The Circle Member Julie Ngov on sustainable fashion and the living wage

#WidenYourCircle: with The Circle member Julie Ngov

The Circle member Julie Ngov shares her story of choosing her own sustainable fashion brand over a career in law, why she is a member of The Circle and the importance of the living wage in the fashion industry.

Hi, Julie. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and why you decided to leave your career in law to start an ethical luxury brand?

I grew up in Adelaide, Australia. My family are ethnically Chinese and my parents grew up in Cambodia. Traditionally my family were small business owners and my grandfather ran a fabric mill in Cambodia alongside other businesses. My parents moved to Australia in the early 80s as refugees. I was drawn to being a lawyer because I loved reading, reasoning and politics. In 2010 I had the opportunity to move to London to start a career in the City.

The long hours and pressure in the City took their toll. I discovered that I was no longer seeing friends, was gradually losing touch with my family and myself. I eventually burned out after 5 years in the City. The stressful, fast pace of life in London often means that the environment is an afterthought. In particular, the dominating presence of fast fashion brands and cheap, disposable clothing was a real eye opener.

After suffering chronic neck and back pain from long hours working as a lawyer, I took up yoga and weight training to build strength and manage the pain. This led to a range of sportswear purchases, but none of the garments really fit me and no brand spoke about having any environmental or ethical standards. With Cambodia being a major hub for garment manufacturing, the exploitative nature of the industry and how it impacts women particularly are issues that are close to my heart. Adrenna is an effort to bring together my love for movement, a healthy body and mindset and respect for the environment and humanity.

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

I joined The Circle because of its clear focus on women and the defined projects that it funds.

“Fashion’s main problem is the amount of clothes that we produce, which has the effect of devaluing not only the product, but the people who make them”

Why is the Living Wage Project important to you?

The Living Wage project is important to me because of my Cambodian heritage, so it speaks to me directly on a personal level as well as a professional level.

It’s also important because it brings to light the continuous need to improve the working conditions within the fashion industry. It brings together the human and labour rights elements that I care about as a lawyer and founder of a fashion brand. We should not just be fighting for a minimum wage that simply allows people to survive, but a living wage. Fashion is a visibly exploitative industry and over 80% of workers in the industry are female, so this also becomes a gender issue. Fast fashion brands are selling leggings for £5, which must cover the cost of the materials, thread, shipping and labour costs. This means the sheer quantity they have to produce is huge in order to turn a profit, regardless of whether the consumer needs it or not, and putting pressure on workers to labour in long hours at repetitive work. The loser in the end is the environment and the worker. Adrenna’s production model addresses all of those aspects of the traditional fashion supply chain —we make in small quantities, to the highest quality, using facilities in London and Europe that we personally visit and inspect. Our UK-based workers are paid the UK living wage.

Can you tell us how the issues that you are passionate about have informed your choices as a business owner?

I really believe that environmental challenges will be the defining issue of our generation and they won’t discriminate by age, race, class or wealth. Any business owner operating today has a responsibility to ensure their practices are as sustainable as possible. No new fashion brand —or any other type of business— should be launched today without a sustainability mission. Unfortunately we don’t live in a sustainable, zero-waste world, but a consumer one, so change is going to be incremental and no one can ever profess to be perfect (yet). Fashion’s main problem is the amount of clothes that we produce, which has the effect of devaluing not only the product, but the people who make them. If we produce less it will be better for all. Adrenna is pioneering a made-to-order model to reduce the amount of production; however, it has not been easy as it requires a change of mindset for suppliers and manufacturers who are used to working in the normal way. In our coming collections, I’m working hard to continuously push our sustainability credentials through the introduction of new, innovative materials and processes.

As consumers of fashion, what can we do to reduce our environmental and social impact and what do you think our expectations of the fashion industry should be?

In the day and age of data driven commerce, consumer spending habits are meticulously watched and monitored. Consumers actually have a lot of power when it comes to influencing brands to build better businesses. Our expectations of the fashion industry should be as high as possible. If brands are asking us to part with our money for an aspirational ideal, we should also be aspirational in the way we engage with them.

Every time I am thinking of making that impulse buy, I go through this thinking process:

– Do I already have something similar?
– Do I need it or do I want it? Can I wait a few days before I decide whether to buy it?
– Is there a sustainable and ethical alternative? (Even if it costs a little more, it would be worth it if the quality is significantly better and it ensures that the creator is paid a living wage).
– Will I wear it more than 30 times and will I keep it for at least 5 seasons?

To find out more about The Circle membership and how you can become a member, please click here.

 

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonImAGlobalFeminist


One Reason Why I’m A Global Feminist

 

Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, on why she is a global feminist. Join the #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist movement on social media and tag Annie Lennox and @TheCircleNGO.

Like millions of women and men, I feel hugely inspired by the development of the #MeToo, Time’s Up and Women’s March movements.

I am proud to call myself a feminist and stand in solidarity with everyone who understands the vital need for change in attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls.

The feminist movement is a broad church with different interpretations, opinions and ideas. I identify myself as a ‘Global Feminist’ to describe where I’m coming from.

I believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available for every woman and girl in every corner of the world.

#OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist is a call to action bringing collective meaning and value to the term ‘Global Feminism’.

Prof Pamela Gillies, Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University

Feminism needs to be relevant, appreciated and respected where the needs are greatest —in countries where women and girls are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of human rights. I’m impatient to see the ‘glass ceiling’ being smashed in my lifetime, so I’m inviting you to join me and The Circle, to create a massive advocacy wave to establish the term ‘Global Feminism’ and raise a better understanding about the bigger picture of global inequality.

This call to action will only take 5 minutes of your time.

Have your picture taken holding a sheet of paper with one selected handwritten reason why you identify yourself as a Global Feminist.

Post your picture on social media, using #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist and tag Annie Lennox and @TheCircleNgo so we can see your support. Feel free to help grow the campaign by tagging other organisations you support who work for the rights of women and girls and ask your friends, family and colleagues to join in too.

You will then become part of a collective wave for positive change for women’s rights around the world!

Sarah Brown, President of Theirworld.

Here are some reasons to choose from, in case you don’t already know them:

1.There are 757 million adults who cannot read or write —2 out of 3 of these are women.
2.In Africa, 28 million girls are not in education and will never step inside a classroom.
3.Over 750 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
4.Every minute of the day, one young girl (aged 15-24) contracts HIV.
5.Women and girls account for 71% of human trafficking victims.
6.Every day approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
7.Women make up only 22.8% of the worlds parliamentarian seats.
8. Across the world 39,000 girls under the age of 18 become child brides every day.
9. In developing countries,20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth every day.
10. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
11. 41 million girls living in developing countries around the world are denied a primary education.
12. 1 in 3 women and girls are impacted by physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Love,

Annie Lennox


Feminist Calendar: September and October 2018

Photo credit: People’s History Museum

Our volunteer Anna Renfrew’s guide to feminism this autumn!

13 September — Indian Suffragettes, Female Identities and Transnational Networks (London)

Dr Sumita Mukherjee looks at the activities of Indian campaigners for the female vote in Asia, Europe, USA, Britain and other parts of the British Empire, and how they had an impact on campaigns in the Indian subcontinent.

In the context of her new book, she discusses the experiences of the Indian suffragettes who travelled around the world to lobby the British parliament, attend international women’s conferences and conduct speaking tours to gather support for Indian women.

Dr Mukherjee will demonstrate the ways in which the suffrage movement was a truly global enterprise, not solely confined to Britain or America, that involved and affected women from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Come to listen to this fascinating talk, have a bite to eat in the Pay What You Can Cafe and view The Women’s Hall exhibition at the same time!

14 September — The True Cost Screening (London)

As part of London Fashion Week, The Circle and the UK Asian Film Festival are organising a one-night-only screening of “The True Cost”, produced by The Circle founding member Livia Firth.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Livia Firth, author of “Slave to Fashion” Safia Minney and Jessica Simor QC, co-author of The Lawyers Circle report “Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage”.

20 September — The Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy (London)

Ayesha’s book details the history of women’s social, legal and political status in Pakistan as contested through its urban-based modern women’s movement. Since the 1980s, a small but influential group of activists have been advocating for their rights, the restoration of democracy and a secular state.

This began in response to the state’s growing use of Islam for political purposes, which peaked under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule (1977-88), during which the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and rise of political Islam worked in favor of his domestic policy of Islamization. Pakistan became an increasingly exclusionary state, with religious minorities and women facing growing discrimination.

Despite setbacks, such as another period of military rule and rise of the Taliban, activists succeeded in winning back some of their rights. Recent years have seen unprecedented legislative reform, policy changes to reverse discrimination and the first substantial increase in women’s political participation.

23 September — Women Making Change (Glasgow)

Explore the place of women in change-making with this empowering and celebratory event, presented in partnership with the Glasgow Women’s Library.

Through an afternoon of talks, panel discussions and workshops we will celebrate the achievements women have made in shaping a fairer and more balanced political, social and cultural landscape —and, in keeping with Take One Action’s raison d’être, explore current challenges in civil society, politics, media and international development.

Hear from Naila Ayesh, protagonist of “Naila and the Uprising” and founder and director of the Women’s Affairs Centre in Gaza, as she reflects on her personal experience of being on the frontlines of political change; explore how we can achieve better representation for women in policy, environmentalism, culture and academia through an inclusive panel discussion; and develop your own practical skills and understanding of activism and creative resistance through a selection of interactive workshops.

27 September — Slay In Your Lane (Glasgow)

“Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible” by Yomi Adegoke & Elizabeth Uviebinené —in Conversation with Tomiwa Folorunso at Glasgow Women’s Library

Black women today are facing uniquely challenging experiences in all aspects of their lives. Yet when best friends Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené searched for a book that addressed these challenges they realised none existed. So “Slay in Your Lane” —the lovechild of exasperation and optimism— was born.

From education, to work, to dating, to representation, money and health, this inspirational, honest and provocative “Black Girl Bible” explores the ways in which being black and female affects each of these areas —and offers advice and encouragement on how to navigate them.

Illustrated with stories from Elizabeth and Yomi’s own lives and from interviews with dozens of the most successful black women in Britain —including Amma Asante, Charlene White, Jamelia, Denise Lewis, Malorie Blackman and Dawn Butler MP— “Slay in Your Lane” recognizes and celebrates the strides black women have already made, whilst providing practical advice and inspiration for those who want to do the same and forge a better, visible future.

9 October — How Science Got Women Wrong, with Angela Saini (Oxford)

Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini, to mark Ada Lovelace Day, will talk about how women are being rediscovered. She will explore what these revelations mean for us as individuals and as a society, revealing an alternative view of science in which women are included, rather than excluded.

This talk will be followed by a drinks reception, book sale and signing.

11 October — Womens’ Lives Leeds Drop-In Session (Leeds)

Womens’ Lives Leeds are holding a weekly drop-in session in the GATE every Thursday morning for women who’d like to speak to someone in confidence about their health, wellbeing or relationships.

No appointment needed, just call in to the GATE any time between 11 am and 12 pm on Thursday mornings.

Women are also welcome to their weekly women-only walk, which sets off from the GATE at 10 am.

13 and 14 October — WOW Festival Exeter

The Circle is proud to announce that we will be part of the second annual Women Of The World Festival in Exeter. The festival is taking place on 13 and 14 October across three venues —RAMM, Exeter Phoenix and Exeter Library. The programme is jam packed with artists, writers, politicians, comedians and activists. It is bound to be an inspiring and thought-provoking weekend.

The Circle’s Relationship Manager Peta Barrett will be joining a panel discussion focused on “Building the Sisterhood”. We will also be sharing information about the important part we play in the global movement for gender equality at the WOW Market Place.

We hope to see you there!

If you are based in or around Exeter and are interested in becoming a member, get in touch before the event and come say hi.

18 October — Women of Colour in UK Labour History: Film + Discussion (London)

Join us for a documentary screening about the 1976 Grunwick Strike, which was led largely by migrant women workers of South Asian origin.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion about the overlooked contribution of WOC in labour history, as well as interactions of race, class and gender in industrial action and activism.

Throughout autumn, until 31 December — A Woman’s Place: Ambleside’s Feminist Legacy (Leeds)

This exhibition at Armitt Museum in Cumbria celebrates the pioneering women who lived in the local area in times gone by —from journalist Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, to the author and conservationist Beatrix Potter.

Until 2019 — Represent! Voices 100 Years On (Manchester)

This exhibition reflects on those who campaigned for better representation, most famously the suffragists and the militant suffragettes. The recently acquired Manchester suffragette banner will be displayed for the first time alongside sashes, brooches, photographs and cartoons, helping to paint a picture of what representation meant in 1918.

This family-friendly exhibition also questions how far we have really come in 100 years. It gives a platform to individuals and communities, including LGBT+ youth charity The Proud Trust and Safety4Sisters, who are still fighting to make their voices heard today. Crowdsourced items, including placards from the 2017 Women’s Marches and a jumpsuit from the Sisters Uncut 2018 BAFTA protest, tell the very personal stories of today’s movements and campaigns.


Interview with Josie George, founder of social entreprise AMMA Sri Lanka

 

“I would rather sell less at a fair price and stand by my values”

“Mother made, naturally dyed, handcrafted” are the values of AMMA Sri Lanka, a social enterprise founded by the British couple Josie and Warren in the Sri Lankan highlands. Josie’s qualification and expertise in the field of textile together with the local charity Child Action Lanka helped AMMA to become a successful ethical label that supports women in the community. The Circle member Dushy, who lives in Sri Lanka, caught up with Josie to talk about ethical values in business, the living wage and natural dyes.

At The Circle, we work on projects that create jobs for women and help them start businesses. The unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is much higher among women than among men and most of your employees are women. Why is employing women important to you?

The high unemployment rate amongst women in Sri Lanka, particularly mothers living on Sri Lanka’s tea estates, was the initial problem we wanted to address by starting AMMA. Working with women is important to us because we see them as key change makers within their community; by employing and training mothers we are directly impacting their children and families. It is much more sustainable and inspiring for children if they experience their mother grow in confidence, earn a fair wage and learn new skills as a solution to breaking out of poverty. It also makes sense for us to employ women —all of our women have shown a great desire to work and contribute to the family finances. These are hard working women who still complete their household responsibilities before and after work. Bringing these women together provides them with a space outside of the home to connect and support each other.

You pay a living wage to your female employees. How does it impact on the product’s prices and organisation?

Yes, our starting wage is double that of the starting wage of other local industries in Hill Country, such as tea picking or garment factory work. I believe that it gives our Amma makers value for the skills they have obtained with us and it adds value to our products. It does increase the price of what we make but I would rather sell less at a fair price and stand by my values than get swayed by the few who don’t understand our ethics and what handmade is truly worth.

AMMA is a social entreprise. How do you reinvest back into the community?

AMMA has been running for one year, which we view as a pilot year. This has given us time to explore different models of working and become accustomed to the particular needs of the tea picking communities. We broke even during our pilot year and once we start to turn a profit we plan to reinvest that money back into our new partner NGO Tea Leaf Trust who work extensively with young people living on Sri Lanka’s tea estates through their centers of professional development.

What do you have to do to make sure the product meets and end-to-end eco-friendly approach, within a fair and safe environment for your employees?

For us, as a young start up it means constantly working towards improving our supply chain. We have just started working with a women’s cooperative in the North of Sri Lanka who weave all our raw unbleached cotton fabric. This means we employ more women in the process of making our products and we have greater knowledge of where our fabric comes from. We dye this fabric naturally using plants (eucalyptus leaves, madder root, indigo, Nelli fruit) and food waste (onion skins, avocado stones, pomegranate skins) some of which we forage locally or collect from hotels and cafes. Using plant dyes means its safer for our employees, safer for our customers and doesn’t pollute water ways. It is also a good way to repurpose waste produce before composting. Our employees work in a nice environment, with child care provided by Child Action Lanka, a local NGO. They work 9 am – 1 pm whilst the children are in school. We pay them a fair wage for their work, and because of this we have many women each month asking if we have vacancies.

Can you tell us about the women you employ and what they like about working at AMMA?

The women we employ are currently aged between 24 and 27 and are all mothers to young children. They live on Sri Lanka’s tea estates in line rooms, which are simple concrete structures comprising of two rooms. These buildings haven’t changed much since the British built them at the height of the tea industry, when people of Tamil Indian origin were brought over to work on the plantations. The estates are hard places to live in, with 80% of tea estate men being alcoholics and 83% of women suffering from domestic violence (of which 20% is sexual). The women we employ have decided against working as tea pluckers, all have married young. Some had not worked previously and other worked at garment factories across Sri Lanka.

The whole process of extracting colours from natural sources sounds interesting and challenging. What is your drive to persist in order to give us an ethical and sustainable output?

Natural colour is a delicate ever-changing medium to work with; so many factors contribute to the final outcome —water quality, light, diversity of plant matter, time and the mordant used. It takes a lot of patience and experimentation to achieve the colors you want. The difference in our dyeing practice when we started a year ago to now is huge. Day by day it feels like we grow more aware of the process and the various elements that need to harmonize to produce the final outcome. The drive and patience to build a social enterprise using natural dyes comes from a belief that true sustainability is growing, from our desire to harvest and cultivate our colour from the land and from the prospect of how many jobs this can offer to a region with high unemployment levels. We aren’t there yet, these things take time and my belief is that you just need to start somewhere and the rest you’ll work out along the way.

Written by Dushy Rabinath, a member of The Circle with an interest in sustainable fashion and The Lawyers Circle’s Living Wage project.