Words by The Fabric Social Team
For the last 5 years we’ve been proud to produce collections made from beautiful handwoven, natural fabrics (with serious feminist credentials). In a world clogged with cheap polyester, and exploitative fast fashion – we’ve been passionate contributors to a small, but steadily growing community of makers who are reviving the art of clothing made with care. While we will continue to be in the business of ethical making, we will no longer be producing our own collections.
We got into the rag trade with a simple vision: to create minimalist, street-elegant apparel – and do it by building transparent feminist supply chains in areas that have suffered conflict and insecurity. In other words – go to the places deemed ‘too hard’ to do business, find the women who are proving otherwise – team up, and kill it.
Even in the most isolated places, throw a stone and you will find women-led micro-production businesses trying to catch a break. So we threw a few stones, and have been lucky to have landed partnerships with an amazing community of women makers.
When we first arrived in Lakwa, the fly shuttle looms lay dormant at Srishti Handlooms. Despite the fact that these women had the knowledge and skills to create sustainable cruelty free indigenous silk, there were no buyers. Now, this incredible weaving unit can deliver export quality fabrics – overcoming monsoon floods, economic blockades, and all manner of obstacles to make it happen.
In Mizoram, we partnered with Siami x Siami, who introduced us to the distinctive (and oft plagiarized) puan weaves passed down from generation to generation. Since working with The Fabric Social, Siami has gone from a one-woman operation to oversee 4 tailors who work on the Juki industrial machines we purchased, integrating Mizo design elements into her chic street pieces made for buyers all over the globe.
In Myanmar, our partnership with ActionAid saw us working in the Dryzone, an area that has been devastated by desertification, where women are looking beyond agricultural subsistence farming to make a living in uncertain climate times. With the help of some amazing technical experts, we helped establish a professional tailoring unit, who can now do everything from creating natural dyes through to constructing the final product.
In each of these partnerships we’ve looked to what’s already happening in the local market to develop unique products – from our flagship eri silk and khadi cotton fabric, to bags made from the incredibly complex motifs woven on the backstrap loom in Mizoram, to the dreamy dusty pink dyes made from the bark of trees prolific in the Dryzone of central Myanmar.
When the status quo is big brands that are blind to the working conditions of their garment makers – we’ve been proud to sit and have tea with the people at each step of our supply chain – from silk farmers, to the weavers, to the dye dudes, to the tailors, to the people responsible for the final quality check.
We haven’t just shaken hands with our producers – we know their names, their kids names, their hopes for their communities and for the future. Deeply involving ourselves in the people and processes of making has given us endless joy (despite the inevitable headaches), and enabled us to offer you truly special pieces that are transparent, and made with unabashedly feminist origins.
But we’ll be honest, it’s been a LOT of work. We have seen our fair share of setbacks, from floods and landslides, to entire missed seasons due to lack of funds or technical problems, and India cancelling most of its legal tender overnight on the first day of our fundraising tour. The business of fashion is tough at the best of times, and we’ve just about seen it all.
Ultimately, we have found the greatest impact for the women we work with is not the sales we make via our online store, but being a bridge between our partners and brands designers interested in unique, transparently made products. So, after long consideration, we have decided to close the garments side of The Fabric Social and focus our efforts on building feminist supply chains.
We’re lucky to be a part of the Australian ethical fashion world – a community of welcoming and collaborative women who help each other out despite technically being competitors. We will continue to work with like-minded brands who place quality over quantity, and continue to push for the fashion revolution our world so desperately needs.
We are opening up our impact fund for those who would like to donate directly to our weaving unit in Assam. Brands and makers interested in sourcing solutions can reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
XX The Fabric Social Team
This article originally appeared on thefabricsocial.com