"Ethical production is paramount to Vicky Rowe. She works directly with a small team of master craftsmen in India, personally sourcing her collections materials from small independent businesses in the local area. Dresses are fair trade.
It feels strange having to write this, it should be standard for all companies working with skilled artisans abroad but I want to share with you my journey and why ethical production is so important to me.
When I was 15 years old, I took Philosophy as one of my A level subjects and whilst at that time I hadn't been anywhere outside the UK apart from Southern Ireland! It laid the foundation stones for my ethics, from a small town in South Wales I felt my world view broaden. Amongst many texts I read and enjoyed, we were introduced to Marx and Engels, early critics of the effects of the modern factory system, predicting its end as the workers rose up and took control of a system which exploited them so badly and treated them as appendages to machines. This really hit home to me when I took a summer job in a factory to raise money to help finance going to University. When I landed the job I could not believe my luck....who would not want to work in a sweet factory right? Well that wore off in under 1 shift, I worked 12 hour continental shifts (3 days on then 1 day off 3 nights on then 1 day off) in that place on and off for 3 years during holidays which sent me absolutely crazy.
This is how that 12 hours would go. All I could hear was the loud drone of machines, the radio couldn't be heard over it which was infuriating. I got 15 minute breaks twice and a 30 minute lunch break...everyone watched the clock and if you were a minute late you felt the tension on the factory floor as the next people waiting for their break desperately looked at the main clock, even I ended up doing that when it was my turn. I understood what monotonous work was there, I understood what it meant to be treated like a machine, but I turned up because I wanted the money. One of my jobs was to stand up for 12 hours watching a 'taping machine', that's a machine with two rolls of tape in it and it wraps tape around the lids of the little tins of travel sweets that would go hurtling past, when one roll of tape came to an end I had to 'splice' the new reel on which meant no stopping production. I cut my fingers regularly on the blades and also had the shame of grinding production to a halt after falling asleep standing up and letting a few hundred tins go though with no cello tape...you get the picture. I hated it and I had a choice, I did it purely for the money for Uni and then I was out. Whilst there I wanted to rise up like Marx and Engels had predicted...I despised the products being made there, still do, I felt no part of it, I longed for the fire alarm to go off which it often did due to sabotage. I discovered workers would deliberately sabotage machines to just make it stop.
The tipping point came when I watched a man in his 50's lose 3 fingers in a mint cutting machine, he liked to paint, it was his right hand that was maimed. There I was in a country governed with laws to protect me, good wages, a union to fight my corner should things like that happen..yet even with health and safety laws look what happened. Imagine living in a country where its even worse.
I sailed through Uni after that, absolutely no way I was working there ever again and after years working as a project manager I took off in my 20's to fulfil my travelling dreams to discover what I really wanted to do with my life, I travelled all over the the world, met my now husband. I started designing, I met artisans and naturally my experiences and beliefs were integral into how I developed this business.
Working closely with my beaders, getting their input and ideas, paying fair wages, purchasing materials locally, whizzing round by rickshaw and meeting local business owners. Whilst I live in a small rural area in Wales I feel a strong connection to them and responsibility.
If you've made it this far, thank you! Next time you go into a shop and buy an embellished dress, top, skirt etc, think about how much work has gone into that and then look at the price tag - hand embellishment is time consuming, if its cheap you can bet there is no fair wages involved and who knows what their working conditions were like, children often work under the radar in high volume low skill beading factories, charities go round and pull the children out every so often but they're back within weeks. There is a human cost involved bringing cheap embellished products to consumers. If the tag says 'Made in Britain, Handmade in Britain' check with the designers direct to clarify that the beadwork on there is, many import the separate parts and assemble separately...its not crystal clear as it seems.
What I've described in the paragraph above is the murky side of the clothing industry, thats mass production, thats being totally money focussed and losing your conscience but there is an ethical movement in this industry, there are a small handful of other designers out there who work with artisans abroad and hold these beliefs dear to them to which means purchasing a gown from them can be done with confidence knowing you are supporting artisans abroad and not exploiting. We focus small scale and direct, no middle men who blur the supply chain. Purchasing materials locally to benefit other businesses and 'paying it back'. Its not about making something as cheap as possible, its about making it responsibly and ensuring the people involved are paid fairly. Start asking yourself 'who made you clothes' and join the movement #fashionrev