It’s a jungle out there. Modern America is flooded with fashion choices—from the mall, to the flagship storefront, to online-- it’s impossible for a person to wade through all that confusion. Fashion comes at us in full force from every direction and it’s never stagnant for a minute. From place to place, between seasons, or amongst retailers, we are bombarded with choices. The economics of the clothing industry has allowed for more, faster, and from further away fashions. What’s a woman to do with this inexhaustible influx of options? Demand more, of course.
Never before has so much been so accessible. We can find the exact colors, style, price point, or brand names we want. But that’s old news. It’s not enough for brands to simply offer unending styles at cheaper (or more expensive) prices at increasingly accessible retail outlets. Now, we want environmental and social responsibility as well. Beyond aesthetics and having clothes on our backs, we want our purses, dresses, and stilettos to go above and beyond to help a larger community. Society’s expectations are shifting, and here are some of our top picks of fashion brands and organizations that rise to the purpose-driven challenge with their social missions.
COMPANIES THAT DONATE
TOMS is the front-runner in this category. Warby Parker is nearly as ubiquitous. For each pair you buy, the company donates a pair of shoes or glasses back to someone who in need. This method is woven into the fabric of their brand identities and the model has struck a chord with consumers. Donating back a portion of sales to help the environment or to needy communities is an idea that has rubbed off on other socially minded brands.
The Juntos Project takes inspiration from the far reaches of the world and develops those products for our market. Right now they are featuring a shoe worn by working class Ecuadorian people in the city of Guayaquil. They are a simple canvas sneaker, beautiful in their simplicity and functionality. Importantly, for each pair of shoes sold, Juntos donates a backpack filled with classroom supplies to an at risk child in that region where the item was inspired.
Blukicks, another sneaker company, derives its inspiration from the Earth’s oceans, lakes, and rivers. The shoes are designed to emulate tropical fish or whale sharks, and fittingly 3% of sales go towards preserving Hawaiian reefs and shark habitats.
Lokai’s message is apparent in their business model and design. The bracelet company propounds balance, literally and in a more metaphoric karmic way. The bracelets’ beads contain water droplets from Mount Everest and mud from the Dead Sea. Accordingly, the brand reminds wearers that, “If you reach a peak, stay grounded by sharing your success. When you hit a low, gain perspective by helping others.” In that vein, they contribute 10% of profits to charities including Charity:Water, Pencils of Promise, Best Buddies, and Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, among others.
The following companies tackle socially minded missions from the roots by improving the manufacturing process in order to minimize their imprint on the environment. Clothing manufacturing is the second most polluting industry, behind only the oil sector. IndoSole strives to minimize pollution in their manufacturing process and utilizes recycled tires to create unique soles for their sandals. The Indonesian company produces two pairs of shoes per tire. Each tire is one less that makes it way into the small island’s landfills.
Zady is best known for their ‘New Standard” concept. The company endeavors to improve the quality of construction and materials used in clothing production to eliminate the waste that followed in the wake of fast-fashion: consumers buying more quantity of cheap clothing that gets thrown away. Besides making a better product to reduce waste from their end users, they also employ manufacturers who don’t mistreat and abuse their labor forces, and try to source environmentally conscious raw materials by monitoring dye composition, water treatment, pesticide use and other factors effecting sustainability.
HELPING THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE PRODUCT
Brands like the aforementioned Zady not only address the sustainability of manufacturing fashion items, but their mission is two-fold in addressing other common issues within the industry such as the treatment of workers. It’s no surprise that the clothing manufacturing industry notoriously abuses laborer rights and lacks transparency. Here are some companies that address the industry-wide plight.
Sseko Designs implements fair trade wages for young women in Uganda who are saving to pay for university. Handcrafting chic sandals contributes to funding the education of women in the area thus improving the economic development of their communities by utilizing their attained skills and knowledge in their hometowns.
Nest is another fascinating company that works with artisans to make sustainable businesses competitive. They prop up small businesses in order to preserve artisan craftsmanship from across the globe, which in turn supplements impoverished workers, particularly women, and communities by providing jobs and income. The company also publishes a very insightful impact report that is worth reading.
Finally, Maiyet is a luxury brand that got its start through Nest’s aid. The company sources ancient artisan craftsmen from all over the world then supports those communities by providing training for long-term economic sustainability. In their words, Maiyet is “dedicated to training and developing artisan businesses to promote entrepreneurship, prosperity and dignity in places that need it most.” Oh, and their clothing is absolutely stunning. All of these companies exhibit that a social mission doesn’t mean a sacrifice in fashion.
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