Ethical Fashion Brands Solving Global Issues, From Exploitative Labor to Environmentally Harmful Production

Best For The World Companies Work to Clean Up the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry, with its focus on “fast fashion” and consumerism, has a reported history of abusive labor practices and environmental damage. As transparency and purpose become key values for consumers, these business trends are shifting toward ethical fashion that encompasses transparent supply chains, organic clothes, and focusing on a consume-less ethos. Certified B Corporations in the fashion industry are spearheading necessary changes by putting purpose at the center of their operations, reaching out to underserved communities, and considering the planet as a key stakeholder.

B Lab assesses the positive impact of B Corps through the B Impact Assessment (BIA). B Corps that score in the top 10 percent of the BIA are honored each year as Best For The World.

This year’s honorees include ethical fashion brands like TOMS, a global footwear and lifestyle brand, which became a Certified B Corp in January. TOMS has launched a number of initiatives, including its One for One® program, which contributed to the company’s popularity and to the rise in businesses using a similar give-back model.

“As the original One for One business, we are proud to see so many others in the industry move toward using this format and adding some sort of give-back element into their businesses,” says Amy Smith, chief giving officer at TOMS. “Customers care about business values, and they reinforce those values by voting with their wallets.”

B Lab spoke with the following representatives of B Corp ethical fashion brands about what being Best For The World means to their companies and how they build purpose into their operations:

Amanda Rinderle, CEO of Best For The World: Governance honoree Tuckerman & Co., a Providence, Rhode Island, company that makes high-quality organic cotton dress shirts;
Amy Smith, Chief Giving Officer of Best For The World: Community honoree TOMS, a fashion retailer based in Playa Del Rey, California, renowned for its shoes and eyewear;
James Bartle, founding CEO of Best For The World: Community honoree Outland Denim, an Australian denim company;
and Adriana Marina, founder of Best For The World: Changemaker and Community honoree Animaná, a Buenos Aires, Argentina, fashion company that uses natural fibers to create its handmade garments.

How does your ethical fashion business integrate purpose into its business operations—for workers, customers, your community, and/or the planet? 

Tuckerman & Co.: We have a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, and, wherever possible, we use less harmful materials over their conventional counterparts. All of our products are made using 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton. Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic insecticides and pesticides—conventional cotton, by contrast, accounts for 11% of insecticides and 24% of the pesticides used worldwide. Additionally, we work with suppliers who embrace fair labor practices and safe working conditions, including paying a living wage and providing health care.

TOMS: Since our founding in 2006, TOMS has given shoes, sight and safe water to more than 94 million people and has turned our mission into a movement. With our evolved giving model, we are expanding our impact around the world. We are also committed to bringing our giving to life for our employees. Every month, TOMS employees have the chance to become changemakers and advocates for social good through submitting an idea for The Tomorrow’s Project. If their project is chosen, they receive a grant to make it happen. Our employees also participate in Giving Trips, where they can play a hands-on role in giving shoes, visiting our vision centers, and seeing where we are working for safer water. We shut down all of our offices across the globe on Giving Tuesday and go out into the communities where we work and live to volunteer together.

Outland Denim: Our facilities were founded as an avenue for stable employment, independence and freedom for women who had experienced human trafficking. Today we welcome staff from varying backgrounds of vulnerability to elevate them into prosperity. At last count, 90% of our sewing-floor staff were at risk of vulnerability to poverty, human trafficking or other exploitation or social injustice prior to joining us. Our employment program provides holistic support and education programs focused on budgeting, languages, women’s and infant health, and self defense. 

Animaná: We promote, live and breathe sustainable practices by empowering artisan communities to maintain ancestral, circular, clean methods; promoting decent working conditions and local development for our suppliers; informing our community of the origin and value of each and every textile that is within our collection; and training our team on the importance of what we do. Our collaboration with the nonprofit Hecho por Nosotros, which spearheads solutions to shift from the current fashion paradigm toward a more inclusive and sustainable one, makes sure that we are constantly updated in best practices and elevates our model to the international level, where we can advocate for our values.

What purpose-driven trends in the fashion industry are most inspiring to your business?

TOMS: As the original One for One business, we are proud to see so many others in the industry move toward using this format and adding some sort of give back element into their businesses. Customers care about business values, and they reinforce those values by voting with their wallets. Many brands now know that sustainability is no longer a “nice to have,” it is an important investment in the future of the business and the future of our planet and the people on it.

Animaná: There are three fashion trends that are most inspiring to Animaná: a counterculture of slow fashion to the existing “fast-fashion” trend; strengthening Micro-, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) by promoting local and conscious consumption; and harnessing technology for the purpose of transparency across supply chains and generating community across usually siloed actors.

What are some of the major issues facing the fashion industry that your business is addressing?

Tuckerman & Co.: The trend toward fast fashion—where retailers churn out cheap products using cheap materials and labor—has caused consumers to increase consumption while dramatically reducing the longevity of items. The result is fuller closets and fuller landfills. As a brand that's committed to sustainability, we'd actually prefer our customers to buy fewer clothes. Our mantra is “buy better, buy less,” and we’ve oriented Tuckerman toward that purpose. Our designs tend to be a bit more classic, the kinds of things that never really go out of style and which a customer might wear for five or 10 years. We also work hard to do repairs or take back items in the event that something comes up.

Outland Denim: The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that $127.7 billion worth of garments are made by people at risk of modern slavery are imported into G20 countries yearly, placing fashion within the top 5 exploitative industries. Furthermore, out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry and 58% in other sectors. It is estimated that 14 million garment workers globally earn less than half a living wage, which is a violation of human rights. The Clean Clothes Campaign reports that no major clothing brand is able to show that workers making their clothing in Asia, Africa, Central America or Eastern Europe are paid enough to escape the poverty trap. There is still a lot of work to be done to protect the rights of the people making our clothes. To offer an alternative way of doing business is the reason we exist.

How does being a Best For The World honoree help your business vote every day for a better world—and what impact does a “vote” for your company have in the world?

TOMS: TOMS is very honored to be chosen as a Best For The World honoree for Community. We know this is a reflection of everyone involved with TOMS. This includes employees, customers, giving partners, and, most importantly, the recipients of our giving as a result of TOMS purchases. Choosing TOMS means kids around the world are receiving shoes, empowering them to attend school, play sports and avoid health risks. It means establishing self-sustaining vision centers in rural areas and preventing blindness. It means supporting the creation of safe water systems, leading to improved health, increased economic opportunity and greater access to education for everyone in the community. It means providing grants to organizations that need support to end gun violence, increase equality and support mental health. 

Outland Denim: It’s an honor to be recognized as a Best For The World honoree. For our staff, the impact that our business model has had is simply life-changing. One of our original seamstresses was able to put a roof on her family's home, plant a rice field and buy her sister out of servitude, so the impact of employing just one young woman in a position of vulnerability can be phenomenal. It flows on to her family, her younger siblings, her children, and her community. The longer that one staff member is with us, the greater impact she is able to have in terms of teaching her skills to the next young woman coming through the ranks.

Animaná: A vote for Animaná means you’re supporting a new paradigm in the textile and fashion industries, which reaps benefits for all actors, including nature, consumers and local communities in Latinamerica. The integrated dialogue with artisan producers in the root of the supply chain, that have been historically marginalized, led us to develop different programs aimed at empowering those communities and boosting social and economic development. Creating links between rural isolated areas and big cosmopolitan cities, between wisdom and professionalism, we enhance the camelids natural fiber’s market. Through design, marketing techniques and technological integration we see an opportunity to develop an economy that is good for the people and good for the world. Animaná, together with the NGO Hecho x Nosotros, gives everyone the opportunity of co-creating and being part of a systemic change in the fashion industry.

 

VIEW THE 2019 Best for the world lists