Is the person who makes your clothes paid a living wage? Chances are you probably don’t know, but Ryerson fashion grads Eva Parrell and Chelsea Mazur are hoping to change that.
Parrell and Mazur’s startup, Peoples Product, is making fair trade and sustainable clothes with modern designs and a reasonable price tag.
Their use of fair trade producers and eco-friendly packaging is part of a larger trend of sustainability in business.
Sustainable fashion aims to create an industry focusing on waste reduction strategies but Peoples Product goes beyond that.
“I think that [creating jobs] is kind of overlooked in sustainability, but it’s sustaining jobs for people,” says Parrell. “And maintaining traditional crafts to us obviously is very important.”
Parrell’s first brush with traditional crafts was as an undergraduate fashion design student designing jewelry at the Digital Media Zone for Supa Maasai, a foundation that works to improve the standard of living for women and youth in the Maasai community. But Parrell’s real passion was for clothing design, so she decided to incorporate traditional craft into her thesis collection.
“I went to Kenya and got all the clothes beaded and did this whole fair trade artisan made thing and was like, ‘This is amazing. I can’t go back from here.’” said Parrell.
Mazur was also interested in fair trade artisan made clothing, so after graduation they both travelled to Southeast Asia and began working with fair trade handwoven silks from Thailand. From there, they started Peoples Product.
Peoples Product now operates out of Ryerson’s Fashion Zone in the basement of 10 Dundas East. But Mazur and Parrell won’t be there for long. They’re planning a trip back to India in February to meet with their producers and work on new projects.
The last time they were in India, they travelled through Mumbai and Kolkata to meet with prospective producers after scouring the internet for fair trade manufacturers.
“Some we’re working with, some we aren’t, cause that’s why we were going there, to see if they were doing what we want to be doing,” says Parrell.
Actually going to manufacturer’s locations overseas is part of accountable supply chain management, which is difficult for large fashion companies to achieve, let alone small startups.
Even socially responsible companies can face supply chain management troubles. In 2013, Loblaw Companies Ltd. was a part of corporate social responsibility initiatives but still managed to become involved in the Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, that killed 1,137 people because some of its Joe Fresh products were being made there.
The risks imposed on workers’ lives and well-being to serve the industry’s need for lots of clothing to be produced quickly and at a low cost have been exposed by tragedies like Rana Plaza.
On top of health and safety, wages are another concern. According to the International Labour Organization, as of late 2013, a garment worker in Bangladesh can be paid as little as $US68 per month.
In order to cut costs and boost profits, it makes sense to manufacture clothes where you can pay workers very little. But this calls into question whether it’s ethical to do so.
Peoples Product’s decision to pay ethically for the production of their clothes while letting their profit margins decrease has sometimes been a challenge to them as a fashion startup.
“Mostly business people… they’re kind of shocked or ask like, ‘Well why would you do that when you can make something cheaper and make more money?’” says Mazur.
But with time people have become more accepting of it.
“The more we talk to people and the more we interact with people the more people are into it,” says Parrell.