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Outland Denim: Shopping to Make Positive Change

Photography courtesy of Dani Matte | The NBP Group c/o Outland Denim

The globally renowned 2020 Copenhagen Fashion Summit was held on Oct. 12-13, 2020 to discuss how fashion can be used for positive social change. Due to COVID-19, Global Fashion Agenda hosted a two-day virtual event, free of charge to the public; where international professionals in the fashion industry came together on the content platform CFS+.

The online conference was for the public to learn how to make sustainable choices and understand the current conversations in the fashion world.

The Australian clothing brand, Outland Denim, attended the online conference and discussed the brand’s approach to sustainability. Outland Denim was founded to offer holistic support and employment for young women who have experienced human trafficking and any form of human right’s violations. This brand creates clothing with environmental integrity and provides financial and educational benefits for the staff.

During the conference, James Bartle, CEO of Outland Denim, Kevin Bales co-founder of the US NGO Free the Slaves, and Lola Young co-chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion discussed “Social Progress and Responsible Business Practice.” All three experts were in agreement that it is the brand’s responsibility to end slavery.

Outland Denim pays their employees living wages instead of minimum wages because they believe when they give opportunities to people that have been otherwise exploited; it creates such loyalty and dedication to their work that shows in your product.

Outland uses fashion to change some of the social outcomes in people's lives in some of the poorest countries in the world. 40 million people in the world are in slavery today. 1-in-130 women in the world are in slavery. The fashion industry employs so many women; it can serve as such a big part in solving this problem. The company has been working for the past 10 years to solve this problem and has had a dramatic impact on these women and the community.

Outland has built a business model that focuses on key elements that are built into the work environment such as giving opportunity to people who may not get it otherwise. In September alone, Outland ran 20 hours of non-industry related educational programs for subjects such as finance. “We can either be part of the problem or the solution but we have to be a part of one of them,” said Bartle. The brand urges people to educate themselves on exploitation and modern slavery. Don’t choose to be ignorant to modern slavery; become part of the solution.

On the panel, they also discussed the role of the consumer. “Companies have encouraged us to buy, buy, buy without thinking of the consequences,” said Lola Young. “Some consumers that have more money, can choose where they shop and choose to buy brands that align with their values,” Young added. Realize your impact and the brands you are supporting.

One of the speakers at the Summit was Nasreen Sheikh. Sheikh grew up in an undocumented village in Nepal ‘where girls are the unacknowledged’. She isn’t sure how old she is because she is undocumented. She guesses she's around 27, 28, or 29. Sheikh grew up in a society that believes her existence is insignificant; therefore, the conditions in which she lives, works, and dies in are insignificant.

Her older sister was sold into marriage at the age of 12. She witnessed horrors growing up such as female members in her family being beaten or murdered for speaking up for themselves.

At a young age, Sheikh was subjected to child labor in the textile industry where she worked 12-15 hours a day in a cramped sweatshop. Too afraid to look out the window, she said, “The clothes were woven with the energy of her suffering”.

She often would daydream and wonder where these clothes that would end up and who would wear them. Many people may not think how the shirt they are wearing was made; the channels it went through to get on the shelf or the lives and the conditions the people who made it have to endure.

At the age of 16, Sheikh joined Empowerment Collective whose mission is to end sweatshops, forced labor, and poverty while inspiring ethical fashion. By learning to read and write, Sheikh was able to take control of her own destiny. Empowerment Collective is currently working on a one million mask initiative.

Each mask is hand woven by marginalized women in Nepal in exchange for food for their families. During the pandemic, each mask sold can feed 10-13 people for one day in Nepal. Sheikh is giving back to her community to prevent girls from enduring the same fate she experienced.

Another speaker that participated in the Fashion Summit is Korrina Emmerick. On Indigenous People’s Day, Oct. 12, Korrina Emmerick, an artist and designer based out of New York, called for accountability on the first day of the event. Indigenous people make up 4% of the population of the world but are protecting 80% of the world's biodiversity.

“We've created a white supremacist-centered industry built on the backs of people that have very few rights, very poor working conditions, and unfair pay. Our excessive demand to buy things cheap comes at a human cost,” said Emmerick.

In the fashion industry, designers have the power to create a standard of value for every creation they make. Emmerick works towards radical sustainability by getting down to the root of her presence as a human being and what she contributes to the world. Redefining how sustainability is seen and educating people on how to be socially aware is a culturally dynamic conversation.


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