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In 2019, the struggle for women is still very real. As women in the US are fighting for equal pay and sufficient maternity leave while combating harassment in the workplace, women around the world labor exhaustively for less than a living wage all while facing exposure to toxic chemicals, hazardous physical environments, sexual abuse, and a crippling lack of alternatives.
Every single time you divert an unethical purchase to an ethical one you are helping to build a very different world than the one we live in. In simpler terms, you have an opportunity: you can give $50 to billion dollar monopolies, or you can give $50 to a working mom who will use that money to feed her family, send her children to school, and save for her own business. Our purchases can line deep pockets, or create real change in the lives of women. The choice is, almost always, available to us. The responsibility to purchase mindfully is, in fact, always ours.
There are an overwhelming amount of choices when it comes to our fashion purchases, and we know that the majority of these options are cheap and easy. To be clear, the cost for these goods is still being paid. But for the majority of purchases today, the consumer does not pay the true cost of an item. It is the disempowered worker who is forced to accept ever-decreasing pay for an ever-increasing workload to make up for this true cost difference. It does not have to be this way, because as consumers, we are empowered to drive great change, all across the world, with just our purchases.
Ok, but where to begin? It is hard to find credible resources that are transparent about production and material sourcing (don’t fall forgreenwashing!). Fortunately, there are ethical businesses championing this very cause that you can learn from and support! There is great work being done to get super excited about, and there are women owned and operated businesses,supporting and empowering women,to give you the power to create change.
So what, exactly, empowers women? As a shining example, read on to learn about the work that ethical jewelry brand Tribe + Glory is doing, and what true empowerment looks like.
Tribe + Glory is a global women’s elevation movement, based on the single premise that female entrepreneurs below the poverty line have the power to change stories of extreme poverty and gender inequality, creating a better future for themselves and their communities.
Freedom from harm means freedom from unsafe and unsanitary factory conditions, freedom from handling and breathing in toxic chemicals, freedom from physical exhaustion, and freedom from sexual harassment and abuse. This is a freedom rarely experienced by workers in the fashion industry globally. At Tribe + Glory all materials used to make the jewelry are locally sourced in a sustainable and ethical manner. Working with natural materials like Ankole cattle horns (a by-product of the local agricultural industry, previously discarded and burned as waste), ensures the products are biodegradable as well. Within an intimate working environment that is overseen by women, each artisan’s voice is heard and acknowledged to ensure she is getting the personal development she needs to succeed. Artisans are limited to 40 hour work weeks inclusive of daily hour lunch breaks, and seven and a half hours of mentorship and education trainings. For almost all program members, this is the first time in their lives that employment has meant freedom from harm.
While the majority of working women in the US struggle to earn equal pay (for the same work men do), the reality is that most fashion workers globally are still compensated well below the poverty line. To put it in perspective, the poverty line (as determined by the World Bank) means a person lives off of about $57 a month. In Uganda, where Tribe + Glory has built their movement, the average female worker is earningless than a third of this for a month’s work. Compensating workers justly (for T+G this means paying artisans more thanten times the average pay in Uganda) means that women can afford to send their children to school, leave abusive situations (whether at work or home), and save for a more resilient future.
Tribe + Glory is founded on the single premise that investing in female entrepreneurs has the power to change the global stories of gender inequality, and extreme poverty. The T+G artisan program is carefully designed to ensure that the women participants receive not only a true living wage for hand crafting the product line, but are also able to set aside 60% of this income to go towards the capital investment of their own business. While in the program, this investment money is carefully secured from withdrawal to ensure the womens’ rights to their earned capital solely for the sake of supporting their entrepreneurial dreams (protecting it from being taken by family members foranyother reason). Upon graduating the Tribe + Glory program, women have both the education and the capital necessary to start sustainable, scalable businesses.
The two most common barriers female entrepreneurs face are access to capital, and access to education. In the T+G program, artisans are not just given the necessary training to skillfully handcraft beautiful pieces of jewelry, but are also taught practical business management. In weekly training courses, the artisans learn skills in marketing, budgeting, and leadership, and are also offered optional literacy and holistic development courses. These trainings, which would not otherwise be accessible, ensure that the T+G program members will be able to successfully lead and operate their own businesses upon graduation. In the two years since T+G was founded, graduating program members have collectively sent more than 60 children to school for the first time. Multi-generational education has a lasting, positive, and exponential effect for these families.
Founding, operating, and growing a successful business against all odds is no easy feat for these brave women. Providing access to mentors during, and after graduation from the program, ensures the T+G women will continue to navigate and overcome business challenges with support from other female entrepreneurs and the community at large. T+G views relationships as integral to their success and strength and loves the beauty that comes from women supporting women. Through one-on-one mentorship within the working environment, to dedicated leadership, community involvement, and communication trainings, program members are able to learn from more experienced women to ensure their businesses are thoughtfully planned and executed. Womenpurposefully supporting women is an opportunity we should all support and rally behind when we see it in action.
If you have ever felt powerless to create the kind of impactful change you want to see in the world, hear this: as shoppers, we have a great opportunity topositivelyinfluence women around the globe by simply choosing how we spend our dollars. Looking good shouldalwaysmean feeling good about what you are wearing too. Nothing looks better than empowering women to live their purpose, and your purchases can do just that. If you are inspired by what you have read here (how can you not be!?) please share this article and spread the word about conscious shopping because awareness is powerful, and the more we know, the better we act, and the greater impact we have.
You can support something purposeful, you can help build something meaningful, and you can choose who you want to empower with your choices. And yes, you can do it while shopping ;)