From the fabric sourcing and manufacturing to the dyeing, stitching, shipping and retailing, fashion supply chains are complex. For this reason, it can be hard for even small brands to understand and maintain transparency throughout their operations.
But if every action has a reaction, these brands are taking matters into their own hands to ensure that their operations are empowering to women at all or various levels of their supply chain – from employment opportunities to how their product makes their customer feel, to how they use their profits.
These are five of our favourite Australian and New Zealand brands that are empowering women through their product and supply chain.
What if by creating fashion, you could empower the people that need it the most? That’s Outland Denim’s dream and commitment, and the brand is well on the path to living it. Outland Denim partners with local NGOs to offer opportunity and a safe, stable career path to women who have experienced exploitation and abuse.
Employment with Outland Denim transforms lives, families, and communities. In talking to one of the brand’s first staff members about three years into her working with the brand and manufacturer they asked, ‘How is this helping you; this kind of employment and opportunity?’ She said that because of this opportunity she’d been able to build a home for her family who previously lived under a plastic sheet. She also shared that she was able to buy her sister back off a man who owned her. An extreme example of the kind of life-transforming, generational change that the fashion industry can create.
Outland Denim’s unique employment model offers holistic support. 76% of employees have come from exploitative situations or from a position of vulnerability to being exploited and 85% of staff (formerly at risk) report a reduced level of risk to exploitation after 6 months of employment. From 2016 to 2020, the brand has been able to impact 750 people, staff and household members and dependants, who benefit from stable employment with Outland Denim, education programs provided and living wages. Beyond first tier suppliers, Outland Denim also invests heavily in tracing from the cotton farm all the way to customers, partnering with suppliers that share in its values.
When young women from migrant and refugee backgrounds arrive in Australia, they face barriers that can seem insurmountable: unemployment, isolation and difficulties accessing education and training. But what if they could design their own future?
The Social Studio empowers women from migrant and refugee backgrounds by providing fashion and industry-based solutions to the main obstacles they face upon arriving in our community. They do this by creating jobs, providing education opportunities, encouraging community engagement and fostering social inclusion.
Their unique model is made up of three fashion-based not-for-profit social enterprises: an RMIT-accredited school, an ethical production studio, and retail store. The common thread? Every one of these different initiatives exists to empower Australia’s migrant and refugee youth through education and employment. Each part of their ecosystem either provides these practical opportunities or funds them. So when you shop or produce locally with The Social Studio, you help build futures in more ways than one.
Melbourne-based handbag and accessories label Simétrie says it balances the human desire for style with our impact on the earth. The brand works with sustainably sourced, vegetable tanned kangaroo leather and hemp and linen canvas fabrics for its range of quality, handcrafted bags. Said bags are made in Melbourne by local craftswomen who are paid fairly in exchange for their skilled craftsmanship, a career that seldom exists in Australia let alone for women.
The brand also works with SisterWorks – an organisation that supports new migrant and refugee women in Australia – by producing its dustbags through them, and also producing its Sisterly collection which is made by their members.
Standard sizing is very much the norm in fashion production and output. And that’s not surprising. It makes it easy for brands to design and stock items, and helps them to reduce waste by only producing sizes that they know they will sell a lot of. But unfortunately, one size doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to women’s changing bodies. One brand that’s looking to combat the issue of ill-fitting clothing for women is Natalija.
The brand is on a mission to inspire confidence in all kinds of women to lead a better lifestyle and transform women’s relationships with their bodies, themselves, and what they wear – essentially changing the way they consume fashion.
Natalija’s garments are designed differently, customisable to fit in sizes 4 to 18 with personalised inseams, sleeve lengths, and other measurements. Every garment is made to order in Sydney, so customers get something unique and the brand ends up with close to zero inventory waste.
Natalija also gives back, with $1 from every purchase going to Australian charities supporting women.
New Zealand’s Nisa is helping refugee women from the bottom up. The brand’s undergarments are lovingly sewn by women from a refugee background in their sunny studio in Wellington, New Zealand, with a mission to provide their staff with meaningful and interesting paid work, while making kick-ass undies.
Nisa employs four women from refugee backgrounds, two New Zealand-born production managers and a marketing manager. The team produces all its undergarments, socks and swimwear in an open studio and shop in downtown Wellington where women can learn English and support their families while building self-esteem and a new career.
Nisa’s goal is to have a big impact on people and a small impact on the environment. The brand works hard to turn all raw materials into something the customer wears while producing as little waste as possible.