How ethical and sustainable fashion is helping to preserve Indigenous cultures

March 11, 2015

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Are certain cultures around the world in danger of becoming extinct? If you consider the fact that a language is lost approximately every two weeks each year, the answer becomes pretty obvious. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 46 percent of the world’s languages will be extinct by the end of this century. If it is true that a language is the mirror of a culture, you can imagine what those statistics mean for the future of cultural diversity around the world, and the inevitable loss of knowledge that will follow it. Thankfully, the ever-expanding ethical and sustainable fashion industry is partnering with Indigenous artisans all over the world and giving them a platform on which to showcase their skills and culture to a global consumer audience.

A growing demand for hand-crafted products

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Weights on a loom. Photo courtesy of Danica Ratte.

One of the main reasons why traditional craftsmanship is abandoned is because of the lack of demand for the artisans’ hand-crafted products. This is where the movement of ethical and sustainable fashion has come into play. Consumers have become more concerned about where their products are made and by whom. They are keen to learn the story behind products and artisanal crafts are rich with culture and history. Designers have begun partnering with artisans from around the world by incorporating their skills into their designs and thereby helping to keep their crafts alive.

Improves the quality of life for artisans

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School children in class. Photo courtesy of Danica Ratte.

Apart from the cultural benefits of supporting traditional handicrafts, there is also the humanitarian aspect of ethical and sustainable fashion. By providing a steady income to these workers in exchange for their unique skills, ethical and sustainable fashion plays an active role in improving the quality of life of an artisan’s entire community. The artisans’ families live healthier and happier lives, and their children gain access to education and health care, not to mention they are presented with the option of continuing their parents’ legacy and becoming expert artisans themselves.

Encourages government support

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Weavers working on a loom. Photo courtesy of Danica Ratte.

Now that the ethical and sustainable fashion movement has proven that there is a consumer demand for the handicrafts of ethnic minorities, more and more local governments are taking notice of the now steady flow of income. They are beginning to consider the importance of preserving these traditions and supporting these small businesses that have found commercial success through ethical and sustainable brands.

Increases international recognition of cultures

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The rise of e-commerce has made it easier for designers to showcase traditional designs in their products to a wider audience. The ethical and sustainable fashion movement is about providing consumers with complete transparency, and also with providing their products’ stories in order to reinforce the effects that consumers’ purchases have on someone else’s life. The conscious choice of wearing sustainable fashion pieces also helps in that respect, since these pieces become a constant reminder of what they represent, both to the wearer and to the people who admire them.

Slow fashion is made to last

Day to Night Bag

The Day to Night bag. Photo courtesy of Danica Ratte.

It is important to remember that ethical and sustainable fashion pieces are built to outlast fast-fashion products. They are not a seasonal thing, nor are they a trend. They represent quality and timeless craftsmanship, and they are meant to be worn for a very long time.

My question to you is, what other ways do you think fashion can preserve culture? Do you have any pieces in your closet right now that were made by artisans?

I’d love to hear what you think. Please feel free to either leave a comment below or send me an email at danicaratte [at] gmail.com.

Danica Ratte - Wild Tussah Danica Ratte is a sustainable travel addict who is now an expat in Vietnam. She is the Founder of Wild Tussah; a weave and leather handbag line that preserves ancient weaving cultures in Vietnamese ethnic communities. She and her team often write about women’s empowerment, sustainable fashion, cultural preservation, weaving traditions, eco-tourism and anything else Vietnam-related, which you can read on the Wild Tussah blog.

2 comments

  • Brooke

    Although I haven’t purchased tons from sustainable and ethical fashion companies, my work as a seamstress has shown me the value behind the work and skills of artisans. It’s wonderful to see more organizations and companies that understand the importance of their work and cultural heritage.

    • Malorie Bertrand

      Hi Brooke,

      I think we should all pass some time learning how much time and effort goes into making clothing. It just might make people more willing to pay a little more for quality pieces. Our small-scale designers and manufacturers need our support!

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