Meeting the People Who Make Our Clothes

Levi Strauss & Co.
January 9, 2017

Levi Strauss & Co. has a long history of investing in the people behind our clothes, whether it’s the pioneers who first wore Levi’s jeans seeking their fortunes in the foothills of California, or the garment workers who make our products around the globe.

So partnering with San Francisco-based nonprofit Remake – dedicated to igniting a conscious consumer movement – to document the daily lives of the women who make the clothes we wear seemed like a natural fit. Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat talked to NBC News recently about partnering with the Levi Strauss Foundation to send three fashion design students from the iconic Parsons School of Design to visit factories in Cambodia last fall.

The three students saw how garments are made, talked with the people who are making them, and even visited their homes to learn what their lives are like. Ayesha sees the journey as a natural link between young women on both ends of the supply chain who are just embarking on their careers in fashion.

“We believe that this experience will allow these students – and by extension, their millennial peers – to think about fashion in a whole new way, taking into account the lives of apparel workers and their families across the globe who make our clothes.” explains Kim Almeida, Senior Program Manager with the Levi Strauss Foundation.

“I think of Remake as a sort of ‘Peace Corps’ for the fashion industry,” Ayesha told NBC News. “My goal is to seed a future of designers who are making slow, beautiful fashion that is conscious of our world.”

That world may be growing more connected by the day, but it also comes with steep disparities in wages and opportunities – a gap that Ayesha believes consumers themselves can help bridge by making informed decisions.

One way to do that is by investing in what Ayesha calls “durable fashion,” where she used her pair of Levi’s® as an example. “I’m going to wear them, not one season, not two seasons, but for many years,” she told a crowd at last summer’s MCON, a forum for people interested in social change. “There used to be this slow fashion movement of craftsmanship, of love for what we had, to cherish it, to repair it – and what we can do is say ‘no’ to fast fashion.”

What else can consumers do to make a difference?

Ask questions, Ayesha says. Ask the brands you buy who made your clothes. Ask what their lives are like. “Whether in store or online, if you ask those questions, I promise you, they track this information. And today, they don’t think you care. But when you ask, they have to make working conditions more transparent.”