By Claire Dutreix
While fashion trends at affordable costs attract consumers’ attention, those who make the clothes are often not considered. While people browse the isles of the larger brands’ on-trend clothing, millions of individuals enslaved around the world are working in those same recognizable corporations’ supply chains. In 2000, four activists recognized the monstrosity and relevance of modern-day slavery and established Free the Slaves to “liberate slaves and change the conditions that allow slavery to persist.” Since its founding, supporters have been aware of and passionate about the issue of modern-day slavery but were eager to take action past simply making a donation. In order to engage these supporters and bring awareness to conscious consumerism in the fashion industry in particular, Free the Slaves established Fashion for Freedom in 2016. While FTS continues to run this campaign globally all summer, the 2018 iteration will also feature an exciting and exclusive event in New York City where supporters can shop, learn, and honor the work of fashion activists and slavery abolitionists alike.
Ethical fashionista Rachel Faller is the curator of tonlé, one of the featured brands at the upcoming event.
“In college, I studied textiles and fine arts and wanted to do something that brought together my passion for social justice and textile art, but I was having a really hard time seeing myself going into the fashion industry,” Faller said.
Shortly after graduating college in 2008, Faller had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia with a family friend. There, she met artisans working in fair trade organizations and, for the first time, saw that there was a way to blend her passion for designing and making clothing. She was eager to positively impact the world around her by creating clothing that was meaningful and would not contribute to the negative problems she previously saw in the fashion industry. Faller later returned to Cambodia under a Fulbright grant, and for a year she learned about what among fair trade projects was working and not working. It was during this time of research that Faller decided to start her own business.
“I utilized traditional techniques with fair-trade methods and combined it with more moderate and contemporary designs I could see myself wearing on a daily basis,” she said.
As a zero-waste brand, tonlé tackles issues of textile waste, determined to produce environmentally sustainable products produced in healthy working conditions. tonlé tries to combat the huge amount of waste in the garment industry by utilizing what is already available, recycling the waste from other textile factories.
“Larger pieces are cut into dresses and shirts, smaller scraps are knit into new fabrics and even the tiniest scraps leftover are made into paper,” Faller explained. “Every piece of raw material that we use is important, and nothing is considered waste.”
Embodying the mission of the brand, ‘every thread matters’ is one of the first phrases on the company’s webpage. It means that this is not just one company but an intertwined blend of many other ethical fashion brands, advocates, and consumers working together to stitch together a path towards a better tomorrow.
“We see our brand as a community. For me it’s not just about being a company and making money. It’s about connecting all different people from our customers to our wholesale buyers to our people who support our company on so many levels,” Faller said.“The tagline ‘every thread matters’ is an acknowledgement of just that. That every person along the way is important.”
Faller spoke on the importance of events like Fashion for Freedom to approach the conversation from a positive light, supporting the community and message as a whole through education and advocacy rather than negating any other label or company.
“We believe style is more than what you wear – it’s what you choose to be a part of,” she said.
There is strength in numbers, and this event allows a proper gathering of small ethical brands and advocates each using their platforms to take radical steps. Faller admired the event creating a space allowing those like her surrounding themselves with the “right kind of community.” It allows consumers to see the possibility and the results of their actions.
In a world of online shoppers and those searching for the easiest and quickest solution to their issues, Faller makes a point that in order for the sustainable fashion industry to have a larger and more widespread impact, they must meet people where they are at and put clothes in front of them that were ethically produced.
“Further, I think that activists and people pushing from the outside have a big role to play. Large brands won’t change unless there is pressure from activists and customers. Those are the campaigns that really work. If there is enough pressure, that’s how they will change,” Faller said in response to what it will take for more transparency of these larger brands’ production lines.
There are great brands doing things differently, and Faller encourages each individual consumer to do the digging and not give up.
“The support of each individual customer means so much to us and I encourage people to not give up on the idea that this is possible,” she said. “As discouraging as it is what’s going on in the fashion industry, there are a lot of positive people trying to make a difference and need that support.”
With Fashion for Freedom, Free the Slaves is bringing awareness to modern slavery in the current fashion industry and celebrating ethical brands and advocates working to rid the fashion industry of atrocities like slavery. The “tidal wave” motion towards an ethical and sustainable fashion industry has already begun. Through more transparency, advocacy, and ethical consumerism, society will begin to put people over profit, and the fashion industry can once and for all be rid of slavery.
Claire is a Free the Slaves Intern and current Junior at the University of Mississippi majoring in Forensic Chemistry and minoring in Intelligence and Security Studies. After entering into the Intelligence Community Center, her desire to pursue a career in the field of national security grew. Since learning more about the international crisis that is modern slavery, she has become driven towards a post grad career combating it. Claire is positive that there is an end to such slavery and would be honored to play even the slightest role to make that happen.