Allyship Resources for Fashion Brands
Image: Retha Ferguson for Pexels
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A personal note
When I started Lovely People Studio, I wanted to work with emerging brands so that I could help impact the way that new business owners approach fashion, in an industry that has always been broken. Where I speak about ethics in fashion, this IS a racism issue. I want diversity, equity and inclusion in this industry too. Not just at a surface level, but from the very beginning of the supply chain through to the person represented on the cover of Vogue, and every person in between. On reflection, I realise that I’ve failed to properly discuss ethics and racism as being intertwined. I haven't talked about a lot of things I should have. I am sorry, and I want to do better.
Over the last few months, have taken the time to absorb everything that is happening, and to think about how I can be a better ally in both my personal life and in my business. Along the way I have compiled a directory of resources that I hope will be supportive of Australian BIPOC owned brands, and helpful to white owned fashion brands who want to improve on diversity, equity and inclusion, but may be unsure where to start.
I wasn’t sure if or how to write this, but I feel that I can best advocate if I’m transparent about myself also. For context, I am a white woman (she/ her), 2nd generation Hungarian Serbian (former Yugoslavia), a CSA and DV survivor with a disability (Complex PTSD), a single mother to two wonderful children, carer to my youngest who is Autistic. I have been in the fashion industry for over 2 decades, and I have personally been bullied and discriminated against many times. Yet I recognise that where a Person of Colour is being discriminated against on the same grounds that I have been, it is compounded by racism- and that BIPOC experience in this industry is more difficult than it has been for me. I know that getting a foot in the door of the fashion industry was, and still is easier for someone who is white. I completely acknowledge that my own experiences of discrimination do not erase my white privilege.
I intended Lovely People Studio to be inclusive- for BIPOC, for Disabled people, LBGTQI, Non- Binary, Neurodiverse people, those who have mental health conditions, and those for whom these intersect. I want you to know that you are safe here. I am personally no longer able or comfortable to work as an employee in an industry that makes little effort toward inclusivity for anyone who identifies with any of the above. This is partly why I have my own business, and it's also why I’m focused on helping small business. I want people who do not fit into what the system wants us to be, to be able to create their own opportunities, and to collaborate to lift each other up.
Actions I am taking in my business:
*I have added an Acknowledgement of Country to my website and email signature.
*I have had discussions with clients around racism, but I can’t claim to be an expert on this when I am white. For that reason, I have compiled a directory of resources that are relevant to fashion brands in Australia below, and I’ve tried to include as many references from First Nations people and organisations that I can. If you have any links you’d like me to add to the directory, I would love to know! You are welcome to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
*If you are new to my site, you may not yet be aware that I have not allowed shop access to fast fashion brands for some time now, due to ethics and sustainability concerns. They do apply for accounts frequently and they are rejected. I don’t yet know of any other online studio that does this. You can read a bit about why I made that decision below, and the relevance of this to racism in this industry.
*I have recently discovered the P2colour database tracking Australian fashion brands on Aboriginal Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter and BIPOC representation. I will continue to follow updates, for now I’m pleased to say that I do not have any of the brands under scrutiny there or elsewhere as clients. It has also always been against site T&C's to use my work to discriminate against others, and this stands.
*The majority of my clients are in the first few years of business, are often sole traders in regional areas, and are sometimes photographing themselves and/ or family and friends to use for brand imagery. I understand the budgetary limitations with hiring models and photographers in these early years, so I will encourage those brands to collaborate with BIPOC influencers when they are able to do so. For this reason, I’m compiling a list of models and influencers to add to this directory next.
*I will be more conscious in the images I choose to post on my social media. I have always included BIPOC of different backgrounds in my feed, however the last 6 months or so I will admit that it has been overall, unintentionally more white-centric than it should be. I wholeheartedly apologise for this, and for the lack of disabled representation also. For mockups with people in them, it is wonderful to see stock sites like Pexels releasing a wider range of positive diversity, inclusion and disability images. I will be utilising more of these in my work.
*I have added an accessibility app for Disabled visitors, and looking at how I can improve on site accessibility. For brands on Shopify who would like to add this app to their site, it is called Accessibly by On The Map Marketing, and it is extremely easy to install (I have designed my own website with some drama as tech is not my best friend, but this literally took 5 minutes. I don’t think there’s an excuse not to have it.)
Racism and Ethics in the Fashion Industry
Since writing this, I have read an article by Leona M. via An Injustice! Beautifully articulated from a BIPOC perspective, I would encourage you to read it here: https://medium.com/an-injustice/fast-fashion-brands-are-showing-us-what-performative-allyship-looks-like-19c67ce03284
This brilliant article in Sustain The Mag and the links in it, written by Julia V.Pretsfelder: https://www.sustainthemag.com/style/why-is-fast-fashion-racist-ethical-brands-reckoning
This piece by Amanda Mull for The Atlantic on racism and classism in fashion: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/07/fashions-racism-and-classism-are-going-out-style/613906/
The fashion industry has a long history of systemic racism. In recent months, much of the focus by white owned brands is on the representation of BIPOC models, and more diversity in staff. Fashion has always had an over representation of a small group of people in brand imagery, magazines, on TV and film- overwhelmingly white (but ironically, fake tan seems to be fine), tall, able bodied, young, cisgender, slender (for women), muscular (for men). Clothing is also designed specifically for people who fit this description, there is little consideration for people who do not. Displays of diversity are still often tokenistic, performative, or culturally inappropriate/ appropriated.
The bigger picture is that many successful fashion brands are owned and run by white people of privilege, who exploit BIPOC in developing countries for cheap labour. Lately, there’s a number of fashion brands who have no evidence of ethical manufacturing practices one week, and the next they’re working with BIPOC influencers, have made a one off donation to a charity supporting a BLM related cause, and publicly self-congratulate themselves for being inclusive. This is despite not having changed anything about the treatment of BIPOC workers in their supply chain, and are simultaneously exploiting them in the manufacturing process to the extent that would well outweigh any publicly declared contribution they are actually making. We have the sale of clothing printed with "empowering" messages that are disempowering for the people who make them. Like the hypocrisy of some of the “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts that are currently being sold for as little as $2, that are most likely made by a Person of Colour not earning a living wage.
I know some brands are legitimately making changes in their supply chain, or trying to set them up ethically from the start, and this is a campaign that I do believe in. However, the “Who Made My Clothes” and similar campaigns can be abused by brands who are not yet big enough to be held publicly accountable in databases like The Fashion Transparency Index (though even then, for many of the global brands who are listed in the Index, or similar databases like Good On You, transparency and a commitment to ethics is still not a priority). Brands who are not yet under scrutiny, do not need to make any changes to their manufacturing practices to ask a factory worker to hold up a sign, smile and take a photo. Which they will do, because their livelihood depends on it- even if they are being mistreated or inadequately paid. With that photo, brands who are not transparent are not held accountable by their customers, for their failure to create any meaningful political/ social corporate responsibility policies and actually implement them. For brands manufacturing responsibly, we need to consider how we can demonstrate this by increasing transparency with our business practices.
The focus of ethics in factories where clothes are sewn also does not address accountability for workers employed in other areas of the supply chain, particularly in textiles. For example, people working in cotton fields in forced or underpaid labour- most of whom are BIPOC, some who are also children. I recognise that tracing the whole supply chain can be very difficult for small/ micro brands, and yet we all have a responsibility to continue to educate ourselves and do better.
We also have exploitation right here in this country- despite having labour laws and the Fair Work Act, unions, workplace protections that you would expect in a developed, democratic country. “Australia made is ethical!” people say. For the most part, yes conditions are better here. But the “Made in Australia” tag does not automatically mean ethically made (it doesn’t even necessarily mean it’s entirely made here- the fabric is usually imported, and you can partially make a garment offshore and finish it here to call it Australian made.) I understand that we still have exploitation in private companies, and outworkers/ contractors who sew from home. These people are often recent migrants or Refugees, people who may not have working visas, or who are linguistically diverse. Someone in this position may find it difficult to advocate for themselves, particularly when they have come from an authoritarian or oppressive country where self-advocacy can be subject to punishment. As we know, that description also still rings true for First Nations people in this country and we need to do better. Brands manufacturing here need to be aware of this, and take care researching manufacturers ethics just as they should offshore. I will reference some local manufacturers to consider under the fashion designers/ manufacturers list below.
I’ve put together a directory of education and resources specific to fashion brands in Australia, I hope you find it helpful. I would love to hear about what you have been reading and learning, and how you are implementing this in your business. And any links you’d like to share, please do!
Must reads for non-Indigenous owned brands
Clothing the Gap post on purchasing and wearing Indigenous clothing, this also has some valuable considerations for brand owners and designers: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBiF1udjqLW/?igshid=1jifdlilzir7j
An ABC article on the Trading Blak collective, which was formed to end exploitation within businesses selling Aboriginal products, and to reclaim the Aboriginal business space: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-30/new-collective-to-end-explotation-in-aborignal-products-industry/12403114
The Trading Blak insta account is here: https://www.instagram.com/tradingblak/
If you would like to collaborate with Indigenous Artists or businesses, you can consider a Reconciliation Action Plan for your business: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/
But, taking into account this post from Ascension mag on diversity in the workplace: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCxHaZ1D9_a/
This article on Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property (ICIP) and copyright: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-11/what-is-indigenous-cultural-intellectual-property-and-copyright/12150308
Pledge to Colour Me In (P2 Colour) is holding Australian brands to account for diversity and inclusion. Follow the Instagram account and click through the link.tree to track Australian brands BLM response and policies. If you own a fashion business, there are links to DI (diversity, inclusion) resources for your brand and a template for how to make a brand statement. https://www.instagram.com/p2colour/
Clean Clothes Campaign is a global network dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries. You can check out their resources, donate and write to brands to pay up here: https://cleanclothes.org/
The clothing industry faced disruptions at the onset of coronavirus, with stores closed around the world and consumer demand in dramatic decline. Many major clothing brands and retailers chose to push their financial fallout onto garment workers and factories. The #PayUp campaign demands that brands pay for in-production and completed orders in full and on time. You can sign petitions here: https://www.supportgarmentworkers.org/payup-fashion
Black people in the U.S. make up nearly 15% of the population. 15 Percent Pledge is calling on major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf to Black-owned businesses. If you are not in the U.S. you can still sign the petition, and if you are a stockist consider whether you can pledge to do this in your business here, too: https://www.15percentpledge.org/
For shopping ethical brands, you can visit these sites to help inform your choices. If you are a responsible brand owner yourself, consider what positive steps you can take to be represented or stocked on some of these sites:
Australia’s first Indigenous and Ethnic Women’s Lifestyle Magazine. Ascension is proudly Aboriginal owned and operated. https://ascensionmag.com/
The newly launched Creative Equity Toolkit provides an action-oriented approach to increasing cultural diversity in the arts. https://creativeequitytoolkit.org/
Cocktail Revolution was started in response to the lack of coverage of diverse Australian faces by the mainstream media, and represent diversity that includes all genders, body shapes, and all ethnicities. https://www.cocktailrevolution.net.au/
Shine 4 Diversity co-founders Mahalia and Shareefa create social awareness campaigns that shine a light on the less talked topics surrounding racial inclusion. https://www.shine4diversity.com/
Business Of Fashion (BoF) has a diversity section on their website with numerous articles and podcasts: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/tags/topics/diversity
Tiddas 4 Tiddas founders Kamilaroi and Dunghutti sisters Marlee and Keely Silva have built a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tiddas to share their stories of excellence: https://www.instagram.com/tiddas4tiddas/
Ethical Style Journal is a multimedia platform exploring fashion with a modern and mindful perspective. https://www.ethicalstylejournal.com/
Sisters Inside is an independent community organisation which advocates for the collective human rights of women and girls in prison, and their families. www.sistersinside.com.au
Djirra is a place where culture is shared and celebrated, and where practical support is available to all Aboriginal women and particularly to Aboriginal people who are currently experiencing family violence or have in the past. https://djirra.org.au/
SisterWorks is a VIC based not-for-profit social enterprise that supports women who are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants to improve their confidence, mental wellbeing and sense of belonging. You can shop a selection of hand crafted products made by the sisters on their site. https://sisterworks.org.au/
The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address the ongoing trauma caused by actions like the forced removal of children from their families. https://healingfoundation.org.au/
First Peoples Disability Network Australia (FPDN) – a national organisation of and for Australia’s First Peoples with disability, their families and communities. https://fpdn.org.au/
Seed is a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. https://www.seedmob.org.au/
Indigenous Literacy Foundation is a NFP national book charity dedicated to lifting literacy levels in remote Indigenous communities, so all children across Australia have the same choices and opportunities. https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/
NPY Women’s council is led by women’s law, authority and culture to deliver health, social and cultural services for all Anangu. https://www.npywc.org.au/
Empowered Communities is a set of of transformational national reforms for an Indigenous Empowerment agenda. https://empoweredcommunities.org.au/
Business Support and Grants for Indigenous people
Indigenous Business Australia: https://www.iba.gov.au/business/
Aboriginal Affairs NSW has a list of government and non-government funding and support for projects. https://www.aboriginalaffairs.nsw.gov.au/grants/other-grants-and-funding
Artists, Textile and Graphic Designers
It is unfortunate that I have to say this, but I have not, and will not ever replicate sacred Indigenous Art. I have had several enquiries lately asking me to do something “like Aboriginal Art.” I am not Indigenous, and the answer is no. Please check out some of the wonderful First Nations Artists and Textile Designers below, but appreciate that not all of them may want to sell art for commercial purposes to a non-Indigenous business. If you are working with Indigenous Artists who do not have a background in textiles, I am happy to assist with repeats and colour separations, only with the Artist’s written permission.
Indigenous Art Code for Art dealers, Indigenous Artists, and people who would like to ethically purchase Indigenous Art https://indigenousartcode.org/
Based in Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Bábbarra Women’s Centre enables local women to develop and run women-centred enterprises that support healthy and sustainable livelihoods. https://babbarra.com/
Earth Blended- owner Jame is a Gumbaynggirr Nyami (woman) living on country. Her business is a mix of traditional and alternative healing through essential oil blends and story telling through contemporary Aboriginal art. https://earthblended.com/
Yukul Art- Laura is a contemporary Aboriginal Artist, Worimi woman and mother: https://www.yukulart.co/
Holly Sanders Art- Holly is a Contemporary Aboriginal artist & teacher: www.instagram.com/hollysanders_art/
Desart is the non-profit peak industry body for over forty Central Australian Aboriginal art centres. www.instagram.com/desartinc/
Elizabeth Close Arts- Contemporary Aboriginal Artist and Muralist: www.elizabethclosearts.com
Sustainable, locally printed fabric and wallpaper featuring Indigenous Art. Member of The Indigenous Art Code: https://www.willieweston.com/
Nungala Creative is a 100% Aboriginal owned and operated creative communications agency. http://www.nungalacreative.com/
JS Koori Designs was established by artist and graphic designer Jasmine Sarin. Jasmine is a proud Kamilaroi and Jerrinja woman with a passion for Aboriginal culture and art. JS Koori Designs strives to build and grow a sustainable Aboriginal owned and operated business by celebrating the world's oldest living culture. https://www.instagram.com/jskooridesigns/
Minaku Store makes beautiful handmade Aboriginal designed earrings: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/Minakustore
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka is a Non for Profit Indigenous Art Centre located in Yirrkala, North East Arnhemland NT Australia https://yirrkala.com/online-shop/
Fashion Designers and Manufacturers
The Social Studio is a Melbourne based NFP social enterprise. They are a fashion school, a clothing label, a retail shop, a digital textile print studio, a clothing manufacturer and a community space created from the style and skills of young people from new migrant and refugee communities. A business that champions the values of diversity, community, education, environmentally sustainable design and ethical business practices. https://www.thesocialstudio.org/
National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFAs) run by Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF). The vision is to create and develop an event that provides a vibrant and exciting platform to celebrate innovation, diversity and ethical practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and fashion designers, whilst contributing to the capacity building of the sector. Congratulations to this year’s nominees, the awards will be held on the 5th August, 2020. https://nifa.com.au/
Clothing The Gap is a Victorian Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise, a dynamic fashion label managed by health professionals that celebrates Aboriginal people and culture. 100% of profits actively support Aboriginal health promotion and education programs throughout Victoria. https://clothingthegap.com.au/
First Nations Fashion Design is a unique and progressive platform created to nurture and support Indigenous artists. https://www.firstnationsfashiondesign.com/
Second Stitch is a not-for-profit social enterprise that celebrates the unique skills, traditions and stories of refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum. https://www.secondstitch.org.au/about
Australian Indigenous Fashion is a curated Instagram account showcasing Australia's thriving Indigenous fashion community. So many wonderful accounts to check out on this page: https://www.instagram.com/ausindigenousfashion/
Path To Equality is a directory to help you educate, support, and empower yourself in dismantling our current injustice system. It has a long list of Indigenous fashion brands, artists, petitions, things to watch, read and more. The brands are here, but the rest of the site is equally awesome: https://pathtoequality.com.au/brands/
Ethical Clothing Australia is an accreditation body working with local textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) businesses to ensure their local Australian supply chains are transparent and legally compliant. There is a directory of certified businesses on their site. https://ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au/manufacturers/
Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion brings together a selection of garments and textiles by First Nations designers and artists from around Australia. Showing at the Bendigo Art Gallery from the 5th of Sept 20 to the 29th November 20. https://www.bendigoregion.com.au/bendigo-art-gallery/exhibitions/piinpi-contemporary-indigenous-fashion
Arkie the Label. Beautiful textile and fine art, creating understanding through Contemporary Aboriginal Art. https://www.instagram.com/arkiethelabel/
Meet some of the deadliest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fashion Designers and artists along with their fashion labels, who are starting to make their mark in the industry. These creatives frequently use traditional processes and ethical manufacturing, to share their culture and history. https://www.cocktailrevolution.net.au/aboriginal-fashion-designers/
The Social Outfit is an ECA accredited, ethical trading social enterprise that provides employment and training in the fashion industry to people from refugee and new migrant communities in clothing production, retail, design and marketing, and offer printing and manufacturing services. You can shop their own collection online: https://thesocialoutfit.org/
No Sweat Fashion creates meaningful and long-term social change for newly arrived refugees and other migrants who face social isolation and barriers to employment and education. By means of its trading activities, No Sweat will address these problems by creating jobs, providing training, facilitating community engagement promoting social inclusion. No Sweat offers patternmaking, manufacturing and small scale manufacturing services. http://nosweatfashion.squarespace.com/
Twich Women's Sewing Collective is a not-for-profit organisation based in Balclava providing retail, manufacturing, and training services. https://www.facebook.com/twichwomenssewingcollective/
Bobbi Lockyer - Ngarluma, Karriyarra (Pilbara) Yawuru, Nyulnyul (Kimberley) Photographer, Artist, Designer and Illustrator https://www.bobbilockyer.com/
First Nation Visual Storyteller, proud descendant of the Wiradjuri and Yuwaalaraay nations: https://barefootwanderingphotography.com/
Leicolhn McKellar is a First Nations photographer based in Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory: https://www.leicolhnmckellarphotography.com.au/
Mikaela Egan is a Melbourne based portrait and lifestyle photographer, well-being consultant & facilitator and energy healer: https://www.makiegan.com/about
Anti-Racism resources and further reading
Victorian Women’s Trust Anti Racism Resources: https://www.vwt.org.au/anti-racism-resources-from-australia-and-beyond/
Freelance Jungle’s Anti-Racism resources, and list of positive actions white Australians can make: https://freelancejungle.com.au/black-lives-matter/
No White Saviors is an advocacy campaign lead by a majority female, majority African team of professionals based in Kampala, Uganda. https://nowhitesaviors.org/who-we-are/
If you are not sure which nation you are on, you can start here by purchasing an AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia
Brené Brown podcast with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-ibram-x-kendi-on-how-to-be-an-antiracist/