British designer Vivienne Westwood, as renowned for her fire-coloured hair as her feminine designs, is has taken up a leading role in ethical fashion with the launch of her second ethical fashion collection. Guided by the principle that problems such as poverty and female inequality cannot be solved through charity alone, Westwood released her 'Ethical Fashion Africa' collection of handbags earlier this summer. Her credo is simple: 'This is not charity, it is work.'
The range provides jobs and livelihoods to more than 7,000 marginalised people (mainly women) living in Kenya and uses recycled materials such as canvas tents and roadside signs to craft the designs. The project is part of the International Trade Centre's (ITC) Ethical Fashion Programme, which seeks to make fashion sustainable on three levels - social, economic and environmental. The programme bills itself as a market-based mechanism, not a charity; and many participants have seen their income increase by three to six dollars per day with the addition of orders from Westwood's line.
Westwood, who says that her awareness of climate change has deeply affected her worldview, sees a connection between providing jobs and addressing environmental problems. 'If people have an income and power and more control over their lives, they can choose not to have to exploit the environment because they have another way of earning some money'.
The ITC, a joint initiative run by the UN and the World Trade Organisation [WTO], wants to bring the many people living in poverty today into global commerce through partnerships with brands like Westwood's. Simone Cipriani of the ITC said that the Ethical Fashion Programme is more than just a way to make consumers feel good about themselves, it's a way to address the problem of poverty holistically. 'This is not niche initiative', Cipriani said. '[This programme] facilitates disadvantaged communities and their groups of artisans to enter the international value chain'.
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