Running an ethical clothing production in a time of Covid-19

Running an ethical clothing production in a time of Covid-19

At GOOD KRAMA, we are committed to having all of our products ethically made by blending traditional weaving techniques with upcycled textiles which embody our vision of slow and mindful living. We make sure that we are doing everything we can to secure a living wage for all the workers in our supply chain, especially in a pandemic world where job security is essential. 

The majority of our garments are made by Fairsew, an ethical manufacturing studio that offers employees a safe working environment, providing opportunities for both skill development, leadership and management to women in Cambodia. The founder of Fairsew, Anneliese Helmy originally started her business in bridal wear and never questioned the need to apply ethical practices into her business. Since then, she works with clients around the world such as GOOD KRAMA, to provide a transparent and high quality production process to designers who share her values.

As we embark in a new year, we chatted with Anneliese about her work and experience running a manufacturing studio in Cambodia and the struggles and successes she faced in 2020. We believe that transparency in key and we work to amplify the voices of our partners that, like us, envision a different kind of fashion industry. 

GK: What were the main reasons for starting this manufacturing business? And what is your definition of an ethical business?

AH: When I was running my bridal wear business, I received several enquiries about ethically manufactured products. I thought it seemed like an interesting opportunity, then I started the workshop Fairsew and adapted the same business practices. Ever since then, we received a lot of orders through our social media platforms and the side business finally outgrew the bridal wear shop. I really enjoy managing Fairsew, and I think it was inspiring to build a team and offer them the help they need to develop their skills in various aspects. I am really proud of the quality works my team has produced, and therefore I decided to switch my focus to Fairsew

"I think running an ethical business means being inclusive. We value the relationship not only with our staff, but the community, and the environment. And undoubtedly, the wellbeing of our staff is our top priority."

fairsew team

GK: What are the biggest challenges of running an ethical garment manufacturing business in Cambodia? Do you receive any support from the government or public/private institutions?

AH: We are a fully registered business in Cambodia – we are completely independent and receive no funding or support from the Government in Cambodia. And yes, we encounter lots of challenges in managing our business in Cambodia but this is part of what makes it interesting. 

One of the main challenges for manufacturing in Cambodia is that it can be difficult to get the quality raw materials such as buttons and accessories. There are a lot of available surplus choices for upcycling, however, quality materials might come in small amounts and the production volume we can produce would be rather limited. 

GK: What is the average salary received at Fairsew on a monthly basis and what makes you different from larger scale factories?

AH: We pay about 10% more than the current minimum wage in Cambodia, plus the staff work five days instead of six. The average staff salary is around $250/month, whereas the current minimum wage set by the Government in 2020 is $190 for six days per week. Based only on anecdotal evidence from our staff their living costs are around $135 to $165 per month. We also know that our staff is saving money and have been able to send money to families in the provinces and upgrade to better motorbikes which is good to see.

A couple of our staff used to work for bigger factories, and according to them, the main differences between Fairsew and larger scale factories are that the work we do is more varied and interesting and they like the fact that in Fairsew, we are more of a family instead of just colleagues.

GK: What is a typical day working as a seamstress at Fairsew? What are the hours like? What’s the work environment like?

AH: We consider our working environment pretty good and relaxing in general. Everyone starts at eight am and finishes at five pm with a one-hour lunch break. Most of our staff take 30 minutes for lunch and have a quick power nap in our second sewing area (we have a bunch of cushions and pillows there), although at the moment we take turns having lunch now due to the social distancing need. Although we need to work overtime occasionally when having extra orders and tight deadlines, it is all prearranged and the staff can pick the slots voluntarily. In that case we pay one and a half times the hourly rate for overtime hours. We also have paid annual leave, the staff all get 20 days annual leave plus all the public holidays (about 22 days).

We constantly work to improve our environment so we are planning to add more new computer-controlled machines to make sewing easier and faster. We are also looking to move to a new larger space soon.

GK: Do you have policies to protect workers from the impacts of COVID-19? How did COVID-19 affect your business and the moral of the team? 

AH: When Covid hit earlier this year, we made sure all our staff had masks and wash their hands when entering the workroom, and had all the sewing machine placed with distance. We asked visitors in the office or workshop to wear masks and use hand sanitizer. We made the workshop to operate on a part-time basis since April in order to be cautious and also because some of our orders were postponed or canceled. At the same time, we started making and selling fabric masks, which now account for 20% of our orders. We resume normal business hours in July as things get controlled and orders start coming back.

 

What makes sustainable fashion brands different from conventional brands is their approach. A true sustainable brand will make sure its entire supply chain is being run ethically and do as much as possible to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s not all about making a profit, but visualizing the long term benefits and keeping in mind the bigger picture.

We all know 2020 was quite a rough year, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel - even if we don't see it just yet. People are becoming more aware of preserving their natural environment. Social distancing has forced us all to look within for inner peace of mind and choose wisely who and what we let into our lives. Your support is precious and dear to our heart - together we will create a cycle for change!


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