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.
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.
Photo credit: Matthew S. Browning.
The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.
The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.
Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.
Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.
Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.
The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.
Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.
Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.
Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.
Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.
Written by Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner.
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.
The former Eurythmics star, who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide, tells i-D about dropping out of college, the wisdom of ageing, and her women-focused charity The Circle in her Notes on Being a Woman.
It’s not easy to get an interview with Annie Lennox. A globally recognised pop legend, famous for massive hits like 1983’s Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) with former band the Eurythmics — as well as her iconic, androgynous bright red buzzcut — Annie doesn’t often perform these days, and turns down most interview requests. Having moved away from making music, she is now an activist and campaigner for the rights of women and girls around the world, through her NGO The Circle
i-D caught up with Annie and she told us about leaving Aberdeen at 17 to apply for music college in London in 1971, and the bad career advice she was given before dropping out in her third year. From learning to drive in her 30s, to the heart-bursting love of motherhood, the wrinkle-loving wisdom of age, and the struggle of women around the world who cannot access education and healthcare, these are Annie’s Notes on Being a Woman…
The Asian Circle members and Rav Bansal (right), from the Great British Bake Off.
The Asian Circle celebrated its fourth birthday with a Chai Day at Montys Nepalese restaurant in Ealing on Saturday 9th December 2017. The Asian Circle was joined by The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) star Rav Bansal, who is supporting The Asian Circle in their fight for gender equality and baked a spectacular cake for the occasion. The Asian Circle founder Santosh Bhanot provided an update on their project in rural communities in east India. In partnership with Oxfam India, The Asian Circle is setting up Women’s Support Centres which provide access to counselling and legal aid to survivors of gender-based violence…
Photo: Fiona at her Chai Day at the University of Bristol.
The Circle volunteer Fiona Gilligan shares her experience supporting a women’s rights NGO in Buenos Aires and how it inspired her to organise a Chai Day at the University of Bristol.
I was fortunate enough to spend the first six months of 2016 in Buenos Aires, combining my interest in fashion and textiles with a cause I feel incredibly strongly about – women’s rights and gender equality.
In Argentina, it is a widely circulated statistic published by the NGO La Casa del Encuentro that a woman dies every thirty hours due to gender-based violence. That is to say, women up and down the country are being killed every day for being women.
Therefore, in recent years there has been a rise in the number of NGOs dedicated solely to the needs of women. Mediapila is one such organisation. It is dedicated to empowering and mobilising women through sewing and dressmaking workshops. The overall aim of the foundation is to provide women from underprivileged backgrounds with the skills and, more importantly, the confidence, to be able to find employment in the textiles industry.
The foundation works solely with women, as they believe that women symbolise the root to social change. Working towards a better future for these women enables them to also provide a better future for their children and families, thus changing society on a greater scale.
I was struck by the creativity and tenacity of the women at the foundation, many of whom were in the process of developing their own businesses alongside their studies at the foundation. They all possessed an incredible passion to learn and a genuine desire to change their lives for the better. I formed strong relationships with many of them, in particular María, a former student who had gone on to become a teacher at the foundation. María’s infectious laughter filled the workshop each day and was a reminder to all the women of the power of female strength and beauty. Despite experiencing such hardship in the shape of forced migration, discrimination and poverty, María embraced each day with a smile. I felt privileged to be working with such strong and inspirational women like María on a daily basis.
My experience in Buenos Aires made me very aware that, although we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality, we have many privileges as women in the UK. All women should have access to the same opportunities in order to reach their full potential in life. This is a joint responsibility, and it is essential that we collectively recognise this in order to achieve gender equality.
This motivated me to get involved with further gender equality projects when I returned to university in Bristol. My friend Erin was doing an internship at The Circle and told me about Chai Day. It is a great initiative that brings people together over a cup of chai in order to raise awareness and funds to combat gender-based violence in the UK, India and South Africa. It was incredibly easy to organise. The Circle provides a detailed information pack, as well as a poster template to advertise your Chai Day around your university, workplace, or wherever you are planning to hold it. All that was left to do was to get baking! I was incredibly pleased with the support from other students and with the amount we managed to collectively raise.
If you would like to hold your own Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence in your community, inspire your friends or colleagues, and raise funds to support women who have survived violence, go to www.chaiday.org.
Photo credit: Johnny Vy/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The Circle Founder Annie Lennox was on The Talk, on CBS, on Tuesday 7 November, to talk about her career and activism.
Annie talked about who inspired her as a young musician, being a mother and being described as a “gender bender” in the eighties. She also explained how she found her passion for women’s rights, and how seeing the devastation that HIV/AIDS has caused in Sub-Saharan Africa motivated her to become an activist.
About The Circle, Annie said “14 million girls around the world are not getting an education. One in three women around the world are exposed to gender-based violence, violence and abuse… There are huge things going on with women around the globe. This is why I call it ‘global feminism’ and this is why I founded The Circle, to inspire women”.
If you would also like to support women and girls around the world, click here to donate or become a member of The Circle.