Jakarta. With the global demand for fashion products increasing every year, it is natural for consumers to raise questions about the fashion industry.
We might ask ourselves, “Who made our clothes? Are workers treated well in the workplace or paid fairly?”.
According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, 300 million people work in the clothing industry, with up to 60 million people directly employed. The majority of garment workers are low-skilled, with low-paying jobs. Many who work in the industry are young women.
Unfortunately, gender inequality is still an alarming issue in the textile industry.
In March 2017, CARE published a study on the prevalence and productivity cost of sexual harassment to the Cambodian garment industry. "Nearly 1 in 3 female garment factory workers reported experiencing sexually harassing behaviors in the workplace over the last 12 months," CARE wrote in their report.
Sexual harassment is not the only thing that negatively impacts female garment workers.
The Garment Worker Diaries project revealed that less than half of the workers from the survey samples in Bangladesh felt safe in their factories, and four in 10 reported witnessing fires. The Global Slavery Index in 2018 also named the garment industry as the second most predominant sector driving modern slavery.
This paints a grim picture of women’s condition in the textile industry.
The “Women and Empowerment through Textiles” webinar on April 23 featured panelists who actively advocate for sustainability and women’s rights in the fashion industry.
Among the speakers were Asia Pacific Rayon (APR), Vice-President of Communication and Sustainability Cherie Tan, Perfect Fit Indonesia co-founder and CEO Tungga Dewi, Bintan Titisari from Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), and Closed Loop Fashion founder Marina Chahboune.
The webinar was part of Fashion Revolution Week, in which the global community comes together to build a better, more transparent fashion industry. Fashion Revolution ID was hosted at the Jakarta Fashion Hub, a collaborative space launched by APR to support the textile and fashion industry.
According to Cherie, APR supports promoting a more sustainable fashion industry for Indonesia and gender equality across the textile value chain. APR produces biodegradable viscose rayon originating from certified forest plantations in Indonesia and promotes equal employment opportunities for women graduates from the region.
The company also seeks to empower the women living around the operation site through capacity building and obtaining new skills in traditional batik artisanship.
“We seek to empower women through entrepreneurship by developing traditional textile craftsmanship. We have been working with local women on upscaling their batik-making skills,” Cherie said at the webinar.
The initiative focuses on Bono Batik — Riau’s signature batik design, notable for its flora and fauna patterns, as well as bright colors.
“We have also introduced to the cooperative of women batik makers the use of natural dyes and viscose fabric in their batik-making,” Cherie said.
The company also rolled out several other initiatives to empower women in the rural communities surrounding their operations in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau, including women entrepreneurship.
“Beyond batik, we have also started to support women’s group in Siak on the songket weave while at the same time keeping the local heritage alive," Cherie said.
“We have started a program with a group of women using the traditional songket weave method. We want to support communities around our operation in the promotion and preservation of artisanal textile craftsmanship.”
Last year, Asia Pacific Yarn (APY) began operating in Pangkalan Kerinci as a downstream ambition to develop Riau into a satellite textile hub in Indonesia. APY provides facilities needed for fabric and garment-making.
“To achieve this ambition, we partner with schools and vocational education institutions on scholarships and skills training in the region,” Cherie said.
In addition, APR has supported community initiatives on integrated health services, particularly expecting mothers and toddlers on access to primary healthcare, monitoring babies’ growth and development, and programs on family nutrition.
“We have been supporting the community health posts [or posyandu] with nutrition programs and early childhood intervention. These programs aim to empower women in the community to make better nutritional choices for their children and households,” Cherie said.
Bintan Titisari, a textile design lecturer at ITB, underscored the importance of supporting traditional textile producers through capital or education to empower women in the industry. Her research on dyes used in the local textile industry revealed that more sustainable options are hard to access.
Closed Loop Fashion founder Marina Chahboune highlighted the gender and social issues in the textile industry. In Bangladesh, most workers are women.
“They are low-wage workers that have no savings, and women garment workers are not well supported and have no social safety-net. If the government launches a campaign [in the future], I suggest the wage of women workers should be raised to an appropriate living wage to allow them to meet their monthly needs,” she said.