When we first started Renegades of Chic, our intention was to only stock products certified by Fairtrade International or the World Fair Trade Organisation, and made from recycled material or GOTS-certified organic cotton. I thought this would be the best way of using our buying power to end poverty and create positive change, particularly for women who make up the majority of textile workers and home-based artisans across the world.
As I started sourcing products and talking to designers I realised it wasn't that simple. Here are just some of the challenges I discovered:
At the same time as learning about these challenges, I'm seeing the incredible impact that uncertified businesses are having - particularly for women. They are creating opportunity where it has never existed before. They are empowering women and men to work close to home, even where they live in remote and rural places, earn fair wages, send their kids to school and build a better life for themselves and their families.
In other words, they are disrupting poverty at its roots and giving people all over the world the opportunity to thrive.
The one thing that's become clear to me is this - there is no one 'right' way. Sometimes change takes takes longer than we would like it to, or it looks different to what we expected. But as long as we support each other to keep learning and growing I have no doubt we can achieve great things.
So, rather than using certification as the sole criteria for choosing our products, we look at a business' net impact. This means we look at their production volumes, how they disrupt poverty and their impact on the environment, to determine whether their overall impact is positive or negative. I'll be the first to admit there's no complex algorithm or exact science behind this, and our thinking is constantly evolving as we ask more questions and continue to learn.
As a starting point, all of our products are designed or made by women (most are both), because as a feminist business we're committed to empowering women and achieving gender equality, and we ensure all of the artisans involved in making our products are paid a fair wage. You can read more about our values here.
After shortlisting a range of designers, we then gather all the information we can find and select our products based on the following criteria:
Factory-made products must be fair trade certified (e.g. by Fairtrade International or WFTO)
Products made in home-based studios or workshops must provide living wages + dignified working conditions
Factory-made products must be made from 100% recycled material or GOTS-certified organic cotton
For products made by hand or in small workshops we preference recycled materials and natural fibres
Every single product we sell is chosen for its elegance, simplicity and timeless design
We partner with modern designers and we don't chase trends, so you can look amazing now and in years to come
We'd love to hear your views!
We know lots of people have strong views about this and we'd love to hear from you! All we ask is that your questions/criticisms are constructive and come from a place of love. We're doing our best to make a positive change in the world, as are all of the amazing designers we partner with.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to chat further, and we're always happy to provide more info on any of the products we sell. We've tried to strike the right balance between being transparent and not asking you to read the equivalent of War and Peace, but to be honest I'm completely obsessed with this topic so I would love nothing more than to discuss it with you in great detail! We definitely don't have all the answers and love to learn from others.
I often have days where I feel like I'm not doing enough, that I've failed and just can't see a way forward, and this excerpt of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt always provides me with inspiration to dust myself off and keep on going. I've taken a little bit of creative licence with the gender so I hope you'll forgive me - something tells me Eleanor would be OK with it though so I'm not losing too much sleep over it.
The woman in the arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
But who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.