Doing good and giving hope through fashion

11 March 2015
ITC News

From Milano to New York: how ITC’s Ethical Fashion Initiative empowers women artisans in poor communities

In the past few years, leading fashion designers across the world have turned to developing countries for inspiration for their collections – and to work with producers in these countries. And for most it is a genuine effort to support and help build the skills and capacities of artisans in the communities in which they work.

The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) has since its launch in 2009 been a trailblazer in this effort, connecting artisans in developing countries with some of the world’s top fashion houses. Why? Because this collaboration provides on the one hand artisans – who are largely women – with work that celebrates their skills and gives them dignity. And it enables the fashion industry to ethically manufacture quality and coveted fashion goods.

Moreover, by actively including the women artisans in the fashion value chain through real employment, they are empowered to take control of their lives: economically and otherwise.

Past skills, modern skills

EFI works with artisans in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya and Mali. In each of these countries, EFI works with artisans from a variety of backgrounds: some of which have inherited skills from past generations, and others who have learnt skills working directly with EFI. In each country, a hub has been set up to manage orders received from fashion brands, coordinates production with artisan micro-communities and carry out impact assessments.

More than 90% of the artisans working with EFI are women, forming the heart of EFI’s production system. And while their work has a direct and positive economic impact, there is another important outcome: the skills picked up working with the EFI are shared with their family and the local communities, providing a wider impact than the core beneficiaries of the programme.

But there is more. In a 2014 survey, 90% of the women working with EFI stated they were able to double the amount of money the contribute towards school fees, 90% improved their housing conditions and 86% improved the quality of their meals. Another 88% said that making independent financial decisions had changed their lives, while 92% were able to save or make investments. A full 100% said that their self-confidence had risen and that they were now respected by their male family members. That is an impact just as valuable as an increased income.

Since the programme was launched, several evaluations have shown that fashion can be a driver for positive change and development. And this matters to fashion houses, too: with every order placed, EFI’s fashion partners receive a report assessing their impact on the lives of those involved.

As the past years have proven, ethical fashion does not have to compromise on style and shopping can go hand-in-hand with solidarity and sound development.

Learn more about the Ethical Fashion Initiative.