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ITC - International Trade Centre : Embracing the skills of artisans in the developing world for the international fashion industry

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07/12/2013 | 10:00am EDT

The benefits of the Ethical Fashion Initiative and the importance of linking marginalized people to global value chains were discussed by a panel at the 4th Global Review of Aid for Trade at the World Trade Organization in Geneva on 9 July.

ITC Communications

July 12, 2013

The livelihoods of people in disadvantaged communities in Africa and Haiti are being improved through ITC's Ethical Fashion Initiative, which connects artisans in the developing world with the international fashion industry. The benefits of the initiative and the importance of linking marginalized people into global value chains were discussed by a panel at the 4th Global Review of Aid for Trade at the World Trade Organization in Geneva on 9 July. Panellists included Jean-Marie Paugam, Acting Executive Director, ITC; Simone Cipriani, Chief of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), fashion designers Stella Jean, Sabine and Evelyne Roth, who are involved in the initiative, and Nii Ansah-Adyaye, Chief Director, Ministry of Trade and Industry of the Government of the Republic of Ghana, one of the countries that is benefitting from the project.

Mr Paugam said: 'The initiative has empowered nearly 7,000 artisans, 98% of which are women, to produce goods for brands and distributors all over the world.' Mr Cipriani quoted Oscar Wilde who said that "nowadays we know the price of everything and the value of nothing." Mr Cipriani said: 'That is not the case for artisans and their communities, designers and consumers involved in the Ethical Fashion Initiative.'

The EFI gives artisans in Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Haiti the opportunity to develop and manufacture hand-woven products for fashion businesses around the world. The workers benefit from the increased income for their families and communities, while buyers are able to source ethically produced goods that meet their quality standards.

On 7 July, Ghanaian designers Christie Brown and KIKI Clothing showcased their collections during Rome's fashion week, AltaRomAltaModa, as part of the EFI. The show also featured designs by the Swiss label PortenierRoth and the Italian-Haitian brand Stella Jean, which have used hand-woven fabrics produced by artisans in Burkina Faso and Mali.

Speaking at the Global Review of Aid for Trade, designer Stella Jean said: 'I am honored to take part in the Ethical Fashion Initiative. It is also a great responsibility conveying a message through fashion with a broad international impact. I want my designs to serve as a cultural translator and be used worldwide. By partnering with the EFI this ambition can be realized.'

Sabine Portenier and Evelyne Roth are two Swiss designers who launched their label, PortenierRoth, in 2007. Ms Portenier said: 'Good products have to be good quality, have to have a history. When we think about handmade items, hand-stitched items, they have to be pure. Through ITC's Ethical Fashion Initiative we can create a vision of colour and tradition. There is always something different to discover and, as a designer, that's very important.'

The EFI receives funding from Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Hans-Peter Egler, Head of Trade Promotion at SECO, said: 'It's about value chains - is there a demand for these sorts of products? Yes, there is. We are delighted that the success of EFI has culminated in the showcasing of work of micro-producers from rural communities at Rome Fashion Week. Ethical fashion is not just about a one-way transfer of products from developing countries to the global fashion industry, it's about a two-way exchange, with the North and the South being able to learn from each other. This is a new way of cooperation.'

Nii Ansah-Adjaye, Director, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Republic of Ghana, said that EFI is improving the livelihoods of those in disadvantaged communities: 'The main concept and principal is to provide an opportunity to link the product base to international markets, which leads to the creation of jobs. The project allows us to promote industrialization on a small level and good work practices.'

In addition to the panel discussion, an exhibition at the Global Review of Aid for Trade featured the work of the artisans and micro-producers participating in the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

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