Written By Ava Darnell, Founder of Slumlove Sweater Co
BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE
The foundation of ethical fashion rests on the notion that human life is more important than profit. For decades, the “bottom line” has controlled the fashion industry. Clothes are made for as quickly and cheaply as possible, with a supply chain that is drowning in irresponsible, unethical practices, having terrible effects on people and the planet.
For too long, we’ve turned a blind eye to what is happening in the fashion industry, often telling ourselves that this is “just the way it is” or the problem is “too big” for anyone to do anything. I have friends who care deeply about social justice issues, but when it comes to questioning how their clothing was made, say they try not to think about it because there is nothing they can do.
In the past, boycotting the fast fashion industry meant having to sew your own clothes out of burlap fabric or give up shopping completely. Thankfully for socially-conscious fashionistas, this is no longer the case.
THE ETHICAL FASHION ALTERNATIVE
The ethical fashion movement has gained tremendous momentum over the past year. Consumers are interested in how their clothes were made, and want to know their choices are having a positive effect on our world. This means companies are using eco-friendly materials, workers are being paid fair wages, and clothes are being made with the utmost thought and intention. Numerous fashion brands have emerged over the last few years, providing stylish and accessible clothing that is also ethically made.
I’m proud to own one of those companies. I started Slumlove Sweater Company in 2013 after having worked for a non-profit in Kenya for several years. I was always interested in working in the fashion industry, and after being introduced to a group of women from a slum in Nairobi that knit sweaters, Slumlove was born. Over the last few years running this business, I’ve learned a lot about how the fashion industry works and why I want my company to do things differently. My goal when starting Slumlove was to help these women provide for their families, this means their well-being comes before anything else. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most garment workers. They are forced to work in extremely unsafe conditions, putting their lives in danger daily so that we can have more clothes.
Valuing Lives Over Profit
You’ve no doubt heard about the 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh, where over 1,000 garment workers were killed. Tragedies like this could be avoided if the fashion industry valued the lives of workers over profit to be made. The destitution of the people in these countries is being radically exploited. They desperately want a job so they can put food on the table for their families or send their children to school. They are willing to working in unsafe conditions if it means daily employment, but unfortunately, their pay is rarely enough to provide these things.
In ethical fashion factories, workers are treated with respect and dignity. They are paid a fair and living wage for the work they do, giving them to opportunity to provide things like school fees for their children or doctors visits when they are sick. They work in safe conditions that are being regularly inspected and well-maintained.
SMALL DECISIONS HAVE A BIG IMPACT
I love getting to work in the ethical fashion industry. Sure, there’s times when doing things the “right” way isn’t easy. Responsibility takes a lot of work, but the reward is so worth it. I love being able to look our customers in the eye and tell them that their clothing was made ethically, from start to finish, with nothing to hide. I love being able to sit down with Slumlove’s knitters and have open conversations with them about their health and happiness, to be able to tell them that I am on their side and working hard for their well-being. Trust is something we’ve lost in the fashion industry, and I think it’s time we bring it back. My hope with this article is not to guilt or shame you for your shopping habits. It’s not to make you run into your closet and throw away all of your fast fashion clothes. It’s so everyday, little by little, we can all take small steps towards a more honest lifestyle.
Photography by Katie Jameson
Ava Darnell is the founder of Slumlove Sweater Company, an ethically-made clothing line that provides stylish and quality products for men and women. Darnell started Slumlove Sweater Company as a way to combine two great passions in her life: fashion and Africa. The mission of Slumlove is to employ women living in Kenya, paying them fair wages, and using a percent of the sales profits to provide high school scholarships for children living in the slum of Kibera. Darnell's favorite part of her job is getting to work alongside talented women in Africa, utilizing their gifts to help provide a better life for their families. She travels back and forth to Kenya from her home in Austin, Texas, where she loves spending quality time with her friends and indulging in lot of Mexican food.