Changemaker: Carmina Aguilar Mancenon
Fashion is exciting, colourful, dynamic….and more recently, cheap. The emphasis on cheap, fast fashion often occurs at the expense of both the environment and ethical labourEnvironmentally, the lowered price points have caused clothing to even be considered a disposable luxury to the first world customer. This combined with the seasonal nature of fashion itself directly feeds into a vicious “throwaway” cycle. In terms of labor, innovation in fashion is often lost to short-term pressures to fulfill seasonal consumer demand. With workers in sweatshops and factories in the Third World working in dire conditions with wages below the poverty line, fashion’s potential to empower people across the supply chain, to create a bridge between cultures, and to introduce cutting-edge ideas in craftsmanship and product design has been lost in a cycle of wasteful consumption. According to the US Department of Labour, “more than half the 22,000 garment contractors in the United States don’t pay workers minimum wage”. Some of the largest public violators of labor policy have stemmed from American fashion supergiants that rely on the developing world for production. For developing countries, this normally constitutes a significant part of their work force making ethical fashion even more relevant today. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the fashion industry employs 15% of the entire Sri Lankan workforce and half of the country’s total exports are from with apparel.
Despite the tangible need to educate the average consumer, there is a lack of both Sustainable Fashion Initiatives and research on ethical fashion in the US. A simple Google search shows that the most active sustainable fashion initiatives are headquartered in the UK. Statistics for ethical fashion in America are hard To tackle this, two engineers and one economist from Princeton who have a little addiction for fashion founded the Sustainable Fashion Initiative in 2011. SFI has two core missions for working in a University setting: 1. to open opportunities by acting as an incubator for innovations and enterprises focusing on the fashion industry that would benefit the Third World by motivating and supporting Princeton student project leaders. 2. to increase understanding about the environmental impacts and ethical implications of the fashion industry and the practices of its consumers to change the mindset and consumer behaviour on the Princeton campus and beyond SFI explores sustainable fashion from both entrepreneurial and academic angles to encourage hands-on action in the First World to bridge this gap, from hosting fashion workshops, bringing in high-profile speakers, hosting design contests, creating a for-credit Princeton course to ethical fashion competitions.