One of things I continue to struggle with is this idea of how to best ‘fix’ the problems as I see them.
So here is the problem for me – a totally unsustainable system of production (notably in clothing), where both the environment and people are exploited for the purposes of business development, economic gain and so-called ‘individual consumer choice’.
It all sounds pretty radical when I put it like that, but basically for me it is about business and systems and politicians acting like dicks.
So, muka kids is my small (currently one woman, but I am always looking for others!) approach to addressing the problem. Make organic fair trade kids clothes, make them well, take them back & reward people for returning them (thereby both incentivizing supporting ‘good production’ and keeping clothing in use longer so reducing their footprint), use the resale of those second hand clothes to support women in poverty through microloans (therefore addressing one of the fundamental problems that allows business to exploit women garment workers – lack of choice).
is the solution to this…….
BUT, here is the rub, the question that gets me at 3am in the dark. If the problem is a systems level one is the solution going to be an individual level one? The answer to this is probably a bit of yes & no.
Having spent most of my career in public health, I am trained to focus first on the high level solutions to problems. With helping to address the ‘obesity epidemic for example’ I think first about changing the physical environment, increasing public transport availability, reducing junk food outlets etc, as these are the things that the research tells us has much greater chance at success than expecting a whole lot of individuals to overcome massive personal barrier to behaviour change and eat differently.
So when it comes to sustainability and ethics in clothing, is expecting individuals to change their behaviour before any of the systems have changed the most effective approach? What I mean is, does creating a kids clothing business that does the ‘right thing’ have the impact required to change a system, through providing a single option for consumers to make the ‘good’ choice when buying kids clothes?
Well what population health approaches also note is that grass-root movements can have a lot of impact when combined with those larger systems changes. A noisy and engaged group of individuals can have an impact. A good public health example is when communities come together to fight the licensing of more alcohol outlets within their local area to reduce the harm from alcohol.
Also a small and successful project can have wider reaching implications for change. They can serve as an example of leadership and provide a talking point in the space where change is required. For me, Kowtow provided that model by showing that fairtrade organic clothes that were focussed on design could work. But it takes hard work and a lot of engagement, and it can depend on hard to replicate factors like personality, drive and just plain ‘good luck’.
So back to me at 3am. Well really being an analytical kind of person I don’t think the answer will ever be clear. All any of us as individuals can do is put our personal resources (be it skills, energy, passion) into where it seems to make sense at the time. The idea that the ‘right thing’ will be evident to you (or me!) is probably about as true as the idea that there is a single effective way to address the problems rife in the production of many items we buy and consume. The best we can do is try it out (accept the risks inherent in that) measure our impact, take stock and assess whether we are achieving what we set out to do, and then be flexible. Being flexible is a much more accurate term than failing I think. Flexibility tells us that a level of analysis has been applied to something we tried and we assessed a better way to achieve our goals.
So, is muka kids the solution? Well it may well be one solution for me and for you hopefully. There are others too (which I will talk about in another post). In the meantime I will turn off the light and hope that within 10 minutes of going back to sleep the children DO NOT attempt a swat team mission to get into our bed.