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Levi Strauss & Co Sponsored Series

Sustainably Attired

From Haiti to Kenya: Creating Fashion That Empowers

By 3p Contributor
threads 4 thought sustainable apparel

By Jonathan Wiesner and Eric Fleet

Threads 4 Thought was founded in 2007 with a simple but clearly defined purpose. We are committed to creating and manufacturing fashion that empowers. Inherent in our core principles is 1) the concept that the fashion industry does not need to compromise on style in order to provide products that are created through the responsible and sustainable use of materials and resources 2) promoting a sense of social responsibility by working with factories that treat their employees humanely and fairly, and 3) giving back to our communities. Fashion that empowers is truly sustainable fashion.

As a brand, we are committed to sustainability that extends beyond just the materials we use. In the past year we have focused our charitable contributions toward supporting the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots community gardens. We have raised more than $200,000 in just under six months by contributing 10 percent of the retail price of our best-selling basic tee shirts directly to the IRC. In 16 cities across the United States, the IRC has established community gardens for refugees that have fled conflict and persecution to resettle here in the U.S. Most of these refugees have an agrarian background and the ability to grow vegetables helps them supplement the food that they purchase, and in some cases provides a source of additional income by selling produce in local farmers markets, and even in Whole Foods. We are proud that, through the support of our customers, we are helping to support a sustainable lifestyle for these refugees.

While the end result of our commitment to sustainability is our ability to give back to our communities, the process begins with how we source our products. All of our products are manufactured using certified organic cotton, post-consumer recycled polyester, Lensing modal, or blends of these materials. We then carefully select manufacturing partners that share our core principles of responsibility for each other and our world.

On Jan. 12, 2010 a cataclysmic earthquake struck just outside of Port Au Prince in Haiti. Three million people were affected by the earthquake, and up to 200,000 people perished. Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest, most desperate places on the planet, and now, in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy, the country had very few options for economic development. We visited Haiti shortly after the earthquake and left with a vision of partnering with a local factory to provide sustainable economic opportunity for a population that had very little hope. This vision has reached fruition, and we have just taken receipt of our first shipment of basic tees, the same basic tees that we contribute 10 percent of the retail price to help refugees achieve sustainability here in the U.S.

Halfway around the world from Haiti, Elizabeth Juma Mwamkono is a seamstress in Kenya in one of our partner factories. When Elizabeth was growing up in Taru, Kenya, many of the young people in her town turned to prostitution, drug abuse and violence to escape the economic uncertainty they faced with few legitimate job opportunities. Liz was determined not to follow her peers down these roads that ultimately led nowhere, and instead applied herself diligently on getting an education in spite of great financial hardship. If she could not afford textbooks, she borrowed them, if her family could not afford tuition, she borrowed notes from other students, and she absorbed every detail. Finally, her years of hard work paid off, and she passed her O Level exams in 2002 and was named one of the top performing students in her district.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education,” Liz recalls. “At last my hopes had been fanned. The world was all mine for the taking." In 2006, Liz went to work for Wildlife Works, a carbon neutral Fair Trade factory in the heart of a preserved rain forest in Kenya. The partnership that we have developed with Wildlife Works helps sustain Liz and affirms her beliefs as she was growing up. Additionally, the factory itself serves as a model for sustainability. What began as a project to preserve 80,000 acres of valuable rainforest became the first REDD Carbon Credit project by providing income to the community for protecting their environment instead of destroying it. The money raised by selling the carbon credits provided the seed money for the apparel factory that now employs Liz and supplies Threads 4 Thought with some of our products.

The Thread that connects these stories is one of sustainability, and it is the genesis of our name… of our brand Threads 4 Thought. Sustainability is a commitment to conservation and the maintenance of an ecological balance. We achieve this by replenishing our resources rather than depleting them. As a sustainable apparel brand, we believe that we have created a lifestyle brand that embodies those characteristics through fashion that appeals to a generation of committed individuals, committed to the betterment of the planet and those we share it with. Sustainable fashion is not an oxymoron; rather it is a means to express our unity with a shared set of principles that apply to all aspects of how we live our lives. We eat consciously, we recycle, we bicycle, we donate time and money to causes we believe in, and we advocate. In short, we are Fashion That Empowers.

Image credit: Threads 4 Thought via Facebook

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