The one-for-one fashion model – where, for each item bought, an item is donated to a person in need – is controversial. Is it a simple, straightforward way to encourage people to do good or a prime example of a self-congratulatory drop in the ocean? This month we discover why ethical designer Phoebe Dahl may have the winning formula.
Writing for The Business of Fashion, Grant van Sant argues: “Companies like TOMS have become popular because they assuage the guilt of many in the wealthy world who buy their products, while doing little to address the root causes of poverty.” The argument is a common one: that this form of charity lulls consumers into compassionate lethargy, imagining that they are doing good while actually just consuming, fuelling their own materialism and the demise of the planet. The problem can be summed up by the somewhat overused analogy of ‘give a man a fish’ – that is, give a man a pair of shoes and he can wear them until they fall apart, but give a man’s society good infrastructure and social welfare and he’ll have shoes for life.
Phoebe has found a way around this problem with her ethical clothing label, Faircloth & Supply. Her one-for-one model is simple enough: for each item sold, a school uniform is donated to a girl in Nepal, via her partnership with Nepalese charity General Welfare Pratisthan (GWP). However, this school uniform represents a lot more than a set of clothes, as Phoebe explains. “Many Nepalese girls cannot afford school uniforms, and without them they cannot attend school. For a young girl in Nepal, the benefits of education are far more than just academic. Girls who receive education are less vulnerable to HIV infection, human trafficking and other forms of social and economic exploitation. They’re more likely to marry later and raise children who will attend school themselves, and go on to contribute positively to their family’s economic well-being.” In this way, one single purchase of an item from Dahl’s range really can effect a positive change for a Nepalese girl, a change that will hopefully be long-lasting.
On the topic of why she opted for the one-for-one model, rather than suggesting that her customers make a donation, or giving a percentage of profits, Phoebe says: “I think the one-for-one model gives the consumer an involuntary way to donate to the cause, ultimately creating a new generation of philanthropists, being the catalyst for change.”
So what are Phoebe’s designs like? Her main material is linen and the hand-crafted styles are influenced by Japanese designers: minimalist, loose, soft, creased and airy, and ethically made in LA by a family-run business. Each piece is crafted to feel immediately comfortable, to be long-lasting and to fit comfortably over whatever you already have in your wardrobe. Our favourites from the latest collection include asymmetrical high-collared dresses, bomber jackets and over-sized slouch coats.
Original and wearable ethical fashion with a conscience – that’s definitely something to feel good about.