Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.
I was born in UK and lived in Leicester until I went to Art school at 21 in London. My parents were teachers and we were brought up as atheists with a strong social philosophy, my parents did a lot of voluntary and charity work which we were very aware of and helped with.
What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?
I was always inspired by colour and pattern and theatre and joined a drama group very early on. I was lucky to be able to study theatre design at school and knew that’s what I wanted to do for my degree. At art school, while I was studying in London, I was given opportunities to do work experience on some films and made contacts in the industry.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
After having children, I knew going back into films was logistically too difficult and the environmental cost of making big budget films was too much for me to deal with at that time. I had always wanted to design pyjamas and when I researched how to make it happen I started to learn about how bad the fashion industry is
How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?
The most important thing working in films taught me was that you have to be a problem solver and every new project needed a completely new and innovative solution. This gave me a great base for solving the environmental problems I came up against in my fashion business.
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
They are imperative to move the industry forward. Whether they do everything from behind the scenes of they sing it from the rooftops, every little bit helps.
What is the importance of fair trade?
I like the Fair Trade model because it places the importance on the lives of all who come into contact with it. The profits are secondary and this to me is the right way around.
Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?
I am very inspired by Safia Minney from People Tree. She has achieved what I would like to in the future and she has shown me that it is possible to run a successful business and have big philosophies.
What is Moonbird Designs?
Moonbird designs loungewear, sleepwear and bedlinen for Adults and children, and now we do breastfeeding tops. We aim to increase our ranges to include daywear and swimwear in the next year or so.
What inspired the title of the organization?
Birds have wings and can fly free, we like to think freedom to do what you want is at the heart of our business and Moon because we started with pyjamas.
What are some of its feature products?
Pyjamas, nighties, dressing gowns, adults and kids. Bedlinen and blankets and breastfeeding tops.
What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?
Organic cotton only with a blend of lycra for our jersey tops.
Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Moonbird Designs?
The cotton is grown in southern India and some of it is hand woven in Hyderabad. The rest is printed and manufactured in Jaipur and Lucknow.
Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?
Yes, all apart from the lycra content, which we have had to add to give longevity to our garments and flexibility with designing.
What is your customer base – the demographics?
Women over 30.
What topics most interest you?
I find it hard to pick one! I am very fired up about so many things. Healthy body image, LGBTQI equality issues, the environment, over use of plastics on our food. The list is endless.
Did you have a mentor in this work?
I have had a few and they are invaluable. I’m always looking to learn from people but in lots of ways because we are forging new territory every day we have to take lots of chances on things because they haven’t been done before.
Have you mentored others?
Yes, in small ways. I don’t have enough time to mentor anyone, but I love to give advice when I am asked.
What are the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?
They are incredibly important but as I said before it’s important to move away from the old ways of doing things because if you don’t then you are just following the broken system. The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world and we need to own our part in it and design a new way of doing things.
There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?
They bring them into the news and then people become aware. There will be more tragedies in the future because the consumer is still feeding the beast. Until we change our shopping habits they will keep producing garments in this way that causes such horror.
Women and children remain the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?
The gender equality gap is still large here in Australia and until we address the problems at home we cannot hope to improve the lives of those working in garment factories in 3rd world countries. The careers that usually employ women are often the lowest paid. Childcare workers are a case in point. It has always struck me as an idiotic idea that the people who are in charge of your most precious possession should be paid less per hour than your mechanic. What is more important? the education of your child or your car? But because childcare was always seen as a woman’s job it is paid minimally.
Who is a women’s rights and children’s rights activist or campaigner hero for you?
Malala Yousafzai. Her bravery and focused determination to give all girls a voice and an education inspires me.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII) relates to the empowerment of women, gender equality, and international women’s rights. The progress for gender equity is positive. Regressive forces exist in explicit and implicit forms. What seem like some of the explicit and implicit forms observed in personal and professional life to you?
Last night I watched the documentary ‘Embrace’ on body image. You only have to watch that film to see how completely rife the self-hatred of our (women’s) bodies is. It broke my heart to realise that girls are all their time thinking that they’re not good enough. No wonder that they find it difficult to speak up for themselves, at work, in relationships, in discussions. We think that we’re making progress but we have a very long way to go.
The development of capacities and freedoms for women are restricted through violation of fundamental rights. GII has three parts: economic status, empowerment, and reproductive health. Empowerment is measured by proportion of parliamentary seats occupied by women, and the proportion of adult women and men (age 25 and older) with some secondary education. Economic status is measured by the labor force participation rate of women and men aged 15 and older. Reproductive health is measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birthrates. If women had access and implementation of these fundamental human rights, would their livelihood and quality of life, even working life in the garment factories, improve?
Yes, without a doubt.
Two factors seem to matter in the discussion of gender equality in societies: economies and rights. Many girls and women, especially in developing nations, face disadvantages unknown, or less well-known, to boys and men. Women face discrimination in education, health, the labor market, legal status, political representation, and reproductive rights. When women lose, everyone – boys, girls, men, and women – loses. What might bring this basic fact, with ubiquitous positive consequences, into the public discourse in ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations?
I would love to see a comparison chart for all countries in the world showing the laws that govern the status and rights of women. There are laws in every country that would shock people to know how the rights of women are restricted.
A few years ago I found out that in Italy if a woman owns a property by solely, that when she wants to sell it she has to get her husband’s permission! (This may have changed but was the case 10 years ago.) These unfair laws are the kind of thing that teach women that they are not equal.
According to Global Affairs Canada (Government of Canada) in the article entitled Women’s Economic Empowerment: Guidance Note (2016), women comprise 1/3 of formal business owners, 2/5 of the global workforce, and have responsibility for 8/10 of spending for consumers. Economies and societies lose potential “development and growth” without women. Possible national moral authority lost, too. Rights and economies imply each another. Rights for girls and women develops economies and, therefore, societies. Likewise, economic and societal development gives grounds for implementation of girl’s and women’s rights. What educational campaigns and pragmatic initiatives might the fashion industry encourage and support to improve the chances for girls and women?
The fashion industry has on the whole contributed to the problem of women’s self worth and ultimately their disempowerment. Their continued use of thin white models has given generations of girls the idea that their worth is related to their physical appearance. The tide is beginning to change though and hopefully it will become a tsunami.
According to the Minimum Age Convention (1973), labor before the age of 14, 15, or 16, dependent upon the country, is child labor. 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, and so on. Women bear the burden of childbirth in addition to the majority of childcare in the world. What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights, and the fashion industry?
It shouldn’t be just up to the fashion industry to bear the brunt on this. I would like to see other industries where the majority of their products are manufactured in developing countries start the conversations about who makes their products. For example, gifts and electronics. Why can’t we start to have TV’s that make their casings from recycled plastic? Why can’t we have christmas decorations made with safe paints and recycled metal/plastics. Until we as consumers start asking brands for this they won’t change their practises.
Child labor and slavery are problems, major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labor. A few million children in the case of child slavery. According to the Minimum Age Convention (1973), labor before the age of 14, 15, or 16, dependent upon the country, is child labor. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) represent the importance of children’s rights on the ‘international stage’ in Article 2(2), Article 3(1), and Article 3(2). In addition, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) in Article 24(1-3) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) in Article 10(3) delineate the importance of children’s rights too. These stipulations about equality remain violated in the fashion industry, especially the manufacturing sector or the garment industry. How can individuals get the word out about these extreme children’s rights violations?
There is a fine line between bashing consumers round the head with all these appalling stories and facts and educating them, so my vote would be for making ethical and sustainable fashion education mandatory in every fashion college. If we can educate the designers they can’t pretend they didn’t know.
What mass movements or social movements can fight for the implementation of the children’s rights outside of the fashion industry?
People power. Facebook has the power to change the world by uniting people everywhere through businesses, blogs and friendship groups. Never again will people be alone in their thoughts. We can now find like minded people everywhere and educate our friends.
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
It ticks all my boxes, social justice, art, colour and the environment. All of these things are equally important to me.
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
Being a Mum to my beautiful kids, they fill me with joy every day.
Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?
Author Lisa Heinze. She wrote ‘Sustainability with Style’. She writes about her journey to consciousness which made me laugh and cry and was so similar to my own.
What has been the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?
Believing in myself!
What has been the greatest emotional struggle in personal life for you?
Anxiety. If I didn’t have such strong beliefs I would have packed it all up years ago, but I am too determined to make a difference, I didn’t want to let the worries hold me back in the end.
Thank you for your time, Rachel.