Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What is Fair Trade? by Ashley Ayala

So what the heck is “fair trade”? 

Shortly after starting Sister House Collective, I came to the realization that many are unfamiliar with the term fair trade. When first introduced, I’ll admit that I thought, “well, fair trade is a nice concept but I can’t afford super expensive, organic cotton everything.” And that was the end of that.

Over the last few years, as I have become more and more interested in the human rights aspect of producing goods, I have become completely consumed with the reality that in the process of America’s mass consumption, many people around the world are suffering. Not only is our consumption as a nation making us less happy as a whole (the more we have, the happier we are. Sound familiar?) but it is keeping poor nations poor, and our ignorance is costing people their lives. This is when fair trade started to make a whole lot of sense. My perspective about it’s importance became something I couldn’t ignore.

Living with intention about how each of our choices impact the larger world, I learned that it shopping with an ethical mindset does not have to be expensive, or pretentious or monochromatic. There are plenty of ways to stay true to our values while embracing trends and honestly, enjoying the items we bring into our lives instead of piling up clothes in our closet that we have no connection or particular attachment to.

Fair Trade is a market-based approach to alleviating poverty in ways that improve lives, strengthen communities, and protect the environment. Fair Trade offers fair prices and wages to farmers, workers, and artisans; improved terms of trade, and community development funds to invest in education, health care, and other projects to improve their quality of life. (definition from

So what’s the difference between a minimum wage vs. a fair (living) wage?

According to the Berne Declaration, a Swiss not-for-profit that campaigns for more equitable relations between Switzerland and underprivileged countries- a living wage is, “Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their families an existence worthy of human dignity..” 

“This principle is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; however, it is systematically disregarded in the textile industry. The majority of the over 60 million workers worldwide live in extreme poverty. In spite of excess overtime, their wages are not enough to live on. This holds true for workers in Asia as well as Europe. 

The way out of poverty is a living wage. The Clean Clothes Campaign defines a living wage as follows: A wage earned without working overtime that allows workers to meet their own, as well as their family’s basic needs such as food, rent, health care or education and that allows for some discretionary income (10%) to cover unforeseen costs or savings.

“Fair fashion” only becomes a reality when workers receive a living wage. This is why in 2013 the Clean Clothes Campaign conducted a broad study of over 100 brands to assess their efforts with regards to implementing a living wage.” 

  • from Fair Fashion? app, What’s a Living Wage?

So in short, the first full month of the hey sister campaign, Katie and I will be providing information and how-to’s to become a more conscious shopper when it comes to clothing. The textile industry has taken the world by storm with the demand of constantly changing fashions in developed countries. Katie and I aim to expose the truth behind this consumption and what we can all do to live in a way that empowers and does not exploit. Like Katie said in our last post, we all have to wear clothes; this is something we all vote for with our dollars. Will we chose to vote for oppression and poverty or will we give businesses and individuals the opportunity to succeed and thrive? 

Interested in learning more? Check out the links below:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What is fast fashion?

What is fast fashion? By Katie Visconti

If you’ve been following the #heysistercampaign for the past several weeks, you’ve probably noticed terms like fast fashion and fair trade being used.

Like any topic that is brand new, we want this post to be as informative and useful to you as possible. Because here is the truth: we all wear clothes. To be a member of our society, clothes are necessary. In the grocery store, in schools, in the workplace, everywhere. Something we may not realize is everything we buy comes with a cost that stems beyond the price of the product.

Did you know that before the tee-shirt you are wearing reaches you, at least ten people have been part of its production? There are ten lives that all went into the making of a single item of clothing.

Fast fashion is the term used to described how quickly clothes are moving from the catwalk to the consumer. We used to have four seasons where clothing would come out and now we have new clothes going to stores every two weeks and being mass produced to meet the “needs” of consumers.

What does this mean for the people making our clothes? Up until 1970’s, our clothes were being made in the US. After that, companies began to realize that using outside resources would be cheaper. It led to regions Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, and more impoverished nations getting exploited through manufacturing clothes for next to nothing, having little to no union representation, and little human and worker rights.

The world consumes 400% more clothing right now than it did 20 years ago. The world makes between 80-90 billion pieces of clothing every single year. Each individual throws away about 70 pounds of clothing every year. To meet this rapid production, workers are hired every day for less than what we pay for a single coffee. Their weekly salary would not even be enough money to fill up most of our gas tanks. The legal minimum wage in most of these countries is about half of what they need to just survive. For example, in Bangladesh, a leading exporter in fashion, workers are paid 60% less than what they need to make to survive. That would be like us being paid $4 to live on while paying for bills, childcare, insurance, food, and more.

The questions I hear all the time is: “Well their lives are different, so how is that relevant? They need less than we do.”

Their lives are lives just like our own. We did absolutely nothing to be born into the abundance we have. In terms of all the places we could be born in the world, we won the lottery. These people are asking for basic human rights. And when they ask and we go off to buy a four-dollar shirt from H&M or Forever 21, we are choosing to ignore their pleas and saying our need for fashion is more important than their need to simply live.  

We would never let our families or friends be exploited. We would never watch a factory collapse here in America and kill nearly 1,200 people and simply ignore the tragedy. We would never go on to buy the clothes from that factory, we would honor the lives lost.

And yet.

When the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, 1,133 people died and 2,500 were injured. The ruble was so great that many people were buried beneath it as families cried and waited for their loved ones’ bodies to be discovered. A year later, 200 of those bodies have still not been found. And we have rebuilt the walls that we allowed to collapse due to our negligence. And this time, we do nothing different. We force the same people to work in the place they lost their sisters, brothers, wives, and children. Because we “need” more tee shirts.

Photo from the NY Times

Couple found dead, embracing. Photo by Taslima Akhter of Time Magazine

(if you are interested in seeing more portraits and learning more about the Rana Factory tragedy,

I use “we” because we can’t progress if we don’t address that we contribute. We vote with our dollars as consumers. Before I knew the deep, twisted roots of fast fashion, I was the biggest supporter of it. I went out and shopped every time I had a date, a special occasion, a bad day, a good day, all of it. I went into Forever 21 and H&M and countless other stores with reckless abandon on how much I would spend.

After watching The True Cost, I could not believe what I had been participating in. It’s been eye-opening and wildly upsetting. While it is slightly difficult to find things made fair, or in the US, it is possible and worth it.

I don’t personally know who made my clothes. I haven’t shaken their hand or had a class with them, or bumped into them in the grocery store. But that doesn’t matter. Because their work is how I stay clothed. Their work is seen every single day and yet we don’t take the time to acknowledge them.

Think of an item of clothing that means the world to you. I have shirts that I’ve had interviews turned into jobs in, dresses I’ve worn on favorite dates, running shorts that I’ve crossed finish lines in, all because someone, somewhere, made it.

The very, very least we can do is honor their life as much as we would our own.

We forgot that these people are more than just seamstresses and factory workers. They have children. They have passions. They like reading, and spending time with family. They are athletes and writers and dreamers and leaders to be.

They are part of this big, beautiful world we are inhabiting together and I know there is plenty of room for them to be seen, heard, and deeply appreciated.

Your clothes aren’t a bargain if they cost a life. Let’s change the way we buy so we can change the world.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Conscious Magazine

I'm not sure how I stumbled across Conscious Magazine; all I know is that when I read about their publication- I thought to myself, "oh my gosh. I have to read this! It's all about changing the conversation. Other people who are putting everything they've got into creating socially conscious movements, brands, non-profits- people are doing it! And there are so many that there is a magazine about it? How can I get it!?" 
I ordered the whole collection that day. When they arrived, I tried to find a cozy, quiet space to flip through the three editions and I was overwhelmed with inspiration- I would read a story and then let it sink in for a few days before moving onto the next. It's now been almost a year since I discovered the publication and I still have not finished my (now four) magazines; not because they aren't incredible, but because I treasure each story. Each one has so much meaning and intention behind it; tales of men and women who are at the forefront of real, authentic change, leading lives that stand for something bigger than themselves.
In Issue 03, I learned about "Conscious Fashion Pioneers"- Eryn Erickson, founder of So Worth Loving, Melissa Joy Manning of Melissa Joy Manning, Inc. and Dawn Yanagihara, co-founder and creative director of Kiriko. In another issue, I was encouraged by an article that depicted the realistic business model that Sister House Collective is: slow growth for social impact. This was profound for me. Slow growth is still growth, and social impact efforts are stillefforts that are impacting someone. So what if it takes years for me to build this thing up? Is the social impact worth it? Absolutely.
During the first year of Sister House Collective, I asked myself a lot- how does a business sustain itself if it isn't all about making a huge profit? Well, with no experience in business management or marketing, a deep desire to cultivate social justice and transparency, I accepted that I have to be patient. I have to know that I will never be filthy rich. I can live passionately for something more, something greater that will take some time to develop. I can keep myself inspired by people who are living the dream I want to achieve.
Through Conscious Magazine, I have has my eyes opened to social impact brands, businesses and non-profits that all started with an individual who made a change. One person with a crazy big idea can inspire lasting change in the world. When I read this magazine, it is proof that people are making changes for the greater good- BIG CHANGES. Every day.
Here is the Story + Mission from Conscious Magazine's website: 
"I need to do something. I can do something.” This is why CONSCIOUS exists, we hope our stories inspire impact despite our pasts, circumstances, and surroundings.
CONSCIOUS Magazine was founded by sisters, Rachael and Elena. Their passion for people and seeing them live out their potential in the service of others was the driving force behind the venture. They wanted to become a voice that inspired and empowered all generations.
The concept originated as a blog called Lifestyle + Charity. During that time, they discovered and met with a growing community of influencers, leaders, world-changers, social entrepreneurs, and those doing great things that not only serve their community, but also create real change in different parts of the world. After countless interactions, they learned that many of those making a difference have gone through a series of triumphs and challenges recognizing that the work they do is hard and requires passion, commitment, and purpose. They were inspired, so they sought out to share their stories. They found themselves shifting their conversations to discussing the needs of other cultures, learning about people from different communities, and getting excited about it.
Like many startups, they shared their vision with their closest friends and invited them to join. In the first and second year, the idea became alive through a blog and events, and eventually, with the help of partners and readers, it transformed into a digital magazine featuring conscious culture from fashion, food, art, film, people, and more. At that time, they tagged themselves as “Your Source for Conscious Culture,” which was instrumental in their next step.
Just after the three year mark, and with the help of an expanded leadership team including Jon Lechliter, Sarah Stanton, and Garfield DeBarros, they relaunched the Lifestyle + Charity brand as CONSCIOUS Magazine with a focus on stories and conversations that talk about local and global concerns, as well as continuing to be a source for conscious culture.

Our vision is to raise up the next generation of storytellers and journalists that make a difference while staying creative and innovative to attract the world's leading voices.

-From Conscious Magazine, find out more by clicking here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What is hey sister?

What is hey sister?

Hey all! Now that we have the ball rolling on hey sister, Ashley and I thought we would give you a low down on what exactly it is, what we plan to do as Feminist Apparel brand ambassadors, what we have coming up, and how you can join the movement. Have I shared that we are so excited and grateful? There are big things ahead and we so appreciate all of your love, curiosity, and willingness to learn and do more.

If you haven’t had a chance to read my last few blog posts, here and here, hey sister was born from the mutual idea that every woman of the world is our sister and if they are unable or scared to use their voice, we will use ours. I realize there are men reading this that are moving their cursor to the exit button. So let me say this first, hey sister is a world-inclusive recognition that all human beings are equal and deserving of respect and a life full of fair and sustainable opportunities. This isn’t about one gender over-powering the other. This isn’t about bashing who and what you are. This is about our society coming to terms that there is room for everyone to thrive. To be paid fairly, to be treated respectfully, to be compassionate and open-minded and to be feel supported and safe.

Ashley and I sat down together about two months ago and like we normally do, we got into a deep discussion about cultural norms, creating a conscious society, and helping people everywhere. We were brainstorming about what we could possibly do to help and pitch our idea to Feminist Apparel, when we found ourselves overwhelmed with at the issues human beings face in the world. Everything from unfit labor conditions to sex trafficking, to women being denied education and rights to their own bodies.

It’s overwhelming. Any one of us can open our phones or computers and see endless outlets of news sources telling us the latest tragedy, companies asking for money or support, and people hoping for a better future and a place of redemption. For anyone reading this who has thought, “There is just so much and I really don’t know what I could do about it” or “I just don’t understand the problem” or “It’s been happening for decades so I don’t know how we can make a big change”, these thoughts are not singular to you. We have all thought this. It’s natural to turn away from discomfort because why would we want to run into it? Sure, you’ve probably been upset over something on the news, but then you return to your life and the one behind the screen is left forgotten and unacknowledged.

But those people aren’t gone. And they aren’t going anywhere. Generation after generation, there are people that echo every tragic news story you’ve read in their daily lives. They are scared, alone, lost, hurting, and we are absolutely crazy to think that they are segregated from us and not our responsibility. We inhabit one world. Why not create a conscious society that places our dollars, our intentions, and our resources towards a greater world that acknowledges all?

hey sister is going to provide you with the tools on how we can start moving towards that world. Each week we are going to share a post from a company that inspires us. They will share their mission, how and why they got started, and why it’s important. Ashley and I will also share posts about creating an ethical closet, the difference between fast fashion and fair trade, what sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse is and how it affects our society long-term, what consent is, what being discriminated and underestimated feels like through the narratives of women, and more like how to love and live your best, most deliberate, beautiful, crazy life. Because we are all so deserving of it.

At the end of the semester, we will have a community gathering here in Las Vegas with cool vendors, volunteer sign-ups, guest speakers, and more. We will also write letters addressed as hey sister, and send them overseas to girls and women who need some words of encouragement and a reminder they are never, ever alone.

We hope you walk away each week with a new sense of understanding. Some new tidbits of knowledge. We hope that instead of talking to your friends about how much you hate your professor or the weather, you’ll bring up topics that inspire debate and forward movement. We want the difficult assets of feminisms to be accessible.

There is nothing we believe in more than the influence and potential of our generation. With that power, we want to encourage humility. We do not choose the life we are born into, but we do get a say in what we do with ours. Being silent, compliant, and dismissive about the problems we know are wrong cannot possibly lead to our best life.

Let’s do the work.

All our love,

Katie + Ashley

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