Fashion & Economic Empowerment
21st March 2016
Recently we supported a brilliant panel debate on Fashion, Collaboration and Women’s Economic Empowerment, hosted by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Organised by the Reemé Idris, Creative Director We Are (The Collective), the event brought together a panel of inspiring women including
Aldijana Sisic,Chief of UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women; Jasmine Aarons, Founder, VOZ; Orsola de Castro, Founder, Fashion Revolution; Nelly Gocheva, Editor, T Brand Studio International at the New York Times and Sharmadean Reid, Founder, WAH Nails.
The evening started with a brief introduction from Aldijana Sisix on the important work that the UN Trust Fund does. Aldijana spoke with warmth and passion about the projects that the UN Trust Fund carry out all over the world to help women in dangerous situations. Some of the work is education based, research and training, offering government support on equality; they provide technical and financial support and monitor progress on equality worldwide. It was brilliant to hear first hand what the fund does and how they make an impact around the world to bring change to thousands of women's lives.
"A small interaction between two women can make such a difference, listening to someone making her feel more beautiful, more human in an inhumane situation is
a great gift"
The debate picked up on one of the main areas of the UN Trust Fund's objectives - working towards women's economic empowerment. Focusing on the fashion industry the panel began by discussing meaningful partnerships. Sharmadean Reid of WAH kicked things off by outlining the partnerships WAH undertake that mean the most to her. She recently travelled to "The Jungle" in Calais to work in the women's tent offering free manicures. A small interaction between two women can make such a difference, listening to someone making her feel more beautiful, more human in an inhumane situation is a great gift and you could tell this experience had really affected Sharmadean. WAH also work with young girls to promote financial empowerment, offering them training to learn new skills and give them the opportunity to earn their own living.
Nelly Gocheva, Editor, T Brand Studio at the New York Times carried on the discussion by stating that she believed we needed to change the way we think about charity and the daily products we use. Rather than proceeds from one off purchases from a handful of brands going to charity, Nelly suggested that proceeds from the products we use on a daily basis should be donated, therefore raising awareness and funds in a more sustainable and meaningful way.
Rooted in the traditions of the Mapuche culture in Chile, Voz collaboratively designs handmade garments, accessories, and jewelry, celebrating the craftsmanship of weavers and silversmiths. founder, Jasmine Aarons talked about working with makers in Chilie, she made the point that we need to shift our collective mind set from the colonial idea of solving poverty. Only through real collaboration and an exchange of tools, skills and perspectives can we solve violence, inequality and environmental issues.
"We need to make funding available to business leaders to fall outside the white male demographic"
The conversation turned to access. Access to market, to education and investment is key to economic empowerment. Sharmadean talked about her experience of raising investment for her company. Through this experiences she has come to realise how the world of venture capitalism is dominated by white, middle class, middle aged men. It therefore follows that they invest in projects and companies they they understand or like, this leaves huge swathes of opportunities - often ran by women - underfunded. Nelly made the scary point that 96% of venture backed companies don't have a female on the founding management team. We have a responsibility to change and challenge this. We need to make funding available to business leaders to fall outside the white male demographic.
Following on from this the panel also recognised that men were key to this. We need to include men in this conversation and in all conversations about equality and feminism. We need to do this together, not divided in an “us and them” situation. Together we need to offer positive male and female role models and opportunities of real change to really make a difference.
"Growth is good with proper support and sustainable goals, but chasing the dollar definitely isn’t the best for you, the environment or your business"
The conversation drew to a close on the topic of growth. Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution made the point that growth and this obsession with growth isn’t always the best for your brand and personal lifestyle. Growth is good with proper support and sustainable goals, but chasing the dollar definitely isn’t the best for you, the environment or your business. As the pace of fashion gets quicker and more insane Orsola believes that the next generation will see the futility in it and look for a new model.
The audience got involved with questions on sustainable shopping and story telling. It was an inspiring evening, a really engaged discussion and one we were very happy to support.
To find out more about the work of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women check out their website here.
All photography by Paul Milsom.
Thanks to Reeme for inviting us to be involved.