Image: Pour Les Femmes
Conscious fashion writer Morgane Nyfeler investigates a network of small businesses and independent labels taking on the fight for women to thrive in the fashion industry at every step of the supply chain.
Although the fashion and beauty industries are mainly directed towards women and products are primarily designed, produced and sold by women, gender equality is far from being met at every level of the industry. Women definitely hold the purchasing power by driving more than 70% of consumer spending, holding control over what they buy and which brands they invest in. It is then more important than ever to put your money where your heart is and choose labels that focus on female empowerment in order to carve more seats at the table.
From giving women workers an opportunity to provide for themselves to making female consumers feel beautiful and proud of themselves, the power of women supporting each other around the world has a tremendous impact on the development of our societies. Here are some just some of the labels putting women’s prosperity before profits.
Image: Nest, a Relevé Fashion non-profit partner
Pour Les Femmes
When actress and activist Robin Wright visited Congo with her friend and designer Karen Fowler, they witnessed the reality in which women were living and felt the need to give back by founding Pour Les Femmes – a socially conscious sleepwear brand creating economic opportunities for women in need and their local communities. Working with charitable programmes Action Kivu and Give Work, the label supports women in Congo’s conflicted regions by giving them safe working conditions and the opportunity to learn precious skills in order to provide for themselves and their families.
The fairtrade pieces are crafted exclusively with natural fibres such as organic sourced cotton and feature hand embroidered detailing and vintage lace sewn by women in local workshops. “At Pour Les Femmes we practice slow fashion meaning we hand cut our garments and pay three times the normal wage to the women who make them,” explain the two co-founders. In the same vein, the label hopes to bring back a sense of comfort and security surrounding the ritual of bedtime to women around the world.
“French for ‘raised up’, Relevé comes from a desire to raise awareness and ethical standards to lift the fashion experience into an elevated place where sustainability and style coexist,” says Raia Gomez, CEO and Founder of Relevé Fashion. A unique destination for sustainable fashion with a positive social impact, the online platform allows customers to navigate effortlessly across ethical brands according to their social and environmental commitments in order to focus on shopping fashion for good based on informed and conscious choices.
The carefully curated brands featured are mainly female founded with deep ethical values, including funky fashion label Piopio which works with artisans in the Philippines to revive traditional crafts, and Okapi, an accessories brand offering luxurious leather goods handmade in Africa with sustainably sourced local materials. Gomez herself is also part of the Female Founder Collective which supports and empower female entrepreneurs to bring change to our communities.
Every purchase made on the site carries a powerful social action that will make a positive difference as it contributes to a non-profit partner such as FCancer and Nest. With its dedication to transparency and love of beautiful objects made with care, Relevé sheds a light on sustainable brands by showing why and how they’re doing it right, while inviting female customers to join in making a powerful fashion statement.
Based in Copenhagen, Carcel isn’t your usual Scandi cool label. Although relatively new on the fashion scene – the first collection launched in August 2017 – the brand has defined a revolutionary business model with a high social impact and a low environmental footprint by setting its production sites inside women’s prisons and working directly with the inmates. In her initial research, founder Veronica D’Souza was looking for places where the most sustainable and beautiful local materials meets the highest rate of poverty-related crimes. This took her first to Cusco, Peru where the tradition of knitting quality baby alpaca jumpers is deeply rooted in the culture but where drug trafficking is the main cause of female incarceration. D’Souza started employing a production manager to teach women valuable techniques as well as giving them the opportunity to earn a living.
Carcel now has 15 employees in Cusco and 18 in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, which boasts the world’s most beautiful silk. Thanks to a non-traditional way of making fashion that is local, seasonless and limited to a small number of pieces, women have time to master the techniques and expand their own patterns to make quality, luxurious items that they’re proud of. But the brand’s work goes beyond producing clothes as well: “There are a lot of mental health issues in prison so we’re creating a positive culture and a safe space where there’s team work and women are able to speak up and make mistakes,” says D’Souza. This is also topped by courses in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and business plan development for women to live their dreams and be re-accepted by society once outside of prison.
From its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee to its manufacturing partners in Ethiopia, Mexico, Brazil and India, women are at the heart of the lifestyle brand ABLE. What started as a social enterprise to help female victims of the commercial sex trade in Ethiopia by making and selling scarves quickly grew to become a brand that invests in women as a way to eradicate poverty. The label now employs a world-class team of in-house designers to produce items with the customer in mind, and partners with international manufacturers paying a living wage to make sure women workers are economically empowered to care for their families and make their community thrive.
Since 2018, ABLE has started publishing its lowest wages through a social impact reporting tool called accountABLE in a pledge to become fully transparent and set an example for the industry. ‘We truly believe that by targeting the largest industrial employer of women, and advocating for them to receive a living wage, we can impact poverty at a global level,’ explains the brand’s spokesperson. Sign up for their ethical newsletter to receive tips on how to shop consciously and listen to the She Is ABLE podcast to get an insight into the strong stories of the women behind the brand.
Image: Luüna Naturals
While menstrual cups have taken Western counties by storm, menstrual health is still a source of shame, taboo and misconceptions in Asia. The toxin and plastic-free period care company Luüna Naturals led by Olivia Cotes-James has been operating since 2019 to change menstrual stigma and give women the power to choose the sanitary option which suits them best. When Cotes-James realised the detrimental impact of synthetics and conventional cotton found in traditional sanitary pads and tampons on women’s health, she decided to offer products that are kind to the body and the planet.
Through the Luüna Period Collective, a network of social initiatives across Asia and soon in the UK, the label provides reusable period care products and the education necessary to safely adopt them. By educating women from low income communities across Asia to CEOs of global companies, and hosting fun workshops and honest discussions surrounding menstrual health, the all-female team hopes to reframe current attitudes backed by cultural and religious beliefs and refocus the conversation on women’s bodies and their needs. ‘The idea of using a cup is so much more than an ecological option but critical in allowing us to use our periods for what they are: vital indicators of our physical and mental wellbeing,’ says Cotes-James.
Stripe & Stare
As an underwear label entirely run by women for women, Stripe & Stare really knows what a woman needs, starting by what’s underneath. With its cool, contemporary and super comfortable knickers, the brand has spent the last six years developing underwear pieces made of sustainable Austrian beechwood trees – a Lenzel fibre called TENCEL – that is not only natural, durable and biodegradable but also has the great advantage of being anti-bacterial, breathable and three to five times softer than cotton. Co-founder Katie Lopes believes that wearing comfortable knickers makes women feel powerful rather than provocative.
Setting up her own brand was spearheaded by a difficult divorce and being left with the responsibility of raising a child as a single mother while having to provide for herself. “This is why that message of empowerment is so important to us,” explains Lopes. “We want to make sure women grow up by taking accountability for themselves and not by relying on someone else to do it for them.” 5% of the profits goes to charities such as Maggie’s, which provides a safe place for people with cancer, and The Lady Garden Foundation supporting the fight against gynecological cancer. On top of that, all the knickers come from a factory in China that gives a chance for young girls to get out into the world and earn their own money in fair and decent working conditions. Stripe & Stare is all about women having each other’s backs and their bums, too.