International Women’s Day: It’s Time to Honour Women by Empowering Them

This week, in recognition of International Women’s Day, we are reflecting on our purpose and what our call to action is as a small, mission-driven business. International Women’s Day is a celebration of women all around the world, but what does that mean to us as a brand and why is the fight for female empowerment still so necessary?

Across the fashion industry, female artisans continue to be underpaid and exploited. Whilst around 90% of garment workers are women, leadership structures continue to be male-dominated. As Labour Behind the Label reports, “gender discrimination runs deep throughout all of the countries in which garments are currently produced”. The result is that female garment workers remain hidden from our view, subjected to routine abuse and harassment, and silenced by the fear of unemployment.

Of course, this is not a problem unique to the fashion industry. Across all areas of the economy, marginalised communities experience discrimination based on their identity.

“Those who are most impacted by gender-based violence, and by gender inequalities, are also the most impoverished and marginalized—black and brown women, indigenous women, women in rural areas, young girls, girls living with disabilities, trans youth and gender non-conforming youth,” explains Majandra Rodriguez Acha, a youth leader and climate justice advocate from Lima, Peru.

heirloom artisan working

A worsening crisis for women

Communities across the world are living in a time of multiple, compounding threats, and as UN Women reports, “the impacts of crises are not uniform”. Women are disproportionately affected by crises such as war, the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, as they amplify existing inequalities, putting women’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

“If you are invisible in everyday life, your needs will not be thought of, let alone addressed, in a crisis situation,” says Matcha Phorn-In, a lesbian feminist human-rights defender who works to empower stateless and landless Indigenous women, girls and young LGBTIQ+ people in Thailand’s northern provinces.

The reality is that long histories of violence and systematic discrimination have created deep inequities that disadvantage some from the outset. These inequalities intersect with each other - poverty, caste systems, racism and sexism all deny women their rights and equal opportunities - and the impact of this extends across generations.

heirloom artisans working

Small changes lead to big change

We know how bleak this research may seem. We are living in a time where there are so many conversations happening about the disasters that we may face if we don’t make radical changes, and the scale of the challenge can often seem overwhelming. But there is hope.

We believe that real, significant change is possible. We have seen firsthand with our partners in Asia that when a woman has the capacity to earn a fair wage through dignified work, her whole community benefits. Her earning power elevates her place in her marriage, if she is married, and in her wider family. Her increased confidence in herself and support from women in her work community means she is more likely to speak out or seek help if she experiences violence or abuse at home. Her children are better fed, more likely to attend school and to keep attending for longer. When a woman is empowered, the ripples of change spread.

heirloom artisan working

Makers first

Here at Heirloom, we exist not only to create beautifully crafted pieces for you to keep forever, but to create a legacy of change for our artisan communities. We believe that skills training and creating sustainable employment in traditional craft techniques improves the quality of life for our makers, and offers a better future for rural and disadvantaged communities.

We do this by making climate-positive choices, choosing natural dyes, relying on indigenous handmade processes local to the area we are working in, and opting for organic or regeneratively farmed cloth wherever possible.

We work in collaboration, so we are all learning and skill sharing together, and in this way we encourage our female artisans to step into positions of leadership within their organisations. Indigenous women, in particular, possess unique knowledge about agriculture, conservation and natural resource management, and this makes their voices indispensable in any decision-making processes.

We all know that the fashion industry has long relied on exploitation of people and the planet, but there is the opportunity for change, and at Heirloom we believe that it starts with empowering local women to be leaders in their communities.

You can read more about our talented female artisans who inspire and motivate us here.