In brief, tell us how you got involved in ethical and sustainable fashion.
I started working full-time here five years ago. The owner of the company, Peter, is my step-dad. He started the company 21 years ago, which was when ethical and sustainable fashion was not something familiar to people.
The business started with Peter getting a redundancy from his job. He has always been a vegan. He was looking for some good quality vegan shoes. He never found any that he was happy with by his standards.
He put out an ad about starting a vegan shoe store. He met the co-founder Jenny. She is no longer in the store. She was involved until about 3 years ago. Peter and Jenny started the business and began manufacturing in Australia. They worked from there – step by step.
If you take the idea of ethical and sustainable fashion, what is the importance of it to you?
I think it should be the baseline. I don’t see why we should have any other form of fashion. I don’t see why you should invest any money or effort into unsustainable things. If you look at the planet today, we are saturated with population.
We are using more resources than everyone has access to, which is a sustainability issue. It should be the baseline. We receive feedback from customer. I want them. I like them, but my shoes from 5 years ago still work.
It is probably a terrible business model, but a good business ethic. We want things to last through time. That’s why if you look at our store that our styles have a classic fashion look to them.
They are more or less timeless. People don’t have to go out and purchase new shoes every few months or soles every 3 months. The shoes are designed to be repairable and durable.
Many things come into the discussion such as the Rana Plaza Factory collapse. This is an incident that garners attention with injuring over 2,500 people and killing over 1,000. That’s when these issues come to the fore.
Most of the workers in the garments industry are low-income, children, and women. What aspects of this play into children’s rights and women’s rights?
Usually, we’re doing the majority of the manufacturing in Australia. Workers are looked after, well-compensated, and treated well. We started looking at making a small range of shoes a couple years ago, in India.
Recently, we’ve had the first line of products come out of there. Apart from being really corrupt, things in India move slowly. Peter and myself will go and visit them every 12 to 18 months.
My background is Indian. That makes walking in and talking easier with the workers rather than through agents and managers. I am going in and having conversations with the workers. I see what they’re after there.
We are exploring options into developing education programs for the women that are employed and looking at how to help them educate their children. We want to build something that would mean the empowerment of women without taking away the culture.
That is something hard to deal with when you’re dealing with another country. Often, I have realized that women don’t want to or are afraid to because they’ve never been told that they can manage the business.
They don’t understand the conversation because they don’t have the conversation. In terms of kids’ rights and women’s rights, kid shouldn’t work. I know a lot of cultures put their kids to work young. I know they are poorer and need the income to support the family.
However, childhood should be about exploration and education. We can work to empower women and parents to allow their child to have a good childhood growing up. We can give them the resources to educate themselves. And that it’s okay to educate themselves.
That breaking some cultural barriers is a good thing. Some conversations with women close off because they feel as though they’ll get in some trouble if they decided to further their careers. They don’t see it as careers, only as a labour job.
I think kids should not be allowed to work and parents should have the resources to give their children and themselves a good life.
*This is part one of a four part interview series with Bonnie Murthy.