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Think globally but manufacture fashion locally

What a phenomenal time to be alive. There has been no other time in the history of humankind when so much has changed in such a short period of time. When the opportunities we have, outnumber the obstacles we face.

[The original version of this article was first published at Estila magazine Vol 12 / Issue 47]

Being creative in today’s world is exciting. The world really is our oyster. Not only that – but for those of us more conscious about life in general and life on our planet – there is no better time to create, profit and instigate change for the better.

But how can creating and profiting ever be good for the planet?

I know…. It’s almost like the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Or are they?

Have we been conditioned to think in black and white and the magic really is outside of the lines we have been thought to colour within?

As a creative who grew up not allowed to think of creativity as a profession, I count myself lucky to do what I do today. I grew up in a country where travelling outside of our own city even was an ordeal. A lot has changed since then. My thirst for travel has taken me to far-flung corners of the world. My curiosity and work in fashion have made me criss-cross the world to find factories for all kind of products. In the process, I have come to know the ins and outs of societies and cultures as far removed from my own as possible. And in the process, I realised that it is possible to have a global outlook and create a local impact.

Congratulations, you’re global

I firmly believe that if you are a creative, who wants to create a business that’s profitable and meaningful – not a hobby – but really – a business that pays the bills, fancy holidays and your kids’ education, you can have it all. And you can also help impact the world positively in the process.

The minute we launch our websites and open our virtual web stores – we are global.

Available to anyone in any corner of the world that has access to the internet.

We are so global these days that having brick and mortar shop – the dream of dreams for the generations before us – is no longer appealing, let alone profitable.

Through the online ability to advertise and reach the unreachable of yesteryear – a fashion or creative brand is no longer just a brand. A brand in today’s world is also a media agency. Creating content, advertising and marketing is a core activity that takes up more time than the actual, vital activity of product creation.

And yet…. Some things never change.

No matter how fast the world spins and changes – a product-based business relies on its product. The quality of the make, the design signature of the brand, the materials used to translate the idea into a finished product are the vital ingredients. Choosing wisely, executing masterfully is what brings in the rewards.

Old metrics vs New metrics

In yesterdays’ world – the rewards were often measured in monetary terms – sales, profit, margin, turnover….

But in today’s consciously elevated world and collective mindfulness – success is found in the intersection of profit and purpose.

Success is when – what you create and how you make it happen, leaves the world a better place.

One way of creating impact is to be sustainable and ethical. Two camouflage terms I’m no fan of because of the myriad of empty words and misunderstandings that hide behind them.

“Sustainable” meaning that you don’t deplete the planet’s resources and create more waste. That you don’t harm the environment by generating directly or indirectly pollution, toxic gases and un-processable waist. Given that the fashion industry is currently the second-largest polluter – there’s a long way to go and much to be done. Though every little will help and everyone should try to do their fair share – the real impact will happen when the large players join the small brad -warriors and together meaningful effort is made towards a clear united goal.

“Ethical” on the other relates to how you treat the people you work with. The people who work for you directly and indirectly.

The best way to create a lasting change and be sustainable and ethical is to invest in your people and location.

Here is where many get confused in my opinion. To most people local means where they live and work. But what if there was another “local”?

The new “local” that’s far away

Not your office or home location – but the location where the most impactful and important “assets” of your business are created.  Usually, this is where your manufacturing takes place. Or where the most of your raw materials originate from.

design globally manufacture fashion locally
Image: Annie Spratt

To manufacturing fashion locally to where you work and live is not always possible. Sourcing everything locally to where you manufacture is also often impossible. We have to be realistic and accept that resources are scattered at different locations, all over the world and a certain amount of movement of goods will take place no matter how hard we try to avoid it. No matter what you do -there will be some carbon footprint trail left behind you.

But that can be offset by the bigger value and impact any business can create by investing in the local community where their manufacturing or main material sourcing originates.

Most larger Western fashion brands often manufacture out of poorer Asian countries. That is a choice made for commercial reasons. The work they consistently give to their factory is responsible directly for many people being employed and indirectly for many families having some income. There is an opportunity for many more local manufacturing benefits.

How to be a better local

If a concerted effort was made to centralise as much as possible the sourcing locally, as well as, or in a closer radius to the place of manufacture – even more people will be employed, and the carbon footprint will be kept low. The local manufacturing benefits are numerous.

If the workers are paid fairly and additional benefit schemes created and invested in – the local community will thrive. The cost to the western designer – minimal. The impact and local manufacturing benefits created – maximum.

An Indian factory I worked with in the past, employing mostly men, who often were the main breadwinner of their large families, is one such example. Once per year, they organise a family day for their workers where food and music were provided for everyone to enjoy. More importantly, on that same day – a group of doctors were brought to the premises that gave a free health check to the workers and their family members.

A Turkish factory I also worked with some time back, that worked with big brands and was able to defend well their prices and safeguard their own margins, built new factory premises that included prayer room and breast-feeding room for mothers, who came back to work but had small babies at home. A family member will bring the babies to be fed, especially on the days when workers had to stay late to complete urgent orders.

These examples are of businesses taking care of their localities and helping create support and improvements.

Though there aren’t many examples of western designers making an impact locally, I recently did come across one. Natalie Simond – the founder of sustainable and ethical jewellery brand Amadeus Bijoux.

manufacture fashion locally design globally
Image courtesy of Amadeus Bijoux

She has invested financially into the Brazilian mine from which she sources her gemstones and the Philippines pearl farm supplier. This has allowed her suppliers to in turn invest in their businesses and make them more sustainable and ethical, as well as invest in their local communities and create a wave of social change and improvements.

This kind of forward-thinking is rare in fashion, especially for small brands. It requires brave new thinking, long term vision and passion beyond the product and business KPIs.

Such initiatives can become more mainstream if we – the western designers- take interest in the betterment of the local community on which our businesses depend on.

There is so much that can be done, if only we stop and take a little time to get to know the people who create our products and the life they live.  With so little from our side, we can impact our new “local” in a way we can never accomplish in our own real locality.

So – can you be global and local at the same time?

Sure! You just need to reframe what local means and open up your mind to the bigger picture of life on our planet.

Doing good has no boundaries.

Contributing positively has no borders and demarcations.

Every little helps and in turn creates a compound effect over time, much greater than we can imagine today.

So, what is your “local”? How can you invest in it, all the while playing a global game?

The doors to our signature programme “Fashion Manufactury Mastery” are now OPEN. If you want to join and learn more about manufacturing – how to find, select and work with the right manufacturers and launch and grow your brand as a result join us now.