A Year Without Hate

Have you ever gone a year without something? For example: a year without eating cookies, a year without drinking coffee, a year without using plastic bottles, a year without doing something/anything that you previously had a causal relationship with? If you have, then you probably know that before taking that year break you didn’t think much about it, but once you’re a few months into the break, you have likely analyzed your entire lifelong relationship with that thing.

This post isn’t about textiles or clothing or the fashion industry for a change, but it still has to do with eliminating waste and toxins from your life, which is the real focus of this blog in the long run. Starting this month I made the choice to once again cut something out of my life that I had first cut out almost a decade ago, I’m quitting hate for a whole year. You might be wondering how exactly one quits “hate”, or what I mean by going a year without it. So let me explain:

It was mid-year 2009 when I decided to go 12 whole months without saying, writing, or even thinking the word “hate”. At the time that I made this decision I didn’t know what would change within me or what would happen, nobody instructed me to do this, all I knew was that I had caught myself saying that word too often, I had noticed my friends at the time used that word too often too, and I caught myself thinking it often. Just saying the word hate makes me wrinkle up my forehead, scowl, and clench my fists. I had realized the way my energy was being influenced by that word, and I was determined to change that energy and that feeling, by eliminating that word from my vocabulary, cold turkey.

When I quit hate, I had no idea how that year would change me, change my path, and also change my mindset forever. The way I cope with stress, dislikes, heartaches, obstacles, injustice, and challenges has never been the same since then. First and most obvious is what it did to my vocabulary, I had to find new ways to speak/think/write about these feelings and thoughts, so my communication skills massively improved – and in turn more doors started opening for me in life, more opportunities and offers were coming to me, and I was having more fulfilling relationships as a result of this improved communication.

Cutting this word out forced me to unpackage every situation where that word came to mind to see what about it triggered that feeling of hate. Forcing myself to reflect on and reassess that feeling, instead of lumping all the situations/events/people/places/things that triggered that feeling into one big ugly pile labeled hate, gave me a chance to unpack a lot of unnecessary baggage that I had been thoughtlessly carrying around for years. Hate is a very powerful word, but our society (especially in the U.S.A.) is pretty careless and nonchalant about using it. Often what I was calling a hate, was actually just a dislike, a distrust, a suspicion, an awkwardness, being uncomfortable, jealousy, feeling a lack or a need, confusion, and so on. ALL of these are not at all hate, and they are for the most part reconcilable and much more temporary states of thought and feeling. When I got to the bottom of it, I realized how often I used the word hate to avoid compassion and healing. Using a blanket phrase or word delays us from learning the lesson we should be learning.

I also found I was able to ignore most trivial issues that I used to spare my 2 cents on by saying I hated them. After reviewing why I really felt hateful towards that situation/event/person/place/thing, it became clear that I was either (a) clinging to the past, (b) taking on other’s opinions instead of forming my own, or (c) just burning up energy that would be better spent on something (anything) else out of a need to categorize everything into good or bad. Not everything is good or bad, and not everything needs to be categorized, it’s perfectly okay to just let a thing exist without mentally and emotionally weighing in on it.

Though many of the toxins in our world are visible and can be measured and traced to some external source of pollution, some of them are not visible or able to be measured and treated in a lab. Sometimes the toxic environment we find ourselves in is one that we mentally and emotionally built ourselves, or one that the people we surround ourselves with have helped build. While it was really quite a challenge in self-discipline to stop myself from using the word hate, an unforeseen challenge was influencing the people around me to cut that word out too, or walking away from those relationships. While you can’t change others, you can encourage and influence them to change, and thankfully you aren’t a tree with roots, you are able to walk away. I have yet to regret the choice to abandon these types of relationships.

After that year without hate I found my entire life changed. I had gained a new drive to conquer life, made amazing new friends, had been accepted into the degree program I wanted to be in, was elected to boards in organizations I was part of, was volunteering and helping the community, was awarded more responsibilities at work, my health improved, I was drinking and eating less, lost weight and did more exercise, quit smoking, my family relationships all improved; you name it – that was the year it all started changing for the better. There is an undeniable connection between mindfulness and our overall health and wellness.

At the start of this month I began a new year without hate (minus writing this blog post), and I’m going to make it until February of next year without using that one word. So far it has been a lot easier this time around, and I really do feel like my mental state has already improved too. Detoxing isn’t just about cutting out fast fashion, food, or drink, it’s about cutting out all the harmful things we consume and do including the vocabulary we use.

I would like to invite you all to join me in cutting the word hate out of your vocabulary this year, just give it a shot and see how it works out, I promise it will only help you and it won’t hurt! If you do join me in this year without hate, please message me and let me know! Maybe we could all use the hashtag #ayearwithouthate to turn this into a thing and get the conversation going? I look forward to seeing how it works out for others and want to know if this is really a miracle life hack, and if it is I would love to see more people benefit from it than just my inner circle who I have told about this before.

My wish for all who are reading this is for you to grow in your mindfulness and have peace. A better world is possible, let’s keep doing the good work to build it.

(pictures are all my own, they were taken at various locations in Japan)


Guide to Natural Dyeing at Home, A Free Gift From Me to You

This blog often shines a light on not only the problems caused by overconsumption and out of control production in the apparel industry, but it also is meant to provide more sustainable alternatives for everyday people and businesses alike.  After learning how harmful synthetic dyes can be to our planet, I became inspired to work more with the processes and techniques of natural dyeing.

Over the years spent learning and experimenting with natural dyes I’ve come to develop my own methods, and I am excited to share some of those in my first ebook, the Guide to Using Natural Dyes at Home. The guide is available for sale on amazon kindle, but if you sign up for my mailing list there is a link to download the guide for free in your welcome email!

Most of the guide books written about using natural dyes can be a challenge to follow, they provide recipes that require users to invest a lot in equipment, and generally are not written for beginners and novices. My goal in writing this book was to make learning natural dye techniques easier and more accessible for anybody that is interested. With growing interest in sustainable fashion movements, naturally dyed clothing is becoming more popular and I’m happy to share this skill with others who are interested in learning more.

Here is a sample recipe for Avacado Dye that is included in the ebook:

Step 1: Collect the pits of avocados, rinse all food stuffs off of them and store these in the freezer to prevent them from growing mold while you collect enough to produce your dyebath.

  • 5 pits should be sufficient to dye one short sleeve cotton shirt, one hand towel, one silk scarf, or 15 yards of yarn.
  • Using more pits will result in a darker shade of pink.

Step 2: Place the avocado pits into your stainless steel dye pot and fill the pot full with water, let this set overnight to soften the pits.

Step 3: Bring the dyebath to a boil and boil for one hour.

Step 4: Lower the heat to a simmer and allow the temperature to drop before adding your fabric or yarn.

Step 5: Add the wetted fabric or yarn to the dyebath (soak fabric or yarn for one hour before dyeing) and simmer the fibers in the dyebath for one hour, stirring every 10 minutes.

Step 6: Remove the dye pot from the heat and allow it to cool, continuing to stir once every 10 minutes.

Step 7: Remove the fabric or yarn from the dyebath and hang it to dry overnight in the shade.

Step 8: Once fully dried, rinse the fibers thoroughly using water and hang to dry again.

  • You might be able to use the avocado pits for up to 3 dyebaths.

Left = Cotton, right = silk

The guide includes 8 recipes total using food waste and plant materials, all of which can be used to produce beautiful colors. These processes will help you bring new life to your pre-loved clothes, or add a nice personal touch to your creative projects. I hope that you enjoy using the guide and find it helpful, and I’m happy to share it with you for free as a thank you for following along with the growth of my business while I prepare to re-launch this year.


Not letting past setbacks stop me from future possibilities.

What I mean when I say I’m re-launching is…

That I am changing the products I make, the fabric I use, and how I make them. But don’t worry, my process will still be environmentally friendly and ethical, maybe even more so than before! The best part is that the pieces in this collection will be a lot more affordable too.

When I originally launched Unity Outfitters I had the vision to create a clothing brand that would be made 100% ethically + sustainable, fair trade, supportive of women, artisan, etc… everything! That vision is still my long term motivation and why, but now I am accepting that it will take time to build my business, and require several revisions to how I operate along the way.

“”Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

Why lingerie & sleepwear?
One of the reasons I initially chose to use “Outfitters” in my business name was because I like how it doesn’t limit what I put out to one category of clothing, and I always really wanted to create a collection of lingerie and sleepwear. So I am excited to take the opportunity to re-launch making something I really enjoy designing & creating.

New fabrics?
A big challenge for my eco/ethical business model in creating lingerie is the lack of sustainable & environmentally friendly materials available to produce with. There are little to no natural materials particularly made for this, so I’m working to develop some for the future in the Philippines, and looking for additional options in the USA and worldwide to work with in the future. Right now I am planning to use two materials that are eco-friendly and ethical including either a soy/organic cotton blend or a lyocel (regenerated wood-pulp)/organic cotton blend, and a footloom woven peace silk (harm free silk.) benefiting women weavers in India.

What are you working on now?
Now that I have my natural dye color stories all picked out, what I am up to right now is that my sample-making fabric is on the way, I am finalizing which of my designs to produce, I’m drafting the patterns for these to make sample pieces, and working on developing a kick-ass Kickstarter campaign so that I can fund this business growth through pre-selling without taking out a loan and going into debt or asking for donations.

Any more changes?
Along with many other things going on behind the scenes here (like my working part time jobs & setting up an airbnb in my house) I am also finalizing details to start working with a North Carolina based cut & sew facility. While I’m still going to be the one designing and developing our products, not having to cut and sew every item is one of the changes I am looking forward to most. Being able to manufacture ethically is a big deal to me, so I promise to keep working to a fair and just supply chain.

What can I do to help, you ask?
Please invite your friends to sign up for my mailing list or follow my blog? Growing a small business takes a village, and I really appreciate all the word of mouth love you can spread.

From time to time I hope to continue sharing personal updates like this instead of just blogging about the fashion industry. I want to keep you all in the loop about my business and my process as an artist and human being. If there are ever any topics you want me to cover on my blog, or if you would like to guest blog, please drop me a line and shout it out!

XOXO – Katina

P.S. I’m also hoping to sell off ALL OF my existing inventory before re-launching, so if you sign up for my mailing list I will give you 25% off right away, and if you stay tuned there I will continue to share the discount love with more deals for years to come.


Toxic Colors: Synthetically Dyed Clothes Harm the Environment and Could Harm Your Health Too!

DSC02760.JPGThat little black dress you are wearing is one of the top producers of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide, our addiction to toxic colors is destroying the planet.  Dyeing is a fabric finishing step that usually involves a process of desizing, scouring, bleaching, and then adding color by dyeing or printing, most often using harsh synthetic chemicals and heavy metals.This process impacts not only the workers, but also the environment and the general public. During the fabric finishing step many synthetic chemicals and heavy metals are used in excess. What is unused at the end of the process is discarded, and it comes out in the form of wastewater that eventually that gets dumped back into our global waterways.

DSC02762Wastewater (also called effluent) from textile dyeing and finishing ranks as one of the top industrial polluters of clean water worldwide along with agriculture and oil. The World Bank estimates 17% to 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and finishing processes (3). How wastewater is treated (if it is treated) before being released into the environment and is regulated on a national level and not always enforced fully, depending on the country where a fabric is produced the laws and enforcement are adequate. Once treated (or not) the wastewater is released into a nearby waterway and can endanger aquatic life damaging our ecosystem on a global scale, it also destroys nearby farmlands and drinking water.


DSC02798The main concern in harm caused to aquatic life is associated with depleted oxygen levels and the blocked passage of light which is crucial for water purification and health.  When dyes are highly toxic to the ecosystem this means they have acute to chronic effects upon living organisms within that ecosystem. Textile dye wastewater has been connected to growth reduction of plants and healthy algae, neurosensory damage to aquatic life, metabolic stress and death in fish, and growth reduction in plants. Downstream from wherever wastewater is released human use for recreation, drinking, fishing, and farming is impacted and should be limited. (1)

DSC02804There are 85+ known toxic textile dyes on record (4.) posing a direct threat to humans and the planet through being released into our waterways. Many companies will not release information of their proprietary formulations, meaning the actual number of harmful dyes in use is likely being greatly underestimated. The presence of sulphur, naphthol, nitrates, perfluorided compounds, and heavy metals like copper, arsenic, lead, chromium, and mercury all make the effluent highly toxic. About 40% of globally used dyes contain organically bound chlorine – which is a known carcinogen.

DSC02797One obvious example of harmful textile dyes are azo dyes, these make up over 50% of dyes used annually. Azo dyes contain nitrogen as the azo group (-n=n-), and are known for producing the most bright and vibrant colors. These dyes can also form aromatic amines, many of which can be further metabolized to mutagenic compounds which can lead to cancer after exposure to extremely low levels. A retrospective study conducted in 1992 (1) exposed that 100% of workers involved in distilling 2-naphthylamine (an aromatic amine)(5) in a German dye plant developed bladder cancer from occupational exposure. Though use of 2-napthylamine is banned in the USA and Europe, it is not banned worldwide, and it is only one of numerous aromatic amines used in the textile dyeing industry. Some of these amines have also been linked to skin irritation, allergies, contact dermatitis, permanent blindness, hypertension, vertigo and, and respiratory distress (to name a few). Aromatic amines can be absorbed through the skin and other exposed areas when wet or sweating, so remnants of these in our clothes can be toxic to us.

What you can do about it?

  • Shop with brands that disclose their process and are honest about their efforts to minimize wastewater production.
  • Shop from brands that use all natural & plant dyes.
  • Ask larger/more well-known brands to perform a Life Cycle Assessment of their dyed products, this way you can learn about not just their dyeing process but also about what it does to the environment.
  • Seek out products produced using an air-dyeing technique, this is still relatively new but is slowly growing in popularity (little to no water is used!)
  • Ask brands to inspect their factories and research to see that the dye wastewater is being disposed of properly.
  • In the long run, we all just need to consume less stuff, buy what you love and love what you buy.

Written and photographed by: Katina Gad, founder of Unity Outfitters

In 2018, Unity Outfitters will be relaunching with a naturally dyed collection of sleepwear, underwear, loungewear and layering basics, we plan to fully disclose our environmental impact, and promise to cause the least environmental harm possible! Sign up for our mailing list to receive discounts, promotions, and more insightful news impacting the eco and ethical fashion world.






The Natural Dye Revival, a Global Phenomenon.

Are we living in an era when we are seeing the revival of natural dyes used in textiles and apparel around the world, or am I just seeing it everywhere because I am searching for it everywhere? Over the past year I decided to put the production of my clothing line on hold so that I could focus on learning even more about natural dyes, and how to apply the use of them to my next collection when I relaunch next year.

Natural dye plants used in GuatemalaDuring my time at NCSU’s College of Textiles I took semesters of courses on using fabric and fiber dyes. We briefly talked about indigo, there was a mention of cochineal, and our professor explained how technology and consumer demand had pushed natural dyes near extinction (same goes for when I attended FIDM in 2004) and as a result the industry is dominated by and dependent on chemical dyes.

One of the women of the cooperative in Guatemala preparing a dye bath using tree bark. 2010My first real in depth experience using natural dyes also happened while at NCSU, but during my study abroad in Guatemala taking courses through the sociology department. I was placed in a service learning placement with Casa Flor Ixcaco, an indigenous women’s weaving and dyeing cooperative located at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. During the time spent volunteering with them in 2010, I became fascinated with their use of natural dyes and knew I wanted to do more work using these dyes.

Over the past month i had the honor of participating in a natural dye artist residency through Arquetopia in Oaxaca, Mexico. During these three weeks i was able to work one on one with the master dyer and director of Tlapanochestli Grana Cochinilla. I became familiar with the cultivation and history of local dyes in Mexico,also learning the processes my professor uses (Along with teaching students from around the world, and farming cochineal, he also dyes the yarn sold at Museo Textil de Oaxaca and more.)Undyed cotton yarn being prepared for the dye pots

In the grand history of natural dyes, Mexico is viewed as the birthplace of cochineal, and Oaxaca is now central to the farming and production of this little red bug who feeds on the nopal cactus. With being on the farm I was able to master dyeing with this little insect with a lifespan of 30 days to 3 months (only the women are used for creating pigments, the men live for just 2 days and serve only to reproduce.)

The other main dye plant used in Mexico and the world over is Indigo. From my experience dyeing and my encounters with natural dye artisans the world over, people are either crazy about indigo or casual users of the dye, I have yet to meet a natural dyer without an opinion on or experience with it. The strategies to produce the perfect indigo vary from the chemical quick reduction vat (indigo, soda ash, and sodium hydrosulfite) to an all natural 1-2-3 style vat (indigo, calcium hydroxide, and fructose.)

In the Arquetopia classes we used the chemical quick reduction vat, but while traveling to visit artisans in nearby areas I found that most of the indigenous dyers are using the 1-2-3 style vat with the local plant, Muicle serving as the fructose, and wood ash as the alkaline/base agent. Muicle alone also creates a rich purple dye!


On my first visit to Teotitlán del Valle I met with the family of Horacio Mendoza of El Lagarto. Artes Textiles, a family of Zapotec rug weavers who use all natural dyes for their footloomed wool rugs. While hearing how they work with dyes I had a light bulb turning on moment in regards to using natural dyes on a larger scale, all around the world scaling up is dependent upon having access to plants that produce the 3 primary colors. In Mexico this is blue from indigo, red from cochineal, and yellow from Pericon.

I returned to Teotitlán the following week with my friend Heather who is building a homegoods business in Guatemala. Her desire to perfect the indigo vat for the  cooperative of women she works with led us to visit the workshop of Porfirio Gutierrez, famous Zapotec weaver and dye artisan. Their family was extremely welcoming and friendly, we left with tons of new knowledge and an invite to return and stay with the family (hopefully we both will be back to spend more time there next year) to continue learning even more.

Two additional countries I visited earlier this year also are in the process of reclaiming and reinstating the use of natural dyes. In the Philippines I visited a few different piña fabric weavers including pina blue mantra, who would like to incorporate the use of all natural dyes in their fabrics, they are making great progress and currently are working to improve skills using local dye plants that are readily available.

My textile travels also led me to Thailand earlier this year to meet Olive of Hemp Thai. She is working to revive the the production of hemp fabric in Northern Thailand through community development, and the majority of their products are either undyed or indigo dyed, I also spotted some kakishibu in their shop.

A big difference from region to region in using natural dyes beyond the type of dyestuffs available is the use of mordants & tannins to attach dyes to textile fibers. In Mexico the main sources of these were alumbre and avocado pits, in Guatemala the main mordant used is the sap of the banana tree, back in the USA what I see used most often is Alum.

The dye plants and mordants used from community to community vary depending on what is locally available. Earlier this year I attended a class presented by The Dogwood Dyer as part of a sustainability certificate program at FIT in NYC. While some of the dyes we worked with were imported, we also learned about plants being cultivated for dyes within the USA, some of which I have growing in my garden in North Carolina and some I can locate easily nearby.

North Carolina has an excellent climate for growing dye plants and while I don’t currently have enough land to farm on, the possibility is on my radar and not out of the question for the future. Considering the amount of time to grow enough plants to dye a whole collection with, it may be a few years before I can localize my supply chain to this extent, until then I plan to continue using natural dye sourced from sustainable producers which is still a big reduction in environmental harm compared to producing apparel with chemical dyes.

Watch this space and sign up for my mailing list to learn more about natural dyes, chemical dyes, and the social and environmental impacts that result from the global fashion industry, as well as to follow the journey of Unity Outfitters while I am working to relaunch next year with a much more affordable and still equally ethical and sustainable line. The next blog post I will be sharing will go into detail about environmental and human health dangers caused by chemical dyes, you can also read one of my previous posts  which goes over the different types of environmental harm caused by the fashion industry as a whole (if the subject really interests you!)

Last but not least, some exciting news – Now that I’ve spent seven years learning about the history, cultivation, and application of natural dyes I’ve put together a few workshops (October 14 and November 4 ) to share my knowledge and encourage more people to use these dyes. Sign up through the links provided, or if you are interested in having a private lesson or having me come to your location and teach you should email me







Our Process, on Designing and Developing the Second Collection.


First step in making any collection  is designing the pieces, I choose classic styles that will last for years and dozens of wears. I pick colors that are available from natural dyes, & select between the weaves that have been developed by my skilled artisan partners.


The next step was meeting with Casa Flor Ixcaco and communicating to them the colors, fibers, and weaves I needed produced to create the pieces.

null null

At this stage the creation of the fabric begins! The women of the weaving cooperative gather the natural dye materials, and prepare these materials for the dyeing process.


The women grow and spin the cotton used for some of the pieces produced for Unity Outfitters, but it would be impossible for them to grow enough cotton to meet our (and their other customers’) needs, so some of their yarn is imported organic cotton yarn.


Next the women of Casa Flor Ixcaco dye and rinse the yarn.


Once the fabric has been dyed and dried, it is then wrapped onto a warp board to create the lengthwise grain (warp) of the fabric. The length of yarn wrapped around this board determines the length and width of the final piece of completed fabric.


The yarn is then taken off of the warp board and transferred onto the backstrap loom where it is then woven into the finished panel of cloth. While the women were weaving these pieces I was able to visit them and show them the finished pieces of clothing that would be produced using their work.


After the fabric is produced, Miriam and I did a quality check of the finished fabric before I returned to the USA to finish the making process.


Upon returning home from this trip I made the patterns and created samples of these pieces in muslin fabric, to check the design and make improvements, before starting on the finished samples.


Once the muslin samples are perfected, I then cut out the pieces to make the final garments.

nullThe Natalia, crossover draped neckline sweater

And at the end of this process, our samples are made and ready to be photographed and shared with you all! 

If you like the finished garments you see on my site, each piece can be made to order for you.

Shows & Events, Unity Outfitters

Fall/Winter 2016 Collection to debut at Redress Raleigh Fashion Show on August 19, 2016!

Exciting news, the second Unity Outfitters’ collection will debut on August 19, 2016 at the Redress Raleigh Eco-fashion show! The application process had me a bit nervous, but my submission was accepted and I will be one of six designers presenting this year.

Closer to the show date I will share more specifics about logistics. Until then, follow along with what I’m doing here, on instagram, twitter, or facebook.


Unity Outfitters

Launching Unity Outfitters, an update and future plans.

Thank you again to everyone who funded a perk during the Indiegogo (crowdfunding) campaign. Though the amount raised didn’t reach the goal set to start up my business, the funds raised have been extremely helpful and go a long way towards building the brand and an e-commerce website that will be up soon. This blog will be incorporated into Unity Outfitters website and the content will continue to focus on ethical fashion and eco-fashion, with an occasional update (like this one!) from the business.

Since the funding goal was not reached I have had to scale back my original plans and push back the timeline for Unity Outfitters’ growth. After delivering all perks (except one which is in progress), I spent a good part of the past month redrawing future plans in consideration of successes and failures over this past year since setting out to start up this business. Though I am able to develop a product from start to finish independently, it is a lot of work. It is not a feasible strategy for this type of business to have one person do it all. I am pursuing outside help beyond the cooperatives I source fair trade material from for collaborative work in the near future. In the meantime, I am lucky to have friends and family who have generously volunteered their time to help out. Unity Outfitters is currently seeking investors, researching grant possibilities, and considering loans.

The fashion industry works like a well-oiled machine that brings new products to the market constantly throughout the year. This sped up mass production of products is wasteful, drives overconsumption of resources and exploits people, and that’s not the type of business Unity Outfitters seeks to become. Unity Outfitters label will launch with our Spring/Summer 2016 collection, but we won’t be doing it how it has always been done *just because that is how it has always been done*.

I am producing a small collection of womenswear for the spring/summer 2016 season using the beautiful fair trade fabric I sourced from my partners, Casa Flor Ixcaco, a women’s weaving cooperative in Guatemala. This collection will be available for pre-order by retail stores in December. In January I will give crowdfunding another shot and the collection will be available for pre-order on the crowdfunding site. In Spring/Summer of next year, a limited supply of these pieces will be available for sale on the e-commerce website.

Between now and when the collection becomes available on our e-commerce site, I will be working on multiple projects in addition to obtaining funding and building the website. The next few months’ work will involve making samples and products, organizing a photoshoot to showcase my work, vending at local markets, networking with stores worldwide who carry fair trade clothing, connecting with other potential fair trade partners in different regions of the world, and (I saved the best for last) returning to Guatemala for two months to work with the cooperative on having their products certified fair trade.

Starting up a business is hard work, but it is satisfying, and I am happy to be doing it the right way.

Slow Fashion, Supply Chain, Sustainability

What is Fair Trade?

In honor of World Fair Trade Day 2015 I have compiled a short and sweet explanation of what fair trade is.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade Business focuses on People, Planet, & Prosperity.

People =  accounts for people on the individual level, the family level, the village level, the regional level, and worldwide. Fair Trade organizations have a responsibility to their stakeholders on each of these levels.

Planet = Environmental stewardship; sustainable organizations monitor and adjust their environmental impact (including water & energy consumption, use of non-renewable resources, and pollution) to leave the ecosystem better than before or marginalize and minimize these impacts.

Prosperity = Benefits provided to the communities these businesses serve globally include: valued time, inclusive success, comfort, beauty, knowledge, love, health, relationships, and even money or other financial forms of wealth. Prosperity incorporates the well-being of all stakeholders, including not just shareholders and management, but also all workers, vendors, surrounding communities, and customers who come into contact with the goods or services throughout its lifespan.

Fair Trade follows the basic Principles of:

  • Empowerment
  • Economic Development
  • Social Responsibility
  • Environmental Stewardship

Fair Trade is Not A Certification

Though there are several organizations that certify businesses as being “fair trade” through a process of checks, tools, and continuous improvement, fair trade is a practice based on principles and does not require a certification to be described as such. It is a widely known shortcoming within the fair trade advocacy community that the price of certification is too high for smaller enterprises who are often located in lesser developed and poverty stricken regions. Being a non-certified fair trade organization  requires unwavering dedication to the principles of fair trade. Gaining a reputation based on following the principles of fair trade (in addition to reputation based on the product/service quality, customer service, branding, etc…) is dependent on storytelling. A high level of transparency is expected by those who are external to the organization to easily identify that those standards are being met. Fair trade certification has numerous benefits for those who can afford to maintain it.

The three most well known & trusted certifying organizations include:

The World Fair Trade Organization

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade International

People, Prosperity, Slow Fashion, Solutions, Supply Chain, Uncategorized

Social Hazards Caused by Overconsumption of Textile and Apparel Products.

3 Categories

  1. Human Rights Violations
  2. Destruction of Local Industries, Economies, & Environments
  3. Appropriation & Misappropriation of land and culture

Human Rights Violations

Pressure on textile and apparel factories is too high to keep up with Western brands and retailers demands for fast and low cost fashion. However, worker’s rights start before textile and apparel factories’ rights do, and workers’ rights also start long before multinational corporations’ rights do, because workers’ rights are human rights. This demand placed on textile and apparel manufacturers in the global south prioritizes low cost labor and lightning fast production and delivery time. When this is compounded upon high levels of competition and extremely high levels of regional economic distress, manufacturers and factories are pushed by multinational corporations to operate in a manner which strips workers of their true worth and dignity. For multinationals, improving the working conditions of employees located in non-home-nation based suppliers has not worked out. These same human rights violations are notably also occurring within in the retail industry side of the textile and apparel supply chain, in the United States, for the same multinationals. Known (current and recent) workers’ rights violations tied to human rights include (& are not limited to):

Freedom of association is protected internationally by articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Conventions 87 and 98 of the ILO. It is protected within the USA by the US Bill of Rights, as well as by other regionally drawn up laws. This guarantees individuals the right to join or leave groups of a person’s own choosing, and guarantees groups and individuals the right to take collective action to pursue the interests themselves or of members. Freedom of association also protects workers rights to act together to improve wages and working conditions without union representation.

  • 22 Colombian trade unionists murdered in 2012.

In 2012 Miller and McGovern stated on the US- Colombia Labor Action plan that “violence against trade unionists has escalated in the past two years”. The report documents that 22 trade unionists were murdered in 2012, 413 threats were made against trade unionists, and states that as many as 90% of cases addressing violence against trade unionists do not result in convictions. Out of fear of violent retaliation, only 4% of Colombian workers are union members. Colombia’s protection of workers’ freedom of association is improving from the period which the action plan was implemented, but as a nation it is still failing.

  • NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) files complaint against Wal-Mart for illegally firing and disciplining nearly 70 over strike.

In January of this year (2014) the NLRB filed a complaint against Wal-Mart for illegally firing and disciplining nearly 70 workers for striking in June of 2013. These documented offenses occurred in 14 states at 34 stores, and were in violation of the National Labor Relations Act which protects private sector employees right to act together to improve wages and working conditions with or without a union. Wal-Mart publicly, on national television and on twitter, broadcast statements threatening retaliation against employees who engaged in protests and strikes. According to former managers, Walmart spent (in just one year) $37,000 per-store on anti-union camera packages and undercover spy vans, $100,000 on a 24/7 anti-union hotline, and $7,000,000 on a rapid response team with a private corporate jet. With this large of an annual investment in the illegal suppression of individuals internationally recognized right to freedom of association, it is no surprise that change is slow to come to the retail giant.

Over the recent thanksgiving (US) holiday Wal-Mart workers across the country participated in more strikes (at over 1600 stores) demanding $15/hour and protesting the illegal and unfair treatment previously described. Many of these peaceful and legal protests were met with police violence and arrests. This continued crackdown on striking Wal-Mart workers is backfiring on the corporation as mounting evidence of this ongoing illegal suppression cannot be hidden from the global community and has been reported on internationally.

Inadequate earnings & inadequate or excessive and/or unpredictable hours negatively impact working families, especially women and people of color. These abuses also affect the overall economy as low-wage workers cannot afford to participate in it.

  • Just In Time Scheduling is a socially irresponsible waste reduction strategy

The use of JIT scheduling has been on the rise since its introduction in the 1970’s by Toyota, and it has evolved from that point through six sigma methodology, and morphed into the more readily available lean operations management strategies used broadly today. Toyota’s 5S principles including employee empowerment are absent from the majority of today’s JIT scheduling strategies’ agendas. Under these newer lean strategies workers are viewed as input costs which are targeted for reduction, and dependable schedules are financially viewed as wasteful. The new lean JIT scheduling strategy does not discriminate between waste classifications when seeking to eliminate them, though clearly, viewing workers’ livelihoods as waste, rather than as an essential component of sustainability (fourth of the 4 p’s is prosperity, this includes worker prosperity) is unsustainable, dehumanizing, and inexcusably socially irresponsible.

Unpredictable schedules increase stress and disrupt workers’ family life by making family planning and wages erratic and impossible to depend upon. Workers are expected to work a day shift one day, a night shift the next, or workers are expected to be available seven days a week, though they are not guaranteed or likely to be scheduled during the hours they are expected to be available. Weekly work hours for hourly workers in the USA are reported to vary almost 50 percent from month to month. This variance eliminates the opportunity for upwards mobility which lower income workers once were able to depended upon. Socially responsible organizations who provide structured scheduling have lower turnover and higher productivity, whereas those who implement “waste reducing” JIT scheduling are shown to have increased turnover and decreased work satisfaction and customer loyalty [1]. Depriving workers of stable income through non-stable scheduling practices actively stifles economic growth by restricting income distribution to the bottom wage earning demographic. When workers are reduced to numbers on balance sheets they are stripped of dignity and agency, and they are denied this internationally recognized human right. [2]

The removal of social protections reduces the quality of workers’ lives

  • NRF (National Retail Federation) 2014 lobbying to keep worker pay low and to increase hours required to classify as full time.

NRF’s lobbying in 2014 and in prior years to keep worker pay low is an effort to strip social protections from workers which were designed to promote employment and to protect individual rights. Lobbying by the largest retail association to limit or remove protections for workers has shined a light on member companies’ profit over people (and profit over prosperity) agenda. After many pro-worker organizations have publically called out the organization about this disregard for human rights, their collective stance remains unchanged. Though members of the board have dissented against the collective and stated their support for an increased minimum wage, there has yet to be a cessation of lobbying against it.

This year the NRF also urged Congress to pass the ‘Save American Workers Act’, H.R. 2575, which would change the Affordable Care Act’s definition of full-time employment from 30 hours per week to 40 hours. Through this anti-worker legislation corporations would be able to deny health care coverage to their employees and shift the burden back onto workers and individual taxpayers. These explicit acts of lobbying to remove social protections shows the lack of respect for workers’ rights and human rights which the corporations represented by NRF have. As an entity that is responsible for representing some of the world’s largest multi-national corporations, it is distressing that instead of setting an example they choose to promote such a regressive and unethical agenda.

Right to self-determination – the right to freely determine one’s own political status, and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development (granted under ICESCR-Article 1)

  • Wage gap and income inequality between CEO and worker pay denies workers the right to self-determination.

The role that the wage gap plays in denying individuals their right to self-determination is not simple to explain, but the clearest example worldwide of how this plays out is Wal-Mart. On January 30, 2014 Doug McMillon took over as CEO of Wal-Mart, immediately receiving a 167% raise ($25.6million, in addition to a salary of $954,408 and incentive pay of $1 million USD). His appointment and raise was voted on by stockholders of the corporation who have received a total of $12.8 billion in dividends and share repurchases so far during 2014. This year (2014) it has been reported that the average pay of an hourly Wal-Mart cashier in the USA is $8.48/hour, and the average hourly pay of a sales associate is $8.81/hour. Over 50% of Walmart shares are owned by members of the Walton family, the richest family in the USA, they have already taken home over $3.3billion in dividends this year. McMillon’s pay raise was rewarded to him by the Walton’s and other investors who despite being informed choose to ignore workers’ rights and demand continued financial returns be paid to them and denied workers from the publicly traded Walmart Empire. The millions awarded to McMillon, and billions given to the Walton family and shareholders, are arguably wages stolen from their own retail workers domestically and abroad from facilities supplying Walmart with these low cost products.

Wal-Mart violates workers right to freely determine their own political status by using these stolen wages to fund political campaigns which are not selected by workers, and are often not in the workers’ best interests. Walmart spent $7.3 million lobbying in 2013 on many things including; preventing legislation requiring background checks for gun buyers, promoting corporate tax cuts, manipulating foreign trade policy, and keeping workers’ wages low. So far in 2014 Wal-Mart has spent $5,220,000 lobbying for similar purposes. [3]

Forced labor

  • Uzbekistan using forced labor to harvest the cotton fiber.

In Uzbekistan, the state forces farmers to grow enough cotton to meet (commodity trading) production quotas using forced labor including children and adults to harvest the fiber. Eleven workers lost their lives while in forced labor positions picking cotton in 2013 alone.

The government threatened to take away Social Security and pensions from recipients for non-compliance with the state mandated work, they threatened to withhold pay from public sector employees who did not participate, and students were threatened with expulsion from school for not participating in the state run forced labor program. The government does not allow farmers the right to choose which crop they grow, this denies them the opportunity to grow a more profitable crop and/or a food crop. Denying people the right to self-determination in Uzbekistan has created an even bigger issue of hunger and food scarcity as a result of unsustainable private and public economic demands on their cotton industry. [4]

unsafe work environment

  • Sandblasting persists in Chinese manufacturing facilities

Last year (2013), a report by SACOM, ITUC/GUF Hong Kong Liaison Office (IHLO), War on Want and Clean Clothes Campaign [5] that workers lack necessary health and safety protections, their working conditions are exploitative, and they are not properly informed about the deadly hazards involved in the occupation of sandblasting. In order to produce distressed jeans, sandblasting, hand-sanding, spraying (etc..) are used, these processes create excessive dust containing silica sand, lint/fibers, and other chemical vapors (including those from Potassium permanganate) which are known to damage human health Prolonged inhalation of these toxins can cause severe respiratory diseases and the lung disease silicosis. Because of the social hazards caused by Sandblasting, SACOM and other groups have launched a global campaign to ban the practice, and have urged brands using the practice to respond immediately and improve working conditions.

Near the turn of the century sandblasting was being performed in lesser regulated areas including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, and Syria. In 2005, Turkey was the first country whose garment sector acted to recognize negative health effects caused by sandblasting and begin cracking down on it. Since the move to being a more heavily regulated process production has shifted deeper into unregulated regions in South East Asia and North Africa. One area where sandblasting still persists today is in the Guangdong province of China, this region is responsible for producing nearly half of the world’s blue jeans.

This year (2014), SACOM has thus far reinvestigated two of the factories and found that they both have failed to protect workers’ rights, health, and safety in accordance with Chinese Labor Law and persist to use these hazardous manufacturing techniques. The two factories reportedly supply brands including: American Eagle, Hollister, Levi’s, GAP, Wal-mart and H&M. From these updated findings, SACOM has identified reasons to doubt these brands’ commitment to corporate social responsibility, and is increasing their efforts to raise awareness and promote a ban on sandblasting worldwide. [6]

Unsafe facilities and machinery

  • Baldia textile factory fire claimed 259 lives in September 2012, the deadliest recorded in history.

The Baldia textile factory fire is recorded as the deadliest factory fire in human history. The incident (which occurred in Karachi) resembles the well-known 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC which claimed 146 lives. Unlike the New York fire that led to a huge mobilization of workers resulting in the creation of laws governing working conditions in industrial manufacturing, the public remained largely silent about the tragedy and there were no sweeping reforms. Ali Enterprises’ Baldia textile factory in Karachi remains untouched since the tragedy occurred, the building’s framework still stands and is a daily reminder of the working conditions endured and justice unserved.

What happened: Though regional building code law allows no building in Karachi’s SITE area (where the factory was located) to have over two stories, the factory was four stories high. The owners had added an illegal wooden mezzanine floor to expand which allowed the fire to spread quickly across the width of the building and out from the basement where it began, to the upper floors. Workers in the basement died almost immediately as a result of the factory’s boilers exploding, sending metal parts, scorching water, and flames flying. Those on the upper floors were smothered by smoke and engulfed in flames. All safety equipment, including fire extinguishers and fire alarms were absent from the building, so nobody inside could do anything to save their own lives, those who did not die were left permanently maimed.

“In Karachi, 92 per cent of the factories are unregistered.” said Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the National Trade Unions Federation. And if factories do get caught for non-registration, they pay a 500 rupee fine and are then allowed to resume business as usual. Accountability was not taken by any of the departments of government (including The Sindh Building Control Authority, The provincial labour department, & EOBI) who have jurisdiction over the buildings’ structure or operations, and responsibility for not enforcing violated codes was denied by all. Among officials there is a tragic unwillingness to enforce the necessary rules and regulations governing working conditions, even so today in the shadow the Baldia incident.

At the time of the Baldia incident, Ali Enterprises had Social Accountability International’s (SAI) SA-8000 certification. But according to the victim’s surviving family members, workers were instructed by bosses to fabricate stories about working conditions whenever foreigners visited the factory. Their job was threatened if they failed to comply with the collaboration. The SAI has since cancelled the certification and suspended further operations by Rina, the subcontracted inspection agency, in Pakistan. Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila (owner of Ali Enterprises) left Karachi immediately, and the brothers have been well protected by others in the business community since the incident. [7]

Child labor

  • Uzbek cotton fields are manned by forced labor including children.

As discussed earlier, Uzbek cotton fields are manned by forced labor including children. The state forces students age 15 – 18 to work to meet the cotton quota under threat of expulsion if they do not comply. This violates human rights on two levels: first child labor, second the right to self-determination which includes the right to freely pursue an education without persecution. The school administrators are punished or dismissed for not participating in this state sponsored program, and parents are often required to sign agreements that their children will voluntarily work in the cotton fields as a requirement for being allowed to attend school. An option is given that parents can pay a fee to get their children out of the required labor, and children who do not pay or comply are reported to the police. There are additional findings that show children as young as 10 were sent, accompanied by police, to work cotton fields as a requirement of attending school.

A large part of what is enabling these individuals, governments, and businesses to commit human rights abuses is the absence of societally inclusive ethical constraints and inability to successfully regulate. Fines to the multinational businesses who contract factories for work are a slap on the wrist, inhumanely written off as a business expense, likely to already be accounted for as an operating “risk” before they are even incurred. An example of this is Wal-Mart [8.], who immediately terminating contracts with suppliers after Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh, done in an attempt to dismiss their involvement and distance their unquestionable role played in creating the tragedy that happened. Once freed from the obligation of accountability, these companies will quickly move on to find another low cost fast production facility, leaving the workers at their former supplier behind to cope. The lack of loyalty based in exploitive demand economics is yet another social hazard causing economic harm to local industries and regional economies.

Destruction of Local Industries (Economies) & Environments

The most commonly discussed type of social destruction caused by the fast fashion supply chain is of local industries (economies), and environments. This discussion looks different to different people depending on where they stand geographically, politically, socially, and economically. In the USA and other first world nations, many people misplace blame for manufacturing industry and job loss on the workers of the global south.

Outsourcing/offshoring has overstayed its welcome with the global social economy. Multinationals operating on a Low cost and short time competition basis who have shifted facilities to overseas to minimize cost and maximize returns are responsible for removing jobs (and in turn income and financial stability) from workers in their domestic state. As economic conditions worsen for the lower income earning classes of first world nations, these workers in turn buy less as a whole and have less disposable income to spend. Outsourcing based on cost has caused the destruction of local economies and industries within the multinationals own home state, and has failed to develop socially conscious/sustainable/safe industries or economies within the regions where they operate.

Industries: Dumping causing destruction of local industries abroad:

Most donated clothing items in the US and Canada are rejected, many of these end up in the landfill, but a good amount of these rejects are sold to exporters at a per-kg rate and shipped to Africa, Central America, and Asian markets where they are sold bellow market prices. Bulk clothing exports increase a countries export numbers and lessen the trade deficit, the estimated cost for exporting used garments in the US is $1/kg, the low cost is provided by shipping companies desperate to decrease empty miles traveled load costs. In turn, this provides enterprises seeking to reduce environmental waste output with a socially irresponsible reverse logistics option to instead dump rejected goods on lesser developed nations. Acceptance of these dumped goods are often forced upon countries with lesser developed economies, accepted politically to ensure a favorable continued transactional relationship with (more economically developed) donor nations.

Dumping is described in brief by GATT/WTO as “a situation of international price discrimination, where the price of a product when sold in the importing country is less than the price of that product in the market of the exporting country.” [9] The Anti-Dumping Agreement explicitly defines dumping and sets forth steps and measures to be taken to protect against dumping and export price manipulation, but litigation is costly, time-consuming, and usually not pursued by those most desperately needing the protection.

The export of secondhand clothing from North America and Europe to emerging economies has become a controversial multi-billion dollar industry in recent years, and the influx of cheap clothes is quashing local textile industries in West Africa. Countries like Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia cannot establish, protect, or grow local textile and apparel industries while in direct unrestricted competition with imported cheap secondhand goods. These low cost clothes are very affordable for people to buy, but they take jobs from local industry and remove money from the economy which otherwise would have remained. Localized textile industries have shown to facilitate substantial regional economic growth, and have the potential to lift millions out of poverty.

Environment: Exposure to harmful chemicals that damage the body’s biological systems.

Kanpur is a small city (2.5 million inhabitants) on the banks of the Ganges in India, and is home to more than 300 leather tanneries. Kanpur is facing an ecological and health crisis that developed over recent decades along with the rise of its most successful export, leather. More than 90 percent of products made in Kanpur are destined for Europe and the USA, the city is the country’s leading leather exporter.

The effluent treatment plant in the town receives upwards of 40 million liters per day, but it doesn’t work often enough and is estimated that only 20% of wastewater received from tanneries is properly treated. Untreated effluent escaping the facility is discharged onto agricultural land, it passes through communities, and then enters the Ganges River downstream. Farmers and the community are paying the price with their loss of food and crops, as well as with their health and lives. Many workers and locals suffer from a serious skin condition suspected to result from contact with toxic waste water from local tanneries. In the same community former workers suffer from TB, residents suffer from blindness, GI issues, and children are being born with severe disabilities.

Toxicology Research found that increased exposure to leather dust containing high levels of chromium is responsible for Kanpur’s residents’ significantly higher rates of sickness. Many carcinogens and highly toxic chemicals were found being used and produced in the tanning processes there. When high levels of chromium VI and other toxins accumulate in local soil and water (as is happening in Kanpur), it also accumulates in the food supply.

One of the most significant regulatory divides stopping the pollution lies in the government’s rationalization that increased employment excuses transgressions against environmental health. “The Indian government and the supreme court of India have also looked at the issue of Kanpur tanneries,” he said. “Have they improved in Kanpur? A little bit, in 20 years. Now you have a few big companies that are doing better than they were doing before, but the major problem of tannery pollution comes from small and medium-scale industries.” [10] These small to medium-scale companies have a lot of political support, but not the financial ability (from private buyers or government) to upgrade industrial equipment crucial to the safe manufacturing processes that would save the health of the local community. For the well-being of the Kanpur’s residents these improvements must be made immediately, or the industry needs to be shut down.

 Appropriation & Misappropriation of land and culture

  • One last keffiyeh manufacturer remains in Palestine, thanks to settler-colonialism and fast fashion’s appropriation of the culture of resistance.

Colonialism & capitalism contribute to the effacement of a cultures’ art and traditions by a process of running smaller, tradition–oriented industry members out of business. Mass production achieved through higher capacity non-traditional processes increases the supply of lower price directly competitive products. These cheaply made imitations are able to capture a large share of the market through deceptive marketing/selling tactics, or by price cutting which appeals to buyers when there is a lack of public education regarding authentic textile and apparel items. Through these socially irresponsible business tactics fast fashion has been able to take market share away from legitimate smaller businesses globally, and in the case of the Keffiyeh manufacturers of Palestine they were able to nearly destroy an entire industry and the cultural artifact being produced.

The Keffiyeh has come near extinction due to global capitalism. They were popularized by mainstream fashion brands who appropriated the symbol of resistance, then they were produced in large quantities starting in approximately 2001 by Chinese manufacturers at a low cost, and the mostly under-informed and uneducated (on these textiles cultural significance) customer base bought up the imitations seeking a low cost alternative. Settler-colonialism has also played a large role in reducing the number of Kufiyeh manufacturers from 120 in 2000, to only one as of 2010. Israel maintains checkpoints and roadblocks, often preventing Palestinian products from leaving Palestine, or preventing raw materials from reaching territories, forcibly shrinking the Palestinian economy and creating further hindrances to an already devastated industry and country.

The Herbawi Textile Factory was founded in 1961, they used to employ up to 300 people using 15 machines, but they now only operate one machine on a part time basis and the family preforms all the work themselves. It is of the highest importance for those who truly support the Palestinian struggle to demand their Kufiyeh purchase comes from this last manufacturer standing to ensure the continuance of this culturally significant art form. To learn more about the Herbawi Textile Factory or to contact them directly for purchase please visit their website [11], or purchase securely through this Canadian site [11a].

  • Cotton for export grown on Appropriated land in Ethiopia

Governments of developing countries often sell or lease land to foreign companies without consent from surrounding local communities as an attempt to boost agricultural income forcing local farmers off of their property, this is called land grabbing. These local farmers are then turned into laborers on the land which they have lost ownership rights, they suffer from this demotion which steals their dignity and wages. The regime change in 1991 and the subsequent ratification of the Constitution (1995) failed to restore tangible land ownership rights. In the FDRE Constitution, citizens have the right to possess farm land under (Art.40.4). Proclamation no.89/1997], (Art.2.3), Directive (no.3/1995), and (Art.23.2). Contrary to these, proclamation 455/2005 gives the regime authority to confiscate and expropriate land for any purpose that authorities claim are for ‘public purpose and/or investment.’ Under this proclamation farmers are expected to abandon their ancestral land within as little as 30 days (as per Article 4(4) of proclamation 455/2005). Failure to comply permits authorities to use police force to evict farmers from their land.

“In July 2014, violence erupted in Gambela as a result of the government’s policy of settling migrant communities on the traditional lands of the Majang people without their prior consent or knowledge. In reaction to the situation, the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Federal Affairs Minister ordered the military to retaliate by killing Majang civilians. The Majang health clinic was destroyed in a subsequent raid, leaving them without access to basic health services. The offenders of gross human rights abuses against Majang ethnic minority and indigenous peoples have not been arrested.” [12]

As of 2011, the Ethiopian regime had granted 8420 licenses for commercial farms to foreign investors. Millions of Ethiopians are currently in need of food assistance, but instead of aiding farmers in indigenous communities ability to support their own population, the government of Ethiopia has been selling off 3m hectares of Ethiopia’s most fertile land (from the States of Benishangul, Gambella and Oromia) to some of the world’s most wealthy individuals who grow and export commodity crops for more developed nations. Over the last 20 years that TPLF dominated EPRDF officials have been in power they have been busy building personal for-profit empires. Three quarters of the businesses in Ethiopia are owned by TPLF officials, the majority of whom hold upper government and military ranks. [13]

The world’s second-largest retailer and largest buyer of organic cotton, H&M, is one of the foreign firms investing heavily in Ethiopia. This September they partnered with the Swedish state investment firm Swedfund, and more recently they paired with the Swedish investment company Kinnevik to invest SEK8.8m (US$1.2m) over three years to drive social change. [14] Just earlier this year, H&M was accused of using cotton from areas in Ethiopia that are vulnerable to land-grabbing [15]. They claim to make every effort to ensure their cotton does not come from appropriated land, but first off: it is arguable that all foreign investment in land leased or sold by the current government is appropriated land, and second: they have claimed to be unable to provide an absolute guarantee of that it does not.

Since this summer H&M has worked with five Ethiopian suppliers, of which they performed a basic risk assessment and found that land-grabbing did not occur in the regions where they are located. They neglected to push further into the investigation, despite knowing that their suppliers source cotton from farms in multiple regions which could potentially include farms on appropriated land. Through intelligent PR strategy H&M has claimed it is not possible for them to trace any further down their own cotton supply chain, even though there are (from a textile industry perspective) multiple ways available for them to do so. H&M chose not to pursue further research which could be done by sending representatives long-term to investigate, or by directly sourcing from the indigenous farmers of these regions to farm their own land at a fair trade rate providing the necessary education and equipment. They also have the option to invest in technology [16] which tags and verifies the DNA of cotton in their inventory, this established technique ensures that a manufacturer is using cotton from their farms’ crops and not accepting cotton from unknown sources. DNA sequencing for natural fiber is becoming more readily available to all textile and apparel manufacturers, and is done in order to ensure verified sources. “Industry leaders” like H&M have no excuse not to be utilizing any or all of these discussed methods.

  • Native American art including dream catchers and tribal prints being sold by fast fashion brands.

Cultural appropriation means taking intellectual property, expressions and artifacts, or history and ways of knowledge, from a culture that is not one’s own. It inherently involves colonization where a more powerful group takes from a marginalized group. Cultural appropriation is an act of stealing a community’s ability to define their own identity in order to satisfy or justify one’s own needs or wants. Symbols of marginalized cultures have been denied historically, and Native American people have been prohibited from wearing traditional clothing. Now almost anybody can go to a shop and find “tribal” styled clothing for sale. The colonial power structure within our fast fashion loving nation has enabled businesses to take native images (cultural symbols) away from the native people to use for profit and personal gain with no benefit or credit given to those who they belong to. “Tribal” prints and other Native American designs should be viewed as intellectual property of the tribes and communities who invented them, they should have control over their designs and all profit made from use of them.

Just like the keffiyeh discussed earlier, dream-catchers have been commoditized by non-Native Americans and their true meaning has been lost to popular culture. Uneducated or intentionally misled individuals consume inauthentic artifacts for their aesthetic value alone, they are unaware or apathetic about these items cultural significance to the groups who created them. Dream catchers originated from the Anishnaabe (Chippewa) tribe [17], and there is a specific traditional method to making them. When popular fast fashion brands sell dream-catchers made out of products that are not natural, or not made traditionally as the creation of each dream-catcher entails, they are committing intellectual property theft from Native American Indigenous artists.

The difference between appropriating cultural symbols in fashion and appreciating begins with knowing the story behind each piece. Knowing the artist behind the piece, their tribe and the reason for creating the piece, as well as crediting the marginalized group for the creation of these symbols puts power back in their hands. Buying cultural artifacts from a person or company within the Native community is necessary to economically respect that culture, and benefiting the artist and tribe ensures the continuation of their work. [18]


References & Further Reading





4a. ILO convention: Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957: 105

    4b. ILO convention: Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957: 182

5. Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health Hazards in China’s denim factories [link #] War on Want, (SACOM), IHLO Clean Clothes Campaign, Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health Hazards in China’s Denim Factories. (40 page pdf)

6. Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour [Statement] Demand American Eagle, Hollister, Levi’s, GAP, Wal-mart, H&M to improve working conditions and stop sandblasting now! Sep 5, 2014

7. Danyal Adam Khan, Quiet Burns the Fire, November 2014

8. As Firms Line Up on Factories, Wal-Mart Plans Solo Effort )

9. World Trade Association, 2014, Technical Information on anti-dumping Article VI of GATT 1994











18. Duggan, Leeann (Jun 15, 2014) Cultural Appropriation — Is It Ever Okay?


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Social Hazards Caused by Overconsumption of Textile and Apparel Products. by Katina Gad is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.