Over the last few months the Simply team has explored the topic of living wages in fashion and its relationship to brand profit and feminism. We’ve explored how profits are distributed and heard the social and health related effects of fashion wages from garment workers producing our clothing.
As we continue to frame our discussion on the social impact of fashion, it’s important to explore companies leading by example to find what realities are possible when great leadership and an alignment in values come together to pay fair wages.
Marian von Rappard is the founder of Dawn Denim, a conscious denim brand produced at Evolution3, a denim lab in Saigon, Vietnam that places worker happiness at the forefront of business operations. Marian co-founded Evolution and has since been carving a path for the factory to follow by offering a living wage to employees and a high quality of work and wellbeing that should be, but is far from commonplace in the fashion industry.
We chatted with Marian to understand how his factory implements a living wage and how that affects worker livelihood and wellbeing.
MARIAN ON EVOLUTION3
Can you describe your company's approach to ethical business practices and how it is integrated into your manufacturing processes?
M: I think the key-ingredient making us “ethical” is simply that we are there. We do not produce in an anonymous place, somewhere with the “right” certification. We are there hands-on, accessible, approachable and responsible.
How do you prioritize the well-being and development of your employees?
M: Our goal is to create a sustainable business model. For us, sustainability is the overlap of the 3 P´s; people, planet and profit. We aim to become a role model for a new approach in our industry. A healthy, happy and motivated team is the main driver towards reaching our vision. To ensure this becomes a reality, all our employees are paid Living Wage (following the Anker methodology), have additional private health insurance and we serve the best lunch in the whole area :)
WHAT IS THE ANKER METHODOLOGY?
For context, The Anker Methodology is a method to determine a living wage that was developed by the Global Living Wage Coalition (GLWC) and has been used in around 39 locations globally. Its uniqueness comes from an emphasis on participation from local people and organizations, takes into account cost standards, requires transparency, new local data collection, and considers not only gross cash payment, but also deductions from pay, overtime pay, bonuses, and in-kind benefits.
According to the GLWC, a living wage is, “Remuneration received for a standard workweek by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transport, clothing, and other essential needs, including provision for unexpected events.”
While there is a minimum wage in Vietnam enforced by the government, it is below what’s required for decent living standards. Evolution uses the Anker methodology to provide a living wage higher than the standard minimum wage that includes enough for food, housing, transportation, child education, unexpected expenses and some savings.
Can you share any initiatives or programs that you have in place to support the work-life balance of your employees?
M: Our industry is famous for a very colonial approach from brands dictating to their suppliers. By owning both the factory and the brand depending on it, we already see a healthy shift towards an eye-leveled relation. Making sure our brand team from Berlin is regularly in Vietnam, understanding cultural differences, building relations is one of the key initiatives.
How does your company ensure fair and equitable treatment for all employees, regardless of their role or level within the organization?
M: Many initiatives, ideas, projects failed or at least haven´t been able to maintain. However, I’m very happy with our workshop led by the Fair Wear Foundation. At the beginning of the workshop we had a list of complaints about our management, this list shortened after every workshop. One great example has been a role-play where a worker acts as a manager and the manager as a worker. I could see that both sides started to understand each other far better afterwards. These initiatives are small and only successful, long lasting if maintained regularly.
One way Evolution goes above and beyond equitable pay is through the Dawn Denim x Tip Me collaboration. Tip me is a unique initiative that applies the concept of tipping to fashion. Just as you tip waitstaff in a restaurant, tip me gives consumers the option to tip the seamster or seamstress who made their clothing and even individual farmers for coffee products. Each worker receives their share directly in their bank account through a local distribution and participation criteria. Dawn Demin is the first denim company to implement tip me, which enforces an appreciation for craft and strengthens individual connection to our clothing.
Lastly, can you speak to how you calculate employee wages? How do you ensure profits are fairly distributed?
M: As stated, we follow the Anker Methodology to pay a Living Wage. Currently we don't pay piece-rate but that comes with downsides as well. I wish we are able to find “the perfect '' balance between secured income and target oriented motivation.
NOTE TO THE INDUSTRY
Evolution wants to find the right balance, a mindset that’s hard to come by in an industry driven by low margins and undervalued work. There are many ways garment workers are paid and not all are necessarily ethical.
Marian maintains ethical operations through direct work with his employees which allows for direct, and accessible communication between the workers and owners. If more brands took to a hands-on approach perhaps they would be able to address the cracks in their system head on through empathy and understanding.
Given the scale of fashion, the industry has the potential to become a force for good work ethics and environments. It is a complex sector with ongoing oversight into the wellbeing and compensation of garment workers, however there are companies like Dawn Demin who care about change and are finding a structure to support that. When brands look to factories they should aim to implement equitable practices that benefit the employees because as Marian showed, when your people are well so is your profit and planet.
Until next time friends, always be curious and #StayDiligent x