Imagine this: we’re friends. You’ve come to my house so that I can proudly detail how my newfound love of sewing means that I’m making clothes now. Would you offer me a paltry few dollars for something you now know I’ve poured over for hours, broken two needles on and practically severed a finger whilst sewing?
I’d like to think your answer goes something like this: “No Katie, you goose, I’d pay you what I thought it was worth considering the time and effort you invested in making it*.” (*If that wasn’t your answer then I hope that by the end of this article, you take pause for thought and reassess.)
Edda, Judith, Ryan, and Monique – known collectively as the team behind sustainable fashion label VIHN – recognise that conversations like the one I’ve imagined above rarely precursor clothing purchases. Instead, we’ve become obsessed with the notion of bargain hunting; driven by an insatiable and unobtainable need to keep up with the ever changing world of fashion. Obliviously pursuing this goal, we have little or no concept as to the real life impact our decisions are having on those who make the very shirts on our backs.
VIHN’s mission is simple on paper and echoes those such as Stella McCartney and Suno who have long focused on the environmental impacts of production: VIHN want to transform the lives of those who work in the garment industry. But as The True Cost details – with 1 in 6 humans on the Earth today involved in the fashion industry and an average of eight million items of clothing sold every year – transforming the garment industry is no mean feat.
As I sat among a crowd of other twenty to thirty something’s watching the documentary at VIHN’s recent screening night, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable about pretty much every item of clothing I’ve ever bought. The film pairs shots of frenzied American shoppers at the Black Friday sales with those of the bodies of the 1,100 workers crushed when a factory collapsed at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh two years ago. Mr Morgan captures the story of a single mother who tried to organise a labour union in her factory and was locked in a room and beaten by her employers. We meet mentally handicapped kids in India, who are reportedly suffering from the impact of pesticides used to grow the cotton for our clothes. And, we’re presented with images of entire villages suffering from hypopigmentation due to the chemicals that are reportedly pumped into their only source of drinking water by a factory upstream that manufactures cheap leather. It was difficult, uncomfortable, and, at time, gut-wrenching viewing.
Style.com reports, that Mr Morgan swears the movie isn’t designed to “bum you out” but is instead here to “pose [a] simple idea: There are human beings who make what we wear.” And it is this idea that VIHN are desperate to communicate to the Australian world of fashion.
Derived from the Icelandic word meaning “friend”, VIHN is a label that goes beyond your wardrobe with each and every purchase funding a project at Lotus Silk, an ethical workspace in Cambodia:
- Buy a VIHN dress; you provide child-care to the workers.
- Buy a VIHN jacket; you add solar panels to the workspace.
- Buy a VIHN shirt and you fund education programs for the workers.
VIHN’s mission is to create opportunities for mainstream garment workers to move into ethical workplaces – and transform their lives. Their premise is about seeing the people that make our clothes as just that: people.
Watching The True Cost I realised how I, like pretty much everyone I know, take for granted the workforce making my clothes as an extension of the machines they’re made on. VIHN don’t do that; their clothes –which are statement pieces designed to empower both the maker and the wearer – are designed by humans, sewn by humans and should be worn by humans.
I can’t encourage you enough to donate to VIHN’s StartSomeGood campaign; and, if you’re still not convinced, watch The True Cost on Netflix when it’s available later this month. If that doesn’t move you, I’d recommend you see a doctor or a mechanic because I’d hazard a guess that you’re not human at all.