Continued from part 1 here
Women and children are the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What about the status of women’s and children’s rights as well?
Women, children, and the less abled are the most vulnerable people in society, and this exposes them to the greatest level of abuse and unfair treatment.
There is no excuse for this and it is one of the greatest reasons of shame for humanity.
Children are the most vulnerable population. Women tend to have less status than men in societies including the right to decent working conditions, decent pay, to vote, to acquire an education, and to be self-sufficient. What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights, which have existed for a long time, in this domain of the working world?
Another very complex problem. We speak daily with women who are barely teenagers and have been pulled out of school to support the family and feel like they have no choice. Their families feel like they have no choice, and society feels like there is no choice. This perpetuates the cycle. For me, education is the way out this dark maze – education allows for choice and opportunities and this is what we try to offer with our training programmes.
Child labour and slavery are problems, major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labour and a few million for child slavery. How can individuals get the word out about these other rights violations?
Yes, it is a great stain on humanity. It will take a great collective effort to change and more than that a recognition that this is everyone’s problem, not just some remote country somewhere far away.
How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations in many countries of the world have better quality of life?
The fashion industry is so complex and the vertical supply chain touches so many points, people, and places. It is very, very hard to get your head around it all. When I started, I wanted to do it all: follow from grower to sewer to seller to wearer…but in reality the world is a complex place and the global trade corridors and supply chains mean this is very hard to achieve.
So, personally, while I keep my eye on the end goal and keep lobbying and influencing for a holistic change on various aspects, I have to work within the current situation. Otherwise, I could be waiting a lifetime! So, my choice has been to influence and improve where I can, and be very honest about it all.
By setting up a social enterprise in Malawi, we ensure our team are well paid and protected. We contribute to the tax system. We are committed to buying local. It is tough because it means we have limited options available in terms of fabrics and trimmings, but more importantly it means that at every step of our garment making process the local community benefits. For example, I have been working since day one with a group of lady traders to source all our fabric.
Also, our zero waste policy is very important to me. I can see in our small factory how much cutting room waste is produced, and with some creativity all of that can be turned into beautiful products for someone to love and cherish. Same with items that may have not sold as well as we had hoped. Instead of flooding the local secondhand market, we unpick and transform.
I have been recently talking to some larger factories in other places in the world about this concept. For example, the recycling and up cycling branded factory rejects or excess at factory level. I think there could be some interesting solutions to be explored, with benefits to the environment and also to the labour practices applied.
In my small experience at Mayamiko, we start from the main thing – the people who make the garments – how much do we need to pay them fairly so they can have a dignified and empowered life. Then we work it up from there. And you strike a balance between what buyers are prepared to pay. In the end, customers love the story about our garments, but first and foremost they have to love the products to make the decision to buy. You don’t want to pull on the heart’s strings – those customers are not likely to be happy and come back for more unless they love what they have bought. And the way the products are made, their story is important, but the key thing is to make products that people love to wear. Sustainability is the end game, and that’s where my eyes are fixed on.
What topics most interest you?
I have a pretty varied range of interests: organic lifestyle, international development, NLP, yoga, the digital word, travelling and any new cool things my nieces and nephews introduce me to!
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
It’s the reason I get up in the morning!
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
I am working with some large garment manufacturers to help them think about ways in which they can introduce new sustainable practices in their operations, and also how to communicate their sustainability efforts better and I am working with some small artisan groups on exciting new products. I am focusing on solar and renewable energy. And I am doing lots of yoga, including aerial and acro, which I love.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
You asked me some very difficult questions! I hope I have answered them adequately.
Thank you for your time, Paola.