Next time you buy a Vivienne Westwood or Stella McCartney, check the label. You could be helping the Ethical Fashion Initiative and some of Kenya's poorest communities.
The muddy streets of Kenya’s crowded Korogocho slums are a far cry from the fashion boutiques of Paris, Milan, New York or London. But beneath a tin roof, workers from some of the country’s poorest communities sew buttons and stitch cloth for top international designers, part of a not-for-profit ethical fashion project.
“Before Ethical Fashion, I couldn’t educate my children,” says Lucy, sitting in a circle of women, needles in hand as they deftly sew white seed beads to the surface of smooth, chocolate-coloured leather. “But now I can educate them, and provide for them anything they need,” says the mother of four who is in her late 30s.
From Korogocho, accessories like the cuffs the women sew are sold in high-end international boutiques, stamped with the labels of international fashion houses like Vivienne Westwood, Fendi and Stella McCartney. It is part of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a project built on a model of “mutual benefit” that aims to support poor communities by linking them up with fashion houses and distributors.
Workers on the scheme – a member of the Fair Labour Association – would take months to earn enough to buy some of these luxury goods, which sell for hundreds of dollars on the high street. But conditions are very far from the sweatshops that muddy some fashion brands, with the UN-backed scheme providing decent working conditions, training and – perhaps the clearest sign of its success – people queuing up to join looking for work.
Organisers say some 90% of workers in Kenya have improved their homes, and almost 85% now provide better food for their families.