Although adopting fashion as a means of expression is neither a feminine nor masculine trait, there is truth to the statement that fashion today is a women’s issue. Approximately 80% of the world’s garment workers are women, and many of them work under challenging conditions. Thankfully, as the years have gone on, an ever-increasing number of women-owned brands are coming to the forefront and raising the bar for how our clothes are made.
THE CONSCIOUS BRAND DIFFERENCE
When Giselle van der Star started Atelier Jungles, she made it a point to hire tailors and seamstresses who are “often seen as underprivileged for a variety of reasons such as background or social skills, or if they are newcomers to the Netherlands that need a helping hand to find their way.” In fact, she set up a full in-house studio in The Hague, the birthplace of Jungles, “where we make sure our workers work under the best possible conditions under Dutch law.” Elsien Gringhuis has also chosen to focus on local craftsmanship as a way to maintain the high ethical and quality standards of her eponymous clothing line. “I work with skilled tailors and constantly train young crafts(wo)men myself to maintain craftsmanship in the Netherlands…I only work with people who not only have skills, but who also share the same values.”
Of course, not all brands choose to have in-house studios. Janneke Honings and Judith van der Wolde, founders and owners of J LABEL, have partnered primarily with a factory in India that holds certifications for their fair working conditions, wages and treatment of women in the workplace. “In this factory, women are represented on all levels, including management. Besides that, the factory has a paid traineeship for underprivileged women who mostly come from rural areas.” This traineeship allows women to learn how to become seamstresses, after which they are able to apply for a job at the factory, or take their newly learned skills elsewhere. Honings and van der Wolde take pride in the fact that the jobs their brand creates “not only provide women with financial independence, but they also provide the opportunity to connect with other women in the industry. These women look after each other and the employment creates a new world besides their family life to enjoy.”
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE—AND SUSTAINABLE
Atelier Jungles, Elsien Gringhuis and J LABEL are not only all women-owned and women-empowering brands, but they also all consider the sustainability of their offerings to be of utmost importance as well. This overlap in their values is not coincidental. “On a larger scale, sustainability intersects with human rights because all people, no matter their gender, background or location, should be able to live and work in a safe and clean environment,” state J LABEL’s founders.
It makes sense that those who advocate for the health and wellbeing of the planet would do the same for those living and working on it. For something to be truly sustainable, both environmental and human rights standards must be respected. As Gringhuis puts it, “Sustainability is about the whole picture.
About quality and equality. Everything in the chain of making clothes matters.” Thankfully, with more brands and consumers than ever coming to the same realization now, we are optimistic about the future of sustainable fashion and the women making it all happen.