A Model Mission

By Jessica Marati / April 25, 2013

easy skirt organic cotton 9400

Not long ago, there was a trade-off between shopping stylishly and shopping responsibly. But a new crop of conscious com- panies is proving that it’s possible to produce sustainable and ethical fashion without sacrificing style. Now they are teaming up with large brands like J. Crew, Anthropologie, Whole Foods and Target to get their products into the mainstream.

In addition to promoting traditional craft and artisanship, conscious companies also provide economic opportunity to developing communities that haven’t traditionally had access to the global marketplace. “Our tailors are now the breadwinners in their homes, and it’s given them a voice in their com- munities as well,” says Halle Butvin, founder of Uganda-based apparel company One Mango Tree.

For artisans in the developing world, this “trade-not-aid” approach to international development means fair compensa- tion, skills training, education and preservation of cultural traditions. And for western consumers, it provides access to uniquely stylish items that don’t require some of us to check our conscience at the sales rack.


One Mango Tree

What they make: Apparel, handbags, accessories made from Ugandan organic cotton and African kitenge fabric

Where: Uganda

Partnerships: Global Girlfriend, Whole Foods, TJX Europe, Target.com

“I was studying conflict resolution in Northern Uganda and felt that foreign aid wasn’t helping things,” says Halle Butvin, One Mango Tree Founder and Director. “Ugandans most often said that the one thing they needed to improve their lives was jobs. When I found that many humani- tarian organizations had trained women how to sew, but did not provide a market, the seed for One Mango Tree was planted.

“We make handbags and accessories out of African kitenge fabric, the bright, bold African prints popping up in fashion and home trends across the globe. We also invested heavily in creating apparel produc- tion for the 100 percent organic cotton knit produced in Uganda. This line creates jobs in Uganda from the farmers to the fabric manufacturers all the way to the women who sew our pieces.

“We are so proud of our staff, and how much they continue to learn and grow. Our production manager in Gulu did not know how to use a computer, but now she’s on Skype, makes worksheets in Excel and uses Facebook. She now runs our entire operation in Northern Uganda on her own. onemangotree.com

netted pullover copy


What they make: Apparel and accessories made from organic and natural fibers

Where: Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, USA

Partnerships: Eileen Fisher, B-Corporation, Fair Trade USA

“Our mission is to create fashion worth wearing, buying and supporting,” says Indigenous President Matt Reynolds. “Indigenous provides beautiful, premium style and fosters a lasting connection between consumers and the artisans who create the clothing by hand.

“Fibers are sourced through organic farmers and herders, and only eco-friendly dyes are used, to ensure greater sustainable local economic impact and to help preserve ancient culture and protect the environment. Our new Fair Trace Tool uses mobile-enabled web technology to let shoppers see where garments originate and how fibers were raised; to meet the artisans who make them and to learn about the positive social impact.

“We got started after traveling to Ecuador, where Scott had seen, firsthand, that women were not being honored for their weaving and knitting skills. We wanted to make a difference in the world with women in economically marginalized communities.

“Our biggest challenge is getting the word out to the masses that this type of eco-fash- ion exists. We look forward to the day when everyone can see they don’t have to sacrifice style or quality to wear fashionable clothing that does not harm people and the planet.” indigenous.com


Indego Africa

What they make: Handmade jewelry, home décor, fashion accessories
Where: Rwanda
Partnerships: DANNIJO, J.Crew, Nicole Miller, Madewell, Flutter NYC, Anthropologie, Pamela Love, Polo Ralph Lauren, Steven Alan

“We help artisan woman earn income to meet their families’ basic needs, while acquiring job skills that enhance their long-term earning potential,” says Indego Africa CEO Conor French. “Every product we sell is tagged with the signature of the craftswoman who created it so that our customers feel a direct and personal link to the the Rwandan artisans who produce the goods they buy.

“Our artisans have seen dramatic improvements in earned income; food security; access to water, schooling and bank accounts. The proudest I have ever felt is seeing women bursting with confidence as they sit down at the negotiating table to finalize an order or in hearing of how they helped their children in English with their homework.

“Long-term, we want to scale our impact, so more women can generate sustainable income and learn skills to run profitable businesses. We dream of a community where hopeful, confident women empower themselves and promote social cohesion in a post-conflict context.” shop.indegoafrica.org


Basik 855

What they make: Handwoven ikat textiles, home décor, fashion accessories
Where: Cambodia
Partnerships: Friends-International, Stop Start, Watthan Artisans Collective

“Our artisans are our cause,” says Creative Director Leigh Morlock. “Everything we do is to help sustain them and the local ikat craft, and to connect their work to a broader market. We believe that in providing fair employment, they will be able to improve their standard of living which will spark eco- nomic growth in their communities.

“Most of our artisans were previously unable to make a living through weaving. This has led to nutrition and health issues and complicated access to water and sanitation.

“We are committed to providing them with a living wage, ophthalmology exams, medical reimbursements, training and personal sav- ings accounts. In addition, we are launching Project 855, where we will deliver 10 percent of our profits to providing each artisan with access to clean water in their homes.

“We started in 2009 with a team of eight Cambodians and two Americans. We now employ 44 artisans full-time, a Cambodian management team of five and a number of seasonal freelancers.” basik855.com

Jessica Marati
Jessica Marati

Latest posts by Jessica Marati (see all)