By Meagan Morrison
OXFAM just released its latest report revealing the harsh and real cost of fashion.
MADE IN POVERTY broke our hearts.
While the Hands Designs sewing team are weaving a happier future for themselves in a safe environment with fair wages and access to healthcare, garment workers in Bangladesh and Vietnam are trapped in a cycle of poverty, regardless of how hard they work.
Between April and July 2018, OXFAM interviewed 384 garment workers in Bangladesh. An astounding 100% of those interviewed do not earn enough money to meet their basic needs of food, housing and clothing. Of the 88 garment workers interviewed in Vietnam, 99% suffer the same reality. It is just not right.
Earning a living wage, and having access to nutritious food, accommodation, healthcare, clothing, and education are basic human rights. They are not, and should never be considered a luxury.
Our mission is and always has been clear. We exist to enrich the lives of disadvantaged children, and their communities, in Thailand.
Since 2005, we have been taking real action to implement positive change in the lives of the people left displaced by the Boxing Day Tsunami. We do this by providing safe homes, skills training, access to higher education and employment opportunities.
Our fashion arm, Hands Designs, provides a meaningful and sustainable way of raising funds to ensure we can keep doing this. It is a way of Sharing the Good and creating deeper connections between our sewing team and our supporters. But it provides so much more.
Empowerment is at the heart of Hands Group and Hands Designs. Empowerment through wages, skills, connection and opportunity.
Our sewing facility provides a safe working environment and training opportunities to women who may otherwise have fallen victim to human trafficking, labour exploitation, and other human rights abuses. It is no secret Thailand is known as a key destination in the Mekong area for human trafficking.
The women who work for Hands Designs are our priority. They are far more important to us than the garments and products they make.
We aim to help them develop enduring skills, a deep sense of self and a strong sense of community so they can feel empowered to start designing their own joyful lives.
We encourage them to always stay true to their beliefs and will never seek to impose any religion or belief systems upon them. Their traditions, culture and experiences, and those of the children in our homes, are the magic that fuels our mission.
Staying true to themselves gives them the foundations to live their values and make positive choices for a more fulfilled life.
For us at Hands, basic human rights are not enough.
Every person has the right to guidance, love and support.
Every person has the right to be free from exploitation, abuse and poverty.
Every person has the right to thrive.
This is our passion. We want to see the people we work with, and their communities, thriving in every sense.
Hands provides safe homes, employment, skills training and educational pathways, to help these children re-write their own story. We are opening the door for individual growth, and healing for their communities and future generations.
Children in our homes can pursue alternative pathways to a better future once they complete school, including traineeships in our sewing facility or attending University. They have the opportunity to learn new skills and realise their dreams, such as starting their own business.
We ensure each member of our Hands Designs sewing team earns a living wage without having to meet the strict output often set by traditional garment houses, needing to work over 48 hours a week, or clock in and out from duties. This allows them to purchase food, pay for utilities, housing, healthcare, education, clothing, and transport, with money left over that they can save for a rainy day. In short, it gives them financial freedom.
What this means for the individual is security and peace of mind.
What it means for the wider community, is a reduction in poverty, and improved health and wellbeing now, and in the future.
In just over 14 years, Hands Group has raised more than $24 million for the children and communities in Thailand and now cares for more than 350 children throughout the country.
Part of the reason for this success is that we don’t rely solely on philanthropy. We are always seeking to create meaningful and sustainable revenue streams through initiatives such as Hands Designs.
The Hands Designs supply chain is helping to break the cycle of poverty, tackle social issues and diminish the risks of child labour and worker exploitation in the Thai communities we work in.
We ensure our team members have access to a holistic range of wellbeing initiatives, including meals, health and optical care, flexible working hours and the freedom to bring children to work if they need to. They also have access to fabrics and sewing facilities after work to make clothes for their families.
Our approach to Sharing the Good allows our sewing team, staff, partners and supporters to collaboratively create a better world for themselves and those who will come after them.
We take great pride in providing our sewing team with a clean, bright and air-conditioned sewing room, which opens out onto a playground.
Using proper cutting tables, sewing machines and overlockers, our 10 strong team craft aprons, washbags, toy elephants, woven bags, buntings and fashion garments with fabric sourced from the Bangkok fabric markets.
Sometimes our production manager will find locally designed fabric from the district for craft items. Other times she is lucky enough to stumble across surplus dead stock from a design house. Instead of going to landfill, the fabric is used by our team to create beautiful new pieces.
We encourage our sewing team to grow their skill set at work. Someone starting in craft and showing potential, for example, can learn the skills to produce corporate merchandise. While our fashion seamstress works on the entire process from concept to completion, including pattern design, to cutting, overlocking and sewing.
Our quality control team member then folds, tags and checks each product for quality to ensure they are ready for purchase by conscious consumers and corporates who know the power of their buying choices.
At Hands Designs, we know our sewing team by name, and we care about their stories.
They each have a special place in our hearts.
Chan is originally from Ubon Rachthani province. She came to Khao Lak in search of work and found herself as a cook in a hotel. The hotel closed down and she came across to the sewing team at BTN. She had the skills from previous work and flourished since joining the team over three years ago.
“I loved working in the sewing room. It is a friendly environment and doesn’t have the pressure that other roles have.”
Sa is Hands Designs youngest team members. She has been with us since the craft shop opened in 2010 and is now our chief pattern maker.
Her vision and creativity enable her to design and create any pattern our customers want.
Ning is one the newest members of our sewing team. She learnt to sew in her father’s shirt shop in Bangkok and moved to Takua-pa before the tsunami in 2004.
Following the tsunami she found work at Duang Prateep Foundation and moved away from the area. However, when an opportunity came up at Hands, Ning moved back and joined the team.
We believe #whatshemakesmatters.
Corporate. Philanthropist. Individual. We are all part of this great tapestry called life.
We all have a part to play in creating a world rooted in human dignity.
You can help make a difference in the lives of Thai children and their communities by supporting Hands Designs and making a conscious purchase. Visit our online store and help #handsdesignchange.