Our wonderful Donor Development Coordinator Hannah visited women producers from the MBoutik program in Myanmar, a social enterprise supported by ActionAid Myanmar.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Hannah to get the inside scoop on how her trip impacted her views on ethical fashion, what it was like meeting some of the women who make our clothes, and how ethical fashion can support women to claim their rights.
Q. In your opinion, why is ethical fashion so important?
A. The fashion industry has a long history of exploitative and unfair labour practices towards its workers. In today’s fast-paced, consumerist world, fashion turnover is exceedingly high, particularly in the OECD countries like Australia and the United States. This puts further pressure on the textile and clothing industry to meet ever-increasing demand and creates these mega-factories that employ many but do not care of their staff – most of whom are women. Turning a blind eye to the fashion industry is turning a blind eye to human rights. Ethical fashion means you can wear clothing that reflects your beliefs, and doesn’t exploit workers in the process.
Q. Did your trip to visit the women producers in Myanmar change your understanding of ethical fashion, or how you buy clothes in your day to day life?
A. On my trip I visited two villages – a weaving village and a sewing village – both located in Myanmar’s DryZone region. The women here had lived in these villages their entire lives, and working in the project meant that they didn’t have to migrate to the bigger cities or across borders to find work. This is so important in terms of being ethical because it meant the women were able to support their families and themselves in their own communities. Visiting these two villages meant I was able to see different parts of the production process, from the beginning. First, I visited the weaving village of Htan Ta Pin, and met with women producers who worked there weaving thread into beautiful pieces of fabric. The second village was a sewing village called Kyit Tee where producers used sewing machines to make clothes for Mboutik. The women put time, energy and passion into producing this clothing and it really shows in the final product – especially when you compare this sort of item to something produced in a large factory.
Q. What was it like meeting and getting to know the women producers who work with ActionAid Myanmar and MBoutik?
A. The women were incredibly strong and not afraid to speak up. They loved speaking about their experiences and all love what they are doing. One woman named Hnin Nu Wai was incredibly inspirational. She was one of the youngest members of the group, but her confidence really came through in group discussions. She said when she was younger, she saw how differently girls were treated, so she wanted to be a boy instead. But after being involved in this program, she gradually gained confidence and shared her experiences with other women in the group, and now is proud to be a strong and independent woman.
Q. The women you met with in Myanmar live in an area called the DryZone which is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. How has this affected the women producers and their communities?
A. I visited the DryZone during the ‘rainy’ season. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed by the incredibly hot, dry heat with winds that stirred up dust into the air. There was no rain. The following afternoon there was a sprinkle of rain that lasted perhaps two minutes, and that was it. I can only imagine how dry the region gets throughout the rest of the year. It was no surprise to me when the women said that the seasonal farming work is difficult to come by, considering the dry and arid environment. Considering the impacts of climate change, it is more important than ever that programs like this support employment that creates a more diverse economy in the region.
A. Many of the women I met with said that in their communities, women are seen as lesser than men. This obviously still creates challenges in a variety of ways, however, despite this, several of the women said that since being involved in this project, they now have the confidence to speak up when they feel that something is not right.
Q. From your experience speaking with the women producers and getting to know them, what impact has being a part of MBoutik, and the recent partnership with the Fabric Social, had on their lives?
A. Because these women live in the DryZone of Myanmar, their opportunities for work can be very limited. For many, seasonal work in local farms is the only available option for employment, but this poses problems during the drier months where little or no rain puts them out of work. The women we met said that being involved in this program gives them a steady, reliable source of income that means they can support themselves and their families, without having to migrate to bigger factories in Yangon or in Thailand. This in turn helps boost their own confidence and happiness that their passion can lead to economic independence.
Q. Why should Australians invest in these ethically made clothes?
A. As consumers, Australians should be aware of the entire value-chain involved in making the clothes they are wearing. If people knew the exploitative practices and unfair working conditions that go into making their clothes, they’d be shocked. That’s why it’s so important that we educate ourselves as to where our clothes are coming from, and choose to purchase clothes that treat people fairly in the production process.
Now that sounds like feminist fashion to us! To purchase your items today, click here.
The innovative business partnership, coordinated by ActionAid Australia through funding from DFAT’s new Business Partnerships Platform, is supporting women in Myanmar to realise their economic independence and full human rights.