‘It is like a sweater, when you pull a small thread it all begins to unravel.’
As the bottom line in the business world is getting more and more nuanced to reflect true success, the importance of enterprises that empower is evident. There are a diverse set of issues- both environmental and social, especially around manufacturing and production in the fashion industry but future thinkers like Sonica Sarna are re-imagining fashion as a force for good. With exploitative production models and supply chains that ruin local ecosystems, it is high time we found a solution that incorporates ways to do business that are empowering instead of exploitative.
Sonica Sarna’s years of experience in the export sector, as a consultant, with her own eponymous label, and building Projecthrive, have given her a lot to think about and act on as she built her version of an empowering business. Here is some inspiring food for thought from her journey of building a world of good:
1. The Devil is in the details
Tracing production unfolds many layers riddled with varied issues, from pollution to lack of fair wages. While working to discover how to use fashion for good, Sonica highlights the need to find ways to do business that are empowering instead of exploitative, that are beneficial for both creators and consumers. It is important to build professional skills for the artisan communities to empower them to handle the needs of the contemporary markets in a way that is also eco-friendly. Artisans don’t need help, they need education and exposure: production planning, figuring out pricing, understanding fair wages. Thus her focus has been on creating economic opportunities through being a bridge of knowledge between international brands and Indian Artisans. You cannot look at the human cost of fashion in isolation from the environment and thus interventions must integrate nuances of both.
2. When Women get equal wages, everyone benefits.
Through her travels and work with different artisan groups, she noticed certain patterns in local production. Women were working more on creating the fabrics etc., but economic opportunities were limited for them. Thus she worked on setting up the sewing center, Projecthrive, for the financial empowerment of women. By being paid to learn professional sewing allowed them an opportunity to take it up professionally. A woman being paid the same salary as the man catalyzes changes in society at large. Women are then viewed as an asset to the family. Empowering women across the supply chain strengthens an ecosystem for the progress of the entire community. Artisan communities that she works with are encouraged to hire at least 50% women. Another poignant observation was that since often women do a lot of the pre-loom work and it is the men who sit on the loom, the men get paid more while the hours the women work are sometimes not even counted. By encouraging the artisan communities to employ more women, they help change this mindset which equates gender with financial value. Creating an environment that encourages female participation empowers women to become autonomous in many aspects of their lives.
3.There is no final destination of being “more sustainable”
Hesitate before using these words loosely. Globally as sustainable fashion takes a center spotlight, it is important to remember that these terms are not to be taken lightly. They are much more than a marketing gimmick. Unintentional/intentional greenwashing is something that everyone from the creator to the consumer must be aware of, in this shift towards responsible consumption. There is no final destination of sustainability, one could always be more sustainable.
“Sustainability is a long road, it is uniquely problematic for consumers and brands because of the urgency to adopt ethical solutions. They spend some time deciding on one ethical solution and then they get rigid with it. There is no watertight path to sustainability, it grows and adapts.”
4. Information is Power, most effective when shared.
Be open, there is no competitive advantage in hiding who your suppliers are, old ways of doing business need to go and brands need to learn from each other. On this path towards sustainability, the only way to bring change is to co-create it.
When it comes to the consumers, gone are the days of passive consumption of whatever is being sold. It is the time to ask questions about how things are made and hold the creators accountable.
Consumers need to ask questions about sources of raw materials, wages, effects on the planet and people. The need to become more mindful of one’s choices is the first step towards this big shift. It is a long journey that will change and evolve as everyone involved from the creators to the consumers change with it.
Explore more about Sonica’s label on the ‘meet the makers' section on Flourish and deep dive into her collections!
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