This Sunday's Observer Magazine included an interesting article about Fair Trade Fashion by Lucy Siegle. In the main in was an interview with supermodel Erin O'Connor, who talked about her work with TRAID and SEWA - a federation of self-employed textile workers in Delhi. What struck me were the similarities between the accounts given by members of SEWA, and those I heard from women tailors at the K.V.Kuppam Tailoring Units when I visited last year.
SEWA are based in an urban area and provide employment to home-workers. In contrast, the K.V.Kuppam Tailoring Units are based in a very rural area and our partners there work together in purpose built tailoring units, rather than at home. However, despite these differences, the benefits that accrue from stable, fair-wage employment are more than simply financial ones.
One of the workers interviewed for the article, Rubina Bano, describes the sense of independence that comes with earning her own wages. She also describes the training in embroidery work that SEWA have provided for her. Her colleague, Zeenat, describes what, within the Indian textile industry is the luxury of having paid sick leave. Reading this was almost like hearing echoes from my conversations with tailors in K.V.Kuppam.
This is Uma, a member of the Mahathmagandhi Tailoring Society in K.V.Kuppam. Although only 24 years old she is one of their hardest working tailors. She has worked there for 6 years and lives with her mother and father within walking distance of the Units. She is an intelligent and confident young woman. Like all members of the Tailoring Societies, her above average wages and year-round stable employment are accompanied by a healthcare allowance, holiday pay, gratuity and provident fund payments. Training was provided in tailoring skills, and the quality of her work is extremely high. I would not be surprised if next time I visit K.V.Kuppam she has been promoted to a more responsible position.
As Lucy Siegle and Erin O'Connor highlight, Fair Trade is about much more than just increased earnings: it offers people an opportunity to fulfil their potential in a way that is normally denied them in the fast-fashion industry.