This article was originally published on TrustedClothes.com.
What comes to mind when you hear the word sustainability? For me, it was always a vague notion about “green” buildings, an environmental buzzword that never meant much concretely.
But as I began research in the preliminary stages of starting up an activewear brand with a charitable giving component, I stumbled on lots of information about “sustainable fashion.” It seemed to make sense to me: As long as I was planning to put more stuff into the world, it might as well have as little of an impact on the earth as possible. The meaning of “sustainability” clicked for me.
As I dove in headfirst to figure out how to incorporate sustainability into my brand, I focused mostly on what sustainability meant in terms of producing my product. Lots of fabrics are made with materials that can be considered sustainable, because either their waste water can be used in the next round of production (as is the case with soy fabric) or because the fabric is made with materials already in existence that just need to be converted into a wearable material (as is the case with RPET, polyester made from plastic bottles).
As my focus has shifted from sustainable fabrics to another principle concept of my brand – giving back to a cause with each purchase – I’ve begun to realize that sustainability is important in charitable giving, too.
Giving back to create true change I recently attended an event where the keynote speaker gave a presentation about her organization, an international NGO that provides healthcare and other services to communities in a struggling country in Africa. As she spoke, I was inspired by how the organization’s first move upon arriving was to simply listen to the members of the community. Later, in a conversation, she told me that what set the organization apart was how members of the community being helped were able to get what they needed – according to them – to live better lives.
Things like easy access to medication, health training, transportation to clinics, and more – some of which the aid organization wouldn’t have known without that community input. This is “agency-based empowerment,” an alternative to “resource-based empowerment.” So many international charities (and now, social enterprises as well) arrive in poor countries determined to deliver what they think is the best for the community – clean water wells, or shoes, for example. But sometimes, what the community needs isn’t more things.
In reality, many communities just want the ability to overcome the barriers in their lives in order to become successful on their own. Sometimes that means providing training or education, sometimes it’s vaccinations, and yes, sometimes it is resources – but the most important thing is that the community gets what it truly needs to flourish.
To me, that’s what sustainability means for changemakers. Are the people you’re helping able to help themselves because of what you provided them?Has true change happened? Do members of the community feel a sense of purpose?
When the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, change can happen within communities, within countries, within regions – and yes, for the betterment of our entire world.
I believe that social enterprises and charities should consider “agency-based empowerment” in order to do the most good for the most people. That’s why Cause I Run will include a built-in donation with each purchase to organizations that are creating sustainable change.
Here’s to sustainable fashion and creating a more sustainable world.