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


The Lawyers Circle’s 8th anniversary: from the Maputo Protocol to the Living Wage

Proto credit: Nader Elgadi | Melanie Hall QC, co-founder of The Lawyers Circle, alongside Livia Firth, both of whom are ambassadors and founding members of The Circle.

Eight years ago today, Miriam Gonzalez and Melanie Hall QC founded The Lawyers Circle with the aim of bringing together female lawyers who could use their skills to further women’s rights.

To celebrate their anniversary, we’ve rounded up some of their past and ongoing projects.

Influencing change with the Maputo Protocol

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect the rights of African women, including the end of discrimination, violence, exclusion and poverty. Of the 54 members of the African Union, 51 have signed it and 36 of those have signed and ratified it.

The Lawyers Circle published a report where they reviewed whether the Protocol was reflected in national legal frameworks and was being implemented effectively.

Helping end gender-based violence in Kenya

Helen Mountfield QC, Anna Bugden, Monica Arino, Elsa Groumelle and Cathryn Hopkins of The Lawyers Circle worked with Equality Now to support Kenyan lawyers in developing a test case to establish a broad ambit for positive obligations to protect women from gender-based violence. The research evaluated the relevant instruments and the most significant case law from the United Nations, the Inter-American Court, Africa and the Council of Europe in order to identify, summarise and provide links to potentially useful materials for the Kenyan lawyers to use.

Maternal Health Rights in Tanzania

In Tanzania 398 out of every 100,000 women die from pregnancy or birth-related causes. In the UK, the ratio is 10 out of every 100,000. The Tanzanian government has made promises to its people to improve these rates by setting out its goals to reduce maternal mortality and by signing up to international conventions and initiatives. However, the government’s obligations under these conventions have not been made national law.

The Lawyers Circle has made a commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child Campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying and introducing international conventions on maternal health rights into the national institutions and legal system.

A living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion industry

In some countries, 80% of garment workers are women. Very often, they only earn a fraction of what they need to live.

Multinational fast fashion companies are able to quickly move their production to countries with lower wages. The risk of losing this investment acts as a disincentive for countries to improve their labour laws and provide fair minimum wage rules. The result is labour protection is kept to a minimum, and essential rights to freedom of association are not guaranteed.

The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, has written a report that argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current trend of keeping wages as low as possible and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry which will ensure that companies pay a living wage and will hold them accountable when they don’t. Our first step was to take the report to the European Parliament, where it was debated on 20 February 2018.


Events to attend in April to learn about the inequality issues The Circle is addressing

Photo credit: Judit Prieto | The Circle members at March 4 Women, London.

Inspired by the Feminist Calendars written by our fantastic volunteers, we wanted to put some additional external events for April onto your agenda. Events are a great way to meet other members and learn more about some of the issues we are addressing in our projects. If you are planning to attend any of these listed below, please email us at hello@thecircle.ngo so we can connect you with other members who are also interested in attending.

17 April — Walk Together to Fight Inequality, London

Issue: Inequality
Join The Elders, the Fight Inequality Alliance and the Atlantic Fellows for an event at LSE, London. The event is in honour of grassroot efforts around the world to address the inequality crisis and learn more about joining the #WalkTogether movement.

The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. It was set up in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu.

The Circle is committed to a guaranteeing a living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion supply chains. With Fashion Revolution Week taking place from 23-29 April, it’s the best time to brush up on your knowledge of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. Being informed about the fast fashion industry allows understanding of the greater context in which financial inequality for women and girls is perpetuated within fast fashion supply chains.

Here are some events being run by fellow members to help you be better informed:

22 April — We-Resonate Launch Event, London

We-Resonate is an ethical fashion brand founded by one of our inspiring members, Lizzie Clark, that will be launching on World Earth Day, 22 April, from 4 pm-8 pm.

28 April — How to Dress Ethically: CHANGE is SIMPLE and we’ll show you how, Online webinar

Another incredible member of The Circle and Founder of Enchanted Rebels, Lianne Bell, will be hosting and co-hosting a series of live events on Facebook, including Dress Ethically. She will be joined by ONE SAVVY MOTHER for a live Facebook event that aims to bring you closer to the people who make your clothes. They’ll be sharing their own experiences and answering your questions!

28 April — What the Hell is Greenwashing? Online webinar

The Circle member Lianne Bell will be having a good old chinwag with Ethical Fashion Blogger Tolly Dolly Posh about greenwashing. Lianne is based in Taiwan, but the chat will be taking place online at 15:30 UK time.

Written by Peta Barrett.

Peta is a member of The Circle since 2016 and The Circle Relationship Manager since 2017.


5 Life Hacks to Help Change the Fashion Industry

Photo: The Music Circle’s Rumble in the Jumble, London.

Cheap food and fashion often means someone, somewhere, is paying the price.

Organisations like Fairtrade aim to stop this by helping people in the world’s most marginalised communities escape poverty, strengthen their districts and promote environmental sustainability.

A good way to know whether a product has been ethically produced and sourced is by checking whether it has the Fairtrade Mark. While a useful trick, this probably isn’t news to you, and it only works for products that you can find in a supermarket. What happens with clothes or accessories? How can we make sure that we are responsible consumers of fashion?

Here at The Circle, we believe that every woman and girl deserves the right to a fair, living wage — and many companies and governments, at present, are failing to withhold this right.

As well as our report on the living wage in the fashion industry, we look at the ways that we, as consumers, can be more ethical when purchasing everything from coffee and tea, to haircare and knitwear.

1. Shop smart, then do your part

Download the Buycott app. It allows you to select the causes you’re most passionate about, such as supporting Fairtrade, boycotting human trafficking and child labour companies, and ending animal testing.

Once you’ve picked the causes important to you, you can scan any potential purchases to see how ethical the company that you’re buying from is and avoid the ones with conflicting campaigns.

2. Ask brands to do better

Never underestimate the power that you have as a consumer. From using things such as the Buycott app, it will soon become clear that some of the brands you use have exploited workers in the past, or still do.

A great way of voting for change is by supporting the brands that are eco-conscious and treat their workers fairly, and avoiding the ones that are not. However, you should also use your voice. The wonderful world of social media makes it easier than ever to make large brands aware of consumers’ wishes, so hop on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and ask these brands to reform. Whether it’s with hashtags, petitions, or even a viral video — make your voice heard.

3. #30wears Challenge

Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now available in abundance, clothes are beginning to be seen as disposable.

A good way of avoiding the “buy and discard” trap is the #30wears challenge, popularized by The Circle co-founder Livia Firth. Next time you’re going to buy an item of clothing or accessory, ask yourself: “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”. If the answer is “yes”, buy it. That way, you will be building a sustainable wardrobe full of clothes that you love and will keep forever.

4. Recycle and upcycle

Even the most conscientious fashion consumers grow out of their clothes sometimes, or their clothes grow out of fashion. Next time you’re having a wardrobe clear-out, consider the following options:

  • Donate the garments to charity or a women’s refuge.
  • Recycle them properly at a clothing/textile bank (often found in supermarket car parks).
  • Fancy getting nifty with a needle? Why not give your clothes a new lease of life? For example, turn an old patterned dress into a new tube skirt, or even a fancy new cushion cover.
  • 5. Support a project

    Whether you host a fundraising coffee morning with friends or donate to a project of your choice, there are many ways you can help prevent the exploitation of workers worldwide.

    For example, The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, published a report in spring 2017 that set out the legal argument to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. The report argues the need to develop a global standard for a living wage.

    This, however, is just the beginning of the work The Circle plans to do to ensure that garment industry workers — who are predominantly women — earn a living wage. We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current “race to the bottom” and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry to ensure compliance and accountability for workers to receive a living wage.

    To read the report or to make a donation to help create a “race to the top” by protecting the rights of millions of workers and push to getting them a living wage, please visit our website.


    @shanhodge
    Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


    The Circle Calls for Three-trillion-dollar Fashion Industry to Pay Living Wage

    A substantive report into wages in the global fashion industry is launched today at The Copenhagen Fashion Summit by fashion campaigner Livia Firth, human rights barrister Jessica Simor QC and journalist Lucy Siegle—all members of the women’s rights organization The Circle. Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage examines the highly remunerative fast fashion sector through a legal lens. It concludes that a living wage is a fundamental human right which all states are obliged to guarantee.

    This is the first such report from The Circle, founded by Annie Lennox, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, human rights and social justice campaigner, who says, ‘I’m enormously proud that The Circle has produced this seminal report on the fundamental right of a Living Wage in the global fashion supply chain. It’s a strong piece of work that reflects the core purpose and mission of The Circle: women using their skills, expertise, networks and passion to help support and transform the lives of women and girls around the world’.

    Masterminded by Jessica Simor QC, one of the UK’s leading specialists in human rights and public law, the report takes evidence from fourteen major garment hotspots across the globe, where the bulk of our fashion is produced. A network of legal professionals based in those countries each provide an up-to-date snapshot of wages and working conditions. Using this evidence, and working with industry experts such as The Clean Clothes Campaign and The Fair Wage Network, Simor and her team join the dots between international law, the fashion industry and human rights.

    The report makes the legal case for Living Wage as a human right. It shows that living wages—remuneration sufficient to support the basic needs of a family and a decent life—have been recognised in international law for more than a century. Yet the fast fashion sector remains synonymous with poverty wages, directly affecting the 75 million garment workers in the supply chain, 85% of whom are women.

    Livia Firth (Creative Director of Eco-Age, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and The Circle founding member) says: ‘It is today widely accepted that neither cheap clothes, nor vast corporate profits can justify the human suffering which is today involved in fast fashion supply chains. I consider this ground-breaking report as the beginning of a new era for the fashion industry where we will be able to treat garment workers as equals’.

    Jessica Simor, QC says, ‘At the moment retailers and brands actively promote the fact that they pay minimum wage. But what we demonstrate in this report is that this is no answer. In none of the countries surveyed does the minimum wage come anywhere close to the living wage on any scale’.

    ‘Compliance with the UN Guiding Principles, by reference to the fundamental right to a living wage and principles of international labour law established nearly a century ago can put an end to the race to the bottom, stopping states from selling their people’s labour at less than the price of a decent life’.

    Journalist and fashion activist Lucy Siegle says, ‘Working with lawyers of this calibre gives us the opportunity to broaden fashion advocacy. We urgently need new architecture for the global garment industry and we hope that this represents a substantial step forward on a living wage’.

    The report is available to download here.

    The Circle has launched a donation page to help fund the next phase of this important work.

    ENDS

    Notes to Editors

    The Circle and The Lawyers Circle

    The Circle is a registered charity founded by Annie Lennox working to achieve equality for women in a fairer world. The Circle brings women from all walks of life together so that they can share stories and knowledge of the injustice and inequality many women across the globe face and take action to bring about the necessary change. Within The Circle is The Lawyers Circle—a network of women in the legal profession who lend their skills, network and resources to support and promote the rights of marginalized women worldwide. Those involved include senior partners, QCs, in-house lawyers and solicitors who work to promote and assist the rights of women in developing countries.

    For more information about The Circle contact Sioned Jones, Executive Director (sioned@thecircle.ngo).

    Livia Firth

    Livia Firth is the creative director of Eco-Age (a brand consultancy company specialized in sustainability) and founder of The Green Carpet Challenge (Eco-Age communication arm). Livia Firth has executive produced, with Lucy Siegle, The True Cost—a documentary which highlights the environmental devastation and social justice implications of fast fashion worldwide. The movie is available on Netflix and on The True Cost website.

    Lucy Siegle

    British journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle is author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? and has spent ten years investigating the global fashion supply chain.

    The Fair Wage Network

    The Fair Wage Network was founded by Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead and Auret van Heerden with the aim to regroup all the actors involved along the supply chain and present in the CSR arena who would be ready to commit themselves to work to promote better wage practices. The idea is to set up an interactive and dynamic process involving NGOs, managers, workers’ representatives and researchers.

    The Clean Clothes Campaign

    The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global alliance of organisations which campaigns to promote and protect the fundamental rights of garment workers worldwide. One of its three key objectives is to campaign for a real living wage and over recent years it has been campaigning alongside workers’ organizations across Asia for the acceptance and implementation of an Asia Floor Wage.