How the introduction to Sseko changed my view about fast fashion, and taught me about ethical fashion and fair trade.
Those who know me know that I am a practical person. If I don’t need an article of clothing, I typically won’t buy it. It’s not really out of frugality. I’m a firm believer in buying high-quality, staple pieces of clothing that last you a long time even if they’re not a name-brand. In other words, how it’s made matters, and I recently discovered a new meaning to that phrase.
Earlier this year I came across a FB live video of a good friend talking about handbags. She immediately caught my attention. What I learned blew me away (and made me shed a few tears in the process). Before I go further, let me tell you a story from my childhood that has forever changed me.
Making a Difference in the Lives of Others
When I was little, my family would go on summer vacation in the mountains of my parents’ home country. The summer vacation before 5th grade stands out to me in particular. It was a very hot summer day. We were visiting my uncle at his very humble bodega in the mountains outside of Santiago and my dad treated us to ice cold Country Club raspberry soda to cool off. I noticed a group of three young boys (not older than 8 years old) timidly hanging around us.
They glanced at us with a longing in their eyes, soaking up the conversation.
“What do you need?” my dad playfully asked them. Silence.
Even as a fifth-grader I knew the drill: these kids lived in extreme poverty, and word got out that people from ‘Nueva York’ were in town. They were sent by relatives with hope of receiving anything to help feed their families. Both of my parents would tell us stories of how poor they were growing up, and having to split up one whole chicken between 12 mouths at dinner time.
“Do you need rice at home?” They timidly nodded yes in unison. “Here, take a bag of rice,” my dad kindly said, as they timidly outstretched their arms. My dad placed a bag of rice into each set of arms. They smiled a little, but still looked unsure.
“What about beans?” They incredulously looked at each other before nodding yes again. “Take some, take some!” my dad cheered, as my uncle smiled and set aside a bag of dry beans for each.
“And what about pots and pans? Do you need some to cook food at home?”
This time the three boys grinned ear to ear as they nodded, surely thinking about the treasures they’d be bringing home to their mothers and the full bellies they’d have later that night. My dad and uncle picked three terra cotta pots, and helped the boys load the dry goods inside them. “Gracias!” each of them chirped, and home they went, hobbling a little with the weight of their treasures.
My father paid for our sodas and for the food supplies for the boys. All in all, I believe he spent roughly $25 USD. What we got in return was priceless: an appreciation for all that we had, even as poor first-generation Americans, and compassion for those less fortunate.
Until you visit a third-world country, and actually mingle with its people, it’s hard to understand the true meaning of poverty. To this day, this memory moves me, and I’m so thankful to have experienced first-hand how something so little can make such a difference in the lives of others. These children could have asked for candy, or a soda, or a toy. But, no. Instead, they happily accepted food they knew their families desperately needed.
Which leads me to my next point.
What is Ethical Fashion?
Have you ever wondered why clothes can sometimes be so cheap?
“Ethical Fashion” is a term that describes ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.
Ethical Fashion means working with suppliers that pay fair wages, guaranteeing that no child labor is allowed within their factories, and maintaining a safe working environment. Up until recently, I had never heard of fast fashion, but I can tell you that fast fashion is the total opposite of ethical fashion. One of the Sseko mottos is How It’s Made Matters and now it makes total sense.
You may have also heard of sustainable fashion, fair trade fashion. Read more on this at No Sidebar.
What is Sseko?
Did you know that in Uganda, a young woman’s “value” goes down the older she is and the more education she has? The younger and less education she has, the larger her dowry is, and the easier it is to marry her off?
Sseko started to enable young women in Uganda to continue on to university. They work for Sseko in the nine-month gap between secondary school and university, saving part of their income for university. They receive life skills training, are paired with professional mentors, and get valuable formal work experience. It’s a cause that immediately made my heart swoon!
At the end of their term, Sseko matches their savings 300%!!! Every woman who has graduated from Sseko has gone on to pursue higher education and is on her way to making our world a more beautiful place. In 2019, Sseko will enable the 131st woman to attend university. Stick a fork in me.
In addition to the university-bound team, Sseko hires full-time staff primarily from non-profit partners. These women come from all walks of life and face a challenging job market. Sseko is bridging the gap. By creating an environment of dignity, honor, and dedication, Sseko Designs provides the opportunity for women in East Africa to end the cycle of poverty and create a more equitable society.
How’s THAT for women empowering women?
What does Sseko sell?
There’s so many beautiful pieces you’ll love to incorporate into your wardrobe that you’ll have a hard time just picking one. There are so many styles of handbags, including fair trade leather, canvas cloth, and even woven straw. I own several handbags and have received many compliments while out on the town.
Sseko’s clothing is also high-quality, and are made with fair trade textiles. My reversible top is one of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe. I plan on adding a duster and a shift dress down the road. I love that the style of clothing agrees with the Florida weather, so it’s perfect for me for that alone!
But what started it all was a pair of sandals. There are flat sandals, wedges, platform, flip-flop and more to choose from! I fell in love with the ribbon sandals because they accommodate my wide feet with no issues. The ribbons are interchangeable, and one ribbon sandal can be styled over 6 different ways. I also have rose gold custom crossover sandals that are beautiful and comfy! Pictured above are classic crossover sandals in caramel, along with my custom rose gold crossover sandals (designed by me!).
How it’s Changed My View on Fashion
Like I said previously, I’m not a big clothing shopper. In fact, you’ll find very little fashion posts on this site, but this may change down the road. Why? For one thing, I put off buying myself new clothes until I lost weight. I know, I know. It’s ridiculous and unnecessary self-castigation, but we live and learn.
It’s made me more conscious about what I buy
Did you know that some fabrics are not biodegradable? Your favorite yoga pants? They’ll outlive you. I’m not say to never buy yoga pants again, but it makes sense that synthetic clothing (made with plastic) aren’t environmentally friendly. So, instead of tossing my yoga pants when the seam comes apart, I’ll stitch it back together to avoid sending something to a landfill.
I think about environmental concerns
I always thought that if I sticked with buying cotton, I’d be doing the earth a favor. Well, not to go off on a tangent, but there are tons of pesticides sprayed on cotton to make it a profitable crop. Ever heard of organic cotton? Yeah, that’s the reason why it’s a thing. Some Certified B Corporations, like Athleta, are pledging to reduce synthetic materials in their athletic gear. I’m so glad brands are paying attention.
I’m more aware of labor conditions
Fast fashion, the kinds that move quickly and are inexpensive, often have inhospitable working conditions for their workers. Some even employ child labor. I’ve always shopped sales, but lately I’m realizing that those extra cheap sales prices often reflect fast fashion practices. Those name brand knock-offs you’re tempted with are the result of child labor.
Fashion can be a powerful political statement
When I joined Beautycounter, I first heard the phrase “you vote with your wallet.” By choosing ethical clothing, you’re voting with your dollar. You’re siphoning away money from big corporations who lobby for policies that allow them to hurt people’s economic opportunities, and put the environment at further risk.
By choosing fair trade, you’re voting for ethical working conditions and human dignity. By choosing ethical fashion, you’re exemplifying traits of feminism, and I AM HERE FOR THIS.
Wanna get involved?
Did this resonate with you? If you want to learn more about the Sseko Designs fellows program or just wanna know more about the mission of Sseko, let me know!