Social Enterprise in Fashion

Can fashion be sustainable?  This is a question I have struggled with, a question that I am trying hard to find an answer for.

Trying to find some answers in Fashion and Sustainability by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose

Trying to find some answers in Fashion and Sustainability by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose

Much of fashion seems so fast – mass production, seasons and designs coming and going, and the short life that garments tend to have.  This type of fashion is obviously not sustainable.  Not economically, not environmentally, and not socially.

Learn more about the problem, take a look at this video (a bit lengthy, but informative):

How can we slow things down, so that we can help fix this broken equation?  There are so many issues at hand, and I don’t claim to have “the right answer.” But here is what we are doing at Gray Boots so that we can bring forth positive change in the realm of fashion:

  • We slow down the production.  Our boots are hand-made.  None of that factory business with poor working conditions.  Our weavers usually weave at home, where they can take care of their children and tend to their responsibilities at home.  Our leathersmiths work either in their shop or at home, depending on the equipment they need for their tasks.  Of course, this means that it takes longer to finish a pair of boots, but isn’t it worth it knowing that real people worked comfortably to provide a quality product?
  • We are picky with our materials.  All of our leather is locally-sourced.  For textiles, we choose only the best.  Our used traditional huipiles are exemplary pieces of backstrap weaving.  We choose the best and we always try to pay directly to the weaver, or as close to the weaver as possible (perhaps through a family member or a friend), so that the weaver is compensated well for her work, and thus encouraged to continue weaving.  For our new textiles, we partner with an organized cooperative of weavers in the small village of San Juan la Laguna.  All of the pieces we order are dyed with traditional natural dyes, which are much better for the Earth, and preserve the cultural traditions of the weavers. (The new boot model is coming out soon, with the new textiles!)
  • We pay our workers well for their hard work.  All weavers, leathersmiths, and seamstresses are paid fair wages, higher than the regular local rate.  They are mothers and fathers with children to care for and send to school, and we are happy to pay them well for their hard work.  What we don’t do is give away money – our workers can be proud to say that they have earned their income.
  • We produce a product that our clients can enjoy for years and years.  Because we only use quality materials and have high quality standards, our clients receive a product that will last many happy years.  We believe it’s important that our clients take an active role in the design process so that they will appreciate their boots and enjoy them season after season, even when fashion trends change.  Our clients know that their boots are custom-made by real people, specifically for them.

We are careful when working with local communities, and we try to think about the effects we may have.  There are many different models for social enterprises, and we understand that though businesses may have the best in mind, not all models have a positive impact in the long-run.

Take Toms, for example.  They have built their company around their buy-one give-one model, and have been very successful as a business.  But is their model sustainable? Adriana Herrera writes for the New York Times blog:

Rather than solve the root cause of why children don’t have shoes, Toms has created a business model that actually needs poor children without shoes in order to sell its shoes. Those children are an essential part of the company’s marketing.

The root cause of poverty in many developing countries is a lack of access to fair-paying, sustainable employment. Imagine the positive impact Toms could have if it were to use every decision in its supply chain to address the causes of poverty.

Here at Gray Boots, we don’t claim to have all the answers to solve the world’s sustainability and development issues.  But we promise to be an agent of change in the fashion realm.  We’re taking it slow. thinking through it step-by-step, so that we get it right.


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