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US ethical fashion brands Nisolo and Able challenge the industry to share lowest wages

By Dale Arden Chong


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Los Angeles - As fashion continues to progress within the movement of sustainable and ethical fashion, brands are turning the industry on its head. And while many have started to use environmentally responsible practices in production, another primary part of the movement focuses on the wellbeing of those producing the clothes.

To put a spotlight the circumstances for those working in the supply chain—as well as challenge and change the industry—Nisolo and Able have teamed up to launch the #LowestWageChallenge, which prompts brands to expose the lowest wages they offer for their workers.

Below, the founders of the Nashville, Tenessee-based companies, Patrick Woodyard of Nisolo and Barrett Ward of Able, share with FashionUnited more about the movement and how it can help change the future of the industry.

Tell us how Able and Nisolo came together, and why you decided to partner with each other.

Nisolo’s vision is to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction--where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price--a direction that not only values exceptional design, but the producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer. This industry-wide goal cannot be accomplished by one brand alone.

Last year Able published their lowest wages in their Nashville office. Nisolo was impressed by their unprecedented display of vulnerability and was encouraged to team up to push the wage transparency movement further together.

Why did you choose now to initiate this challenge?

While we are thankfully starting to see a lot of talk about the serious ways that the fashion industry is failing our planet, the impact the industry is having on people has taken a dangerous back seat. We don’t believe these have to be mutually exclusive, and the time is now to shed further light on the serious social injustices going on within the industry.

Thankfully, demand for better practices in fashion is on the rise. Yet, as “sustainability” is now on-trend, more brands are using words like “ethical” and “sustainable” without changing the way they treat people in their supply chain. We see brands directly copying our language, yet they are unwilling to copy our actions. This is happening to amazing brands left and right. With as few as 2 percent of workers in the industry receiving a living wage, this campaign is about ensuring that actual practices in fashion are changing alongside marketing tactics. It’s about restoring integrity and trust between brands and consumers at this critical turning point for the industry.

What do you hope will come from the #LowestWageChallenge?

Because of the ways we have seen firsthand countless times how receiving a living wage can completely transform the wellbeing of entire families, our hope is that one day, all brands will openly share the lowest wages within their factories and begin working toward making them 3rd party verified living wages.

Brands publishing their lowest wages is the first step, as it lays the baseline foundation for providing a living wage to everyone in the fashion industry’s supply chain. To accelerate the shift toward living wages, Nisolo is partnering with our closest competitor, Able, to co-launch a movement that makes next steps for consumers and brands as seamless and straightforward as possible.

After participating in the #LowestWageChallenge, how can consumers continue to challenge these norms and contribute to changing the fashion industry's culture?

This movement depends on consumers asking other brands outside of Nisolo and ABLE to share their lowest wages.

So far, consumers have sent in roughly 1,500 nominations inviting more than 400 brands to join (see “nominated brands” on LowestWageChallenge.com) the movement. Several brands have already committed, and we’ll announce the full list on Dec. 5th.

In the meantime, consumers should encourage brands to join via social media or nominate them on the Take Action page. We want to remind people that this campaign is not intended to call brands out. Able and Nisolo will be the first to admit that we are very far from perfect. This movement is about prioritizing honesty and progress over perfection.

Transparency is becoming a more common thing within the industry; why is it important that consumers know and understand things such as wages and other practices on the manufacturing side of fashion?

Nothing changes corporate exploitation like consumer demand. It's time to shake up the industry and challenge the status quo.

What are the long-term effects of asking brands to share this type of information?

If consumers demand that their favorite brands publish their lowest wages, a new level of transparency will emerge that forces unprecedented accountability and changes the fashion industry forever.

Through this campaign, committed brands will begin to self-publish the lowest wage of at least one factory in their supply chain (domestic and international) by March 2020.

Our hope is that they will continue to go through all of their factories, but we are asking them to simply start with one. Once they commit to self-publishing, we will add them to the “Committed Brands” page on [the movement’s website] that goes live on Dec. 5 and is updated monthly.

Beyond self-publishing, 3rd party verification is critical for the integrity of the #LowestWageChallenge. Accountable is a non-profit, 3rd party assessment that verifies wages through a simple and affordable process that calculates a living wage using multiple methodologies, and serves to find economical, partnership-oriented solutions between brands and manufacturers to support the journey toward 100 percent living wages.

Are there any plans to launch more initiatives such as this one in the future?

This holiday season Nisolo has curated a collection of ethically made products from 22 brands they trust to make sustainable shopping and living an easy one-stop experience. Every product featured in this marketplace has a unique positive impact on people and the planet, and Nisolo has vetted participating brands’ practices against their code of conduct to ensure they meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility. Nisolo believes collaboration with brands and consumers is critical to achieving their vision for a sustainable fashion industry, which is why they see this marketplace as a positive, exciting step in the right direction.

Images: Courtesy of Nisolo

Barrett Ward
Patrick Woodyard