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


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle Member Dushy

Photo: Dushy and her family in Sri Lanka.

“Through The Circle I am being connected to like-minded women globally”

“Mix a tinge of your own style in whatever you do and stay unique” has been the mantra of Dusyanthi Rabinath, aka Dushy, born and bred in Sri Lanka. Possessing an academic qualification in Business Information Technology never was satisfying. Her real passion was Fashion Studies. Although she couldn’t finish her studies, her interest in fashion never faded and she has continued to update herself with the current happenings in the fashion world. She became interested in The Circle after learning about our work on the living wage in the fast fashion industry.

She says that the past five years have been well spent expanding her family with a loving husband and two adorable kids, who are her strength now. She believes it is the right time to come out from her comfort zone and look at the world from a different angle or maybe even envision a brand new world.

Widen Your Circle

The Circle members are women from all walks of life who come together to support some of the most marginalised women and girls across the globe.

Click here to become a member of The Circle and Widen Your Circle.


Young Global Feminists at #March4Women

Photo credit: Judit Prieto.

On Sunday the 4th March, by the houses of Parliament, the air was cold, but the atmosphere was warm, filled with minds and hearts of people from all over — all protesting against the same thing. We were fighting against the abuse and discrimination and political imbalance against women. Above waves of people, flew colourful, hand-drawn and humorous posters in all shapes and sizes. A multitude of different people — men, women, teens, children, introverts — came out to raise awareness about the issue that affects many, daily. It was rainy, but we persisted with our heads high and hearts in our voices and hands. The march ended after drumming and chanting in Trafalgar Square: the place where the whole movement really started. Speeches were said and songs were sung and, most importantly, we gained attention. We gained attention politically and through the media to show everyone how we still need change. Yet again, it was a small step, but that small step felt good. It felt inspiring.

Written by Amelia and Emily, 14 years old. Amelia and Emily attended the #March4Women 2018 with their mum and other members of The Circle. They are the next generation of The Circle members and global feminists.

To find out more about our membership and how to sign up to become a member, click here.


Widen Your Circle: with Susan and Adrienne

“To actually sit down for the first time ever and have a conversation about domestic violence and about sex trafficking… we’re connecting at a very different level”

This month, our members are taking over our blog, to tell you why they want to be part of The Circle and what they are doing to support women around the world.

The first vlog is by Susan Ferner and Adrienne Furrie, two new members who live in Alberta, Canada. Over the past few months, they have been organising small, informal meetings with their friends, relatives and neighbours, to talk about some of the issues that affect women in their community and globally.

Become a member to support women and girls around the world and Widen Your Circle.


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.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #WidenYourCircle