The Circle at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards

The Circle founder Annie Lennox with the seamstresses of Maison Valentino, after presenting them with The Art of Craftmanship award.

“Behind every great house of fashion, there are thousands of exceptional women”

On Sunday, The Circle Italia members attended the Green Carpet Fashion Awards (GCFA) in Milan as the official charity partner. One of the driving forces of the event was Livia Firth, co-founding member of The Circle and Creative Director at Eco-Age.

The members of The Circle and The Circle Italia are committed champions of sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion.

At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May, The Lawyers Circle launched their report Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, which argues that a living wage is a fundamental right.

Last week, in Milan, Ilaria Venturini Fendi, a member of The Circle Italia, won The Social Laureate Award at the GCFA, and The Circle founder Annie Lennox delivered a beautiful speech before presenting The Art of Craftmanship award to the seamstresses of Maison Valentino.

You can read the full speech below:

It’s a wonderful and unique experience to be here with you all this evening at La Scala and I want to thank you so much for your incredible donation to our Italian Circle and for having actively contributed to transformational change for women around the world.

The Circle is a group of women who feel passionately about justice and rights of women all around the world, where, for example, at least one in three women have been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in their lifetime.

Where 41 million girls worldwide are still denied an education, and HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in girls and women of reproductive age across the continent of Africa.

These are just a few of the issues we are involved with as fundraisers, advocates and contributors to the Global Women’s Movement and the United Nation’s Goal number 5. And this year we have also launched the first ever legal report on the right to a living wage for garment workers worldwide.

Which brings me onto the award I will present tonight— The Art of Craftsmanship.

Behind every great house of fashion, there are thousands of exceptional women. Women so dedicated, professional and gifted that they represent everything it means to be an artisan.

What they create is spellbinding and they are indeed a circle of women.

I’m delighted to be honouring them with this award tonight.

The winners are… the seamstresses of Maison Valentino.

Thank you to the Green Carpet Fashion Awards for their generous donation to The Circle Italia.


Annie Lennox’s and The George Harrison Global Citizen Award

On Monday, we were thrilled to see The Circle founder Annie Lennox receive the George Harrison Global Citizen Award at the Global Citizen Festival in New York. The award honoured her contribution to music and activism throughout her career.

Olivia Harrison presented the award. Annie then followed her acceptance speech with a surprise performance with Harrison’s son Dhani.

You can read her acceptance speech in full below:

Thank you so much Olivia. And thank you so much to the Material World Foundation for this incredible award.
I’m moved, humbled and honoured to receive it.

The beauty and power of George Harrison’s music continues to inspire millions of people with its social, political, universal message for a more sustainable, peaceful world.

I have always loved George’s music and everything he stood for, not only as a brilliant artist, but also as a highly intelligent, sensitive and compassionate man — deeply committed to the issues of human rights, freedom and justice.

In 1971, The Concert for Bangladesh was an innovative, groundbreaking event where he fearlessly created a global platform for advocacy through music, to raise awareness and inspire action in response to a desperate situation.

In 2017 — 46 years later, the Global Citizen Movement is boldly carrying the same torch forwards, with the same ethics and values — that we are all citizens of the world, each with a part to play in facing our complex interconnected global challenges.

The list of challenges is endless, but please bear with me while I name just a few.

The toxic effects of man-made pollution on Earth’s natural environment — the air, the rivers, lakes and seas.
The catastrophic effects of wantonly plundering Earth’s natural resources, risking the sustainability of human existence on this planet.

Deforestation, desertification — Ancient glaciers melting into the sea, sea levels rising exponentially.

The ongoing decimation of indigenous peoples and their traditional ways of life.

The decimation of animal species up to the point of virtual extinction.

The horrendous destruction of human lives through unspeakable crimes of warfare and genocide.

As I speak, 65 million people are displaced or living as refugees.

The vicious trap of poverty and the endemic misery it creates, with its dehumanising cyclic effects.

The rising trends of divisive bigotry, hatred, prejudice, racism, misogyny and violence in a world where one in three women have experienced abuse.

The challenges of global health epidemics — HIV/AIDS, Ebola, tuberculosis, malaria, etc.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop at this point before you become despairing or simply immune.

My thinking is… if we can distribute Coca Cola to every corner of the world, and send men and women into space, then surely there are solutions to these problems.

We are used to thinking that we don’t count individually. That is why it is so important to identify and engage with whichever piece of action you want to support, because, believe me, collectively everyone can make a difference.

But you need to choose hope over despair, responsibility over indifference, feminism over misogyny, and respect, love and kindness over bigotry, division and hatred.

So here’s what you can do just as one person. Inform yourself, choose a cause and give it your commitment. Support an organisation and join them. Donate what you can afford, or persuade others to raise money. Speak up, write, blog, march… Just do something!

And if you’re listening to this and you haven’t already done so, go to the Global Citizen website and take your first step into transformative change through positive action.

As a global feminist, I am very grateful to be able to share and amplify this message, and I am truly honoured to be part of the Global Citizen’s ethos, which I endorse with all my heart. Thank you.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m thrilled and delighted to welcome to the stage Dhani Harrison.

Annie Lennox’s interview about the Global Citizen Festival


8 Things You Should Know about Fast Fashion

 

The fast fashion industry has been a hot topic at The Circle this year. Back in May, The Lawyers Circle published a report that sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental right. We are now planning a two-year campaign to ensure accountability in the fashion industry, to tackle the poverty wages that blight garment workers’ lives.

With that in mind, here are eight facts you should know about the clothes you wear…

1. The global apparel industry is worth $3000,000,000,000,000

Yes, you read that right: the fashion industry has global revenues of three trillion US dollars. To put that into perspective, you could buy seven million Ferraris with that money, or put fifty million students through university. There’s a lot of money to be made.

2. Much of this revenue comes from fast fashion

Fast fashion is a globalised business strategy which aims to get low-price clothes to the consumer as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Designs seen on the catwalk one week might hit the shops a fortnight later. This is a relatively recent phenomenon (global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014) and an incredibly lucrative one. For fast fashion companies, that is.

3. While companies profit, their workers suffer

Transnational fashion corporations (the big brand names in fashion) are the real winners in this situation. They can quickly move their production to the lowest-wage states to maximise their profits. Meanwhile, the economies of producer companies have become highly dependent on the sector. This has created a “race to the bottom”, whereby states allow poverty wages in order to attract investment. Garment workers earn just $140 per month in Cambodia, $171 in parts of China and $315 in Romania.

4. Poverty wages aren’t just an issue in South Asia

The Lawyers Circle’s report on the living wage looks at clothing production in a range of countries, from Bangladesh to Morocco, from Portugal to Romania. Garment factories are spread across the globe, but their geographical diversity belies a fundamental similarity: they offer some of the lowest wage rates and worst labour conditions on earth.

5. It is mainly women who are affected

Between 60 and 75 million people work in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide. Almost three quarters of them are women — 3.2 million in Bangladesh alone. Unfortunately, women are easier targets for exploitation and discrimination: they are more vulnerable to intimidation and sexual violence, and less likely to agitate for their rights.

6. Garment workers have been forced to develop coping strategies

Struggling to survive on the minimum wage, garment workers have to cut corners wherever they can. They might take out high-interest loans to pay for school books, or do extensive overtime to cover their utility bills. Many workers are foregoing vital medical treatment in order to save money, and thousands are cutting back on food (one campaigning organisation found that female garment workers could only afford to eat half the calories they needed, and would frequently faint at work as a result).

7. Paying the minimum wage is not enough

Plenty of well-known fashion companies argue that they pay their workers the national minimum wage, and should therefore be exempt from criticism. They do this knowing that the minimum wage (the lowest wage permitted by law) falls far short of the living wage (the amount needed to maintain a normal standard of living). In Cambodia, for example, garment workers can legally be paid just 6% of what they need to live a normal life. Paying the minimum wage is not enough: workers need an income that can comfortably feed their families; they need better working conditions and protection.

8. But there is hope!

Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,334 garment workers, some progress has been made on improving conditions and wages in the garment industry. There have been numerous reports, initiatives, roadmaps and pilot projects, though most of these have yet to be implemented on a wide scale. Major brands have committed to paying the living wage, albeit with a temporal disclaimer – “eventually”, “at some point in the future”.

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle are working to accelerate the process, to ensure that companies accept responsibility for their actions and make concrete improvements to workers’ lives.

The facts in this article have been drawn from the report Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, produced by The Lawyers Circle in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign. Click here to read the full report, and donate to help us guarantee a living wage for all garment workers.


Q&A with The Circle co-founding member Livia Firth

 

The biggest treasure in life is sisterhood. The power of women in supporting each other is endless and so different from anything else in the world

At The Circle,we are ever-inspired by each and every one of our members. From the students and the mothers to the lawyers and the musicians. They are doers and they are the engine moving The Circle.

One of those women is co-founding member of The Circle Livia Firth. Founder and Creative Director of the sustainability brand consultancy Eco-Age, a UN Leader of Change, an Oxfam Global Ambassador and mother of two, Livia has also somehow found time to executive produce The True Cost movie and work on The Lawyers Circle’s ground-breaking report that was published in May 2017 and that shows that a living wage is a fundamental right.

In the relatively quiet time between the media frenzy about the report and the next phase in the project, we talked to Livia about what the next steps are to ensure a living wage for garment workers, how to be a more ethical consumer and what makes The Circle different.

Every member has her own unique journey within The Circle. Can you tell us a bit about your journey and why, after so many years, you still support The Circle as a member?

I consider myself an active citizen and support different NGOs — in environmental and social justice and all the different aspects of these two pillars. I am very lucky as I had the opportunity to travel a lot with Oxfam or collaborate with the small and powerful Reprieve, among others NGOs I come across in my work at Eco-Age. The Circle is very different — when you put women in charge and women together, the opportunities are endless and the results are very concrete.

The Circle is about women coming together to empower the most vulnerable women and girls worldwide. But many members of The Circle feel empowered by being part of our network too. How has The Circle helped you to feel empowered?

The biggest treasure in life is sisterhood. The power of women in supporting each other is endless and so different from anything else in the world. The Circle is the perfect manifestation of this — knowing that there is this wonderful resource of women of every background which each one of us, wherever in the world (from a big city in England to a small village in Africa), can call upon and create true change. It’s magnificent!

Can you tell us about an inspiring woman that you have met through The Circle?

Too many! Are there un-inspiring women?

You are best known for being a leading advocate of ethical fashion and have worked closely with The Lawyers Circle on their Living Wage report, which focusses on wages and working conditions in the fashion industry. How did your interest in ethical fashion begin?

When I met Lucy Siegle, Orsola De Castro and Jocelyn Whipple back in 2008 at Eco-Age. It was the first time I heard about human rights and environmental justice being linked to fashion. Then, the same year, I went to Bangladesh with Lucy Siegle for the first ever trip The Circle did — and we got smuggled into a garment factory and what I saw shocked me: so many women working producing 150 garments an hour on different production lines, in a building with no air, and bars at the windows and no fire escape or anything like that. Armed guards at the only door to get in and out, two toilet breaks a day and the most inhumane conditions you can imagine. It was a real eye-opener.

What are your top tips to be a more ethical consumer of fashion?

Just a simple one: stop consuming obsessively and treating fashion as disposable. Buy only things you know you will wear for years and that you will take care of. This is how you build a sustainable wardrobe full of things you love (and full of memories too!).

So we should buy less too?

Absolutely buy less. And take care of things. When did we become the society that buys ready-made mashed potatoes? Do you know how long it takes to boil two potatoes and mash them? And it’s cheaper. Or mend the hole in that sock rather than throw it away because it’s easier to buy a new pack of socks for £5. They have made us addicted to consuming and being lazy.

Often the clothes most of us can afford are manufactured in countries with weak workers’ rights and wages regulations. How can one be a more conscientious consumer on a low budget?

Do you know that most people who think they have no money and therefore buy fast fashion cheap clothes end up spending much more on fashion? Do you really want to save money? Invest in clothes that last forever.

Changing the way we consume is necessary, and, if enough people do it, in the long term brands will have to change the way they produce too. But how can we, as individuals, help make that shift quicker? How can we influence brands that are not ethical?

Stop buying from fast fashion brands at the pace we are shopping today. Then they will have to produce less! They say it is because “the consumer wants it” — well, let’s show them the consumer does not want it anymore.

You recently went to Copenhagen to launch The Lawyers Circle report. The report argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that fashion brands have a responsibility to ensure that garment workers earn a living wage. What are your next steps in the struggle to ensure a living wage for workers in the fashion industry?

The report took two years to make and it’s ground breaking — it’s the first time ever that the living wage issue and discussions (which have been on the scene for more than a century) are analysed from a legal point of view. Watch out for what not only the power of law but the power of women lawyers will unleash! The second phase will be to align different stakeholders — business, governments and more legal entities — to progress on achieving the results we want: to end slave labour worldwide.


Feminist Calendar: September and October

Photo credit: Care International.

Here’s our roundup of feminist events happening up and down the country over the course of the next two months. Whether you’re interested in sports, art, comedy or politics, there’s something for everyone!

3 September – The Feminist Library’s Feminism and Cycling Event (London)

The Feminist Library possesses a tremendous body of literature relating to women’s rights and the women’s liberation movement. You can drop in to explore their collection, or attend their events, which run throughout the year. On 3 September, they are holding a Feminism and Cycling Event to celebrate women and their bikes. The programme for the day includes workshops, presentations, discussions, music and even some feminist yoga!

8-9 September – Scotland’s Feminist Future Conference (Glasgow)

This two-day conference hosted by Engender, Scotland’s leading feminist organisation, will explore the route to gender equality in the country. There will workshops and discussions on issues from abortion legislation and the gender pay gap to the criminal justice system and Brexit.

14-17 September – Women Over 50 Film Festival (Brighton)

The Women Over 50 Film Festival does what it says on the tin: it celebrates the work of older female film-makers and performers through screenings, Q&As, talks and workshops in the lively city of Brighton. With more than fifty events on offer, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

17 September – You Know I’m No Good: Young Women’s Empowerment Festival (London)

This one-day festival at The Jewish Museum is open to feminists of all ages and genders! Hear from inspirational speakers including Laura Bates (of The Everyday Sexism Project), Gemma Cairney (Radio 1 agony aunt and supporter of The Circle) and Susie Orbach (author of the ground-breaking book Fat is a Feminist Issue). Try your hand at life drawing or feminist embroidery, and enjoy performances and panel discussions.

22-24 September – Nasty Women Exhibition (London)

Nasty Women is an international art movement promoting solidarity in the face of threats to women’s rights. Seeking to raise funds and provide a platform for collective resistance, it displays work by female artists who identify as ‘Nasty Women’!
The London edition is taking place in Shoreditch at the end of September. It will feature paintings, photography and sculpture by up-and-coming artists. Show your support — all money raised will go to Rape Crisis UK and Women for Women International.

10 October – Ada Lovelace Day (London and around the world)

Ada Lovelace Day is an annual celebration of the progress and achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). There are grassroots celebrations around the world, but the flagship event — held at The Royal Institution in London — is not to be missed! It will feature leading STEM women giving talks and performances about their work.

11 and 12 October — The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth Book Launch (London and Sheffield)

Anti-violence campaigner and renowned author Julie Bindel will be launching her new book on the global sex trade, The Pimping of Prostitution — Abolishing the Sex Work Myth. After sharing her extraordinary journey of discovery, Julie will be joined by a panel of sex trade survivors who will be sharing their own experience and knowledge.

13 October — The Oxford Circle Fifth Anniversary (Oxford)

The Oxford Circle is a branch of The Circle led by women based in Oxford. And it is turning 5! We are going to celebrate with afternoon tea at the Malmaison hotel, a converted prison in Oxford Castle. Expect raffles and talks by leading experts in women’s health and female genital mutilation (FGM).

All funds raised will go towards supporting the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in Cape Town.

14 October — Rally for Choice (Belfast)

Rally for Choice is a demonstration of support for a change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland. It is organised by a cross-community group of activists who advocate for free, safe and legal access to abortion. With support from The British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Amnesty International UK, Rally for Choice 2017 is sure to be a huge event.

19-29 October — Women in Comedy Festival (Manchester)

Who says women aren’t funny? The Manchester Women In Comedy Festival has been described as one of “the UK’s best comedy festivals”, combining laughter with feminist principles. This year’s event includes solo shows, open mic workshops and a writing competition, so everyone can get involved!