bought a pair of natural rubber boots from a small brand instead of a plastic pair that would have been WAY cheaper. I bought a bunch of very expensive actually ethical naturally dyed silk and cotton in Bangladesh to sew my own clothes, but bought a cheap pair of gas station sunglasses. I’m learning to find balance in the way that I choose to consume, balancing the good that my money can do outside of purchasing goods with a desire to still shop as ethically as possible.
I feel like it’s a good place, a healthy place. And I’ll probably never buy a $200 dress again unless I get a goddamn accountability report.