Fashion with a Conscience

If you share my passion for fashion there is no need to harbor any feelings of guilt about it as it can also do good and transform the livelihoods of many communities in the developing world. Clothes also play a significant role in the communication we have with ourselves as well as with others.

One such an example is that of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, founded in 2009 by Simone Cipriani. They collaborate with some of the well-known luxury brands to ensure many communities receive the reward and recognition they deserve.

bags2The Ethical Fashion Initiative has since become a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and World Trade Organization. Their tag line is Not Charity, just Work, reflecting the philosophy of Cipriani and his belief that communities should be empowered through offering fair working opportunities.

The purpose of EFI is to bring together the international fashion industry with marginalized artisans who are more often than not, women. It believes in creating a responsible and ethical fashion industry, providing fair rewards, dignified working conditions and reducing its impact on the environment. Furthermore, it ensures the continuation and protection of the unique cultural heritage and creativity of these communities.

Instead of handouts, the projects focus on teaching individuals how to run their own companies. The results are that individuals and communities develop a sustainable life in the long run, ensuring independence. The main focus is on creating gender equality, supporting women in developing the skills to benefit not only themselves, but also their communities.

The EFI ensures that high ethical standards are maintained throughout the supply chain. An example of a success story is that of the luxury brand MIMCO, based in South Africa. Inspired by the Big Bang theory, MIMCO has produced a collection of handbags working with communities in Kenya.

bagsThe bags are crafted in cotton canvas, using hand embroidery and silk screening in the Maasai tradition. Not only has the project helped to develop the skills, confidence and self-esteem of the women, but it has also allowed them to develop and express their flair and creativity.

As I mentioned in a previous post, clothes are so much more than merely covering our bodies and keeping us warm or cool. In a co-creative relationship with the designer, the wearer constructs a unique look that expresses her own personality and identity.

Looking good as older women does not require expensive designer clothes, unless you can afford it. Furthermore, banish the erroneous belief that you have to select clothes to make you look younger or that being a certain age means you do not or should not care what you look like. Women need to celebrate their personal sense of style and expression no matter what their age.

Of course, clothes are only a small reflection of who we are, but research suggests that the clothes we wear can impact our communication with others. Clothes allow us to consciously send out specific messages and thereby influence how we are perceived. How we feel about ourselves will determine the clothes we will wear and in turn affect the nature of our communication with others.

I suggest that as older women we have a responsibility to ensure that we do not collude with the myths of aging and in particular, the image of what older women should look like. As there is a lot more about selecting our clothes, it will therefore be wise for us to give more thought to what and why we wear the particular items that we do.

Under Top Tips, Liz Clothier a well-known stylist provides suggestions of what we need to take into account when buying items of clothing to add or compliment our wardrobe.

Returning to the message of this post, fashion is not merely frivolous indulgence, but it can benefit both you and the communities who have created and shared their unique heritage.



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