Author: Beatrice Murray-Nag
For any brand, being truly sustainable means thinking beyond the environmental impact of each item it creates. Instead, it’s about actively seeking out problems to solve, developing products that turn a business into a force for good in the world.
Alongside using low-impact materials and eco-friendly packaging, going one step further means prioritising the people on the ground. Educating women and girls, for example, is one of the most important things that we can do to protect against the climate crisis. Mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers form the backbone of whole families and communities, so when we invest in their empowerment, we set in motion a circle of sustainable development that will last through generations.
This International Women’s Day, we’re shining a spotlight on positive examples that show the transformative power of fashion and design to change lives. From funding the projects of female entrepreneurs to educating about sexual health, or empowering artisans to earn financial independence, these brands put female empowerment firmly at the centre of their business models. Their stories provide a blueprint, showing that real tangible change is within reach for everyone.
Fashion as a force for good
Designed by women for women, La Bom’s ethos has female empowerment at its heart. In the true spirit of sisterhood, the sustainable swimwear brand has partnered with The Cup Foundation to provide underprivileged girls aged 11-16 in Kenya with menstrual cups and education on reproductive rights. Due to an ongoing taboo around menstrual and sexual health, young girls are often left with a lack of awareness about their bodies, coupled with an insufficient access to sanitary products. Every La Bom one-piece or bikini sold equates to everything one girl needs for a dignified journey into womanhood instead: a cup to last for years to come, as well as funding to educate both her and her family about the challenges that women face every day.
Progetto Quid is the sister brand of Verona-based social enterprise Quid. Italy’s labour market is one of the least inclusive in Europe, meaning that women from vulnerable backgrounds often find themselves out of work. Quid embraces the design, production and distribution of fashion collections, both in house and for partner brands, as a transformative opportunity to create jobs for those most in need. Its 150-strong workforce is mostly female and comes from 16 different countries. It prioritises women with difficult stories such as victims of human trafficking, migrant workers, and the long-term unemployed, giving them financial independence and a chance to build lasting female friendships too.
The all-women team behind RubyMoon has two objectives: helping to clean up our oceans and raising the voices of female entrepreneurs around the world. The brand’s Gym To Swim clothing addresses the first, designed using ECONYL® Regenerated Nylon made from plastic waste. Yet RubyMoon is so much more than an activewear brand. It is a social enterprise, in which 100% of the profits go towards micro-loans for budding businesswomen worldwide. In collaboration with Lend With Care, it has helped over 1000 ladies get their projects off the ground, enabling them to break generational cycles of poverty in the process. Among these inspirational entrepreneurs are Allah Rakhi from Kasur, India, who has overcome her disability to create recycled yarn from old sweaters; Maria Rasheed from Kot Khawaja Saeed, Pakistan, whose dressmaking business is helping her raise a new baby, and Ecuadorian farmer Maria Dolores, who is saving to send her children to university.
Interiors brands uplifting artisans
Sirohi’s colourful furniture is woven by women in India through the Skilled Samaritan Foundation. This in-house initiative sets out to solve a historic lack of employment and development opportunities in rural villages, where women are often discouraged from working. Having recognised the wealth of craft culture in these very same spots, the foundation builds trusting relationships to help rural women start a career using their existing handweaving skills. Since 2012, Sirohi has grown its workforce from one single weaver into a sisterhood of 200 artisans around Northern India. Dedicated to the individual growth of each one of its employees, it provides access to design support through technology and partnerships with international designers. The initiative also empowers its women workers to be part of the circular economy, creating traditional designs from recycled yarns made with textile and industrial waste from local factories.
Uplifting and supporting women in Africa through independence and education is the simple mission behind basketry brand Indego. Each beautiful basket has been woven by women across Rwanda and Ghana using local indigenous fibres such as sweetgrass, banana and palm leaves, and bolga straw. All profits and donations are reinvested into the project, funding additional learning opportunities for its makers as part of its Vocational and Business Training program. Indego has even begun working with women refugees in the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda, allowing them to earn a livelihood and develop portable skills that they can bring with them whenever life may take them next.
Sarawagi is helping local women who have been victims of violence and abuse along on their journey of recovery through its DreamWeavers program. The Nepalese hand-knotted rug company teaches female survivors the traditional art of weaving in the country’s capital, Kathmandu. Alongside their training, the ladies take part in workshops on self-defence, health and hygiene, and breast cancer awareness. At the end of the program, each receives a special certificate declaring them eligible for work in any Nepalese carpet factory, or with Sarawagi itself should they choose to stay. Not only is the company redesigning the future of carpet making from a social perspective; its team of women weavers have also created rugs made from ECONYL ® in a new vision of a fully circular future for artisan carpet making.