It's hard to find something that is really different. But I've been looking more into how denim can be used as a tool for good, and I found a project I am very excited to share with you.
About a year ago, I met Virginia Rollando, Sustainability Project Manager at Saitex. Outside of being in awe from Saitex's factory and ethos, one of their programs surrounding social sustainability, called Rekut, specifically struck a chord with me.
But, I wanted to know how this project was set up. So, I asked Virginia! And this is how the conversation went:
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY IS GOING TOWARDS CIRCULARITY; WHAT ABOUT SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY?
Buzzwords are everywhere and can be interpreted in hundreds of ways. Social sustainability looks at the ways in which a company impacts employees, customers, communities, and society as a whole. Giving equal opportunities to all groups of people in the community is the most important thing that a company can do. This is done by looking at a company's Diversity and Inclusion strategy.
Social movements are born when certain groups of people feel deprived of specific rights, goods, services or resources. We have seen the power of this in the last decade, with two massive movements, Me Too and Black Lives Matter. There is a group of people, however, that is still quiet and not included in the way it should: people with disabilities (which after discussing with people directly affected, we prefer to call people with different abilities). We are trying to give a voice to these people through the Rekut movement.
WHAT CAN A COMPANY DO?
A company should have a clear Diversity and Inclusion strategy which should cover:
Recruitment programs to hire more women, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+
Accessibility of buildings, systems, software etc.
Support designed for each group
Grievance mechanisms to make sure there are anonymous ways of reporting issues
Data collection on employee wellbeing
WHAT IS THE REKUT PROJECT?
The Rekut project is a production system, training centre and dedicated area in our factory that aims to recruit training and support people with different abilities to gain the confidence and skills to become full-time employees at Saitex. With 74 people employed full time who have successfully finished their training, who were recruited from nearby orphanages and centres for disabilities. Saitex aims to target other minority groups such as ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ in the longer term.
HOW DID IT START?
Saitex donates 0.1% of its revenue to create social impact monthly, to support 4 local orphanages and centers for disabilities. When the kids turn 18, they are welcome to join Saitex, to receive employment with equal pay and respect, which 11 kids did, but we wanted for this number to be much larger, that's how Rekut was born.
WHAT IS YOUR MAIN GOAL?
There are 6 million people with different abilities in Vietnam alone that have a 2.5 higher chance of being unemployed compared to the average. Saitex cannot solve this problem by itself, so we want to start a movement of companies following our example. Our goal is to prove that these people can bring significant benefits to a company, and by sharing our success stories, learnings and mistakes, we hope that other companies will become more inclusive.
Internally to Saitex, we have a clear goal of reaching 20% of our staff from disadvantaged backgrounds in all departments by 2025, which can be up to 1000 people.
WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED?
It is surprisingly difficult for me to think of major challenges. We were very lucky to receive a lot of great support from experts from local NGOs, UNDP Vietnam, and Saitex staff. The most challenging part was the beginning of the recruitment process. There is so much stigma around people with disabilities that their carers and families did not believe us when we told them that their kids could be really useful to the factory. Some companies do not treat people with different abilities with the respect they deserve, so rumours spread, and there is a lot of fear. It was amazing to see that after we recruited a few people, they would bring their friends, and the group expanded quickly.
WHAT PRODUCTS ARE THEY MAKING? WHERE CAN I BUY THEM?
They are currently working on accessories and homeware, all using waste denim from Saitex. Of course, this is a circular project too, and all the environmental initiatives of Saitex are relevant to Rekut products.
You can find them here: https://rekut.org/
WHAT SUGGESTIONS WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANY COMPANY THAT WANTS TO START SOMETHING SIMILAR?
My practical advice would also be not to be shy and ask for the help of experts. There are hundreds of people and NGOs doing amazing work out there; we collaborated with the NGO DRD for accessibility assessments, with UNDP Vietnam for our Diversity and Inclusion strategy, with Maison Chance on sewing training.
People with different abilities have to survive in a world that is not designed for their needs; they have to struggle more in their daily tasks, meaning that they are superior in their strength. Companies just need to realize that employing people with disabilities will simply employ great workers and improve the company culture. It can also help differentiate companies and find new business opportunities.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO ADD?
Just a special thank you to all the Rekut team and the amazing trainers that have adapted so well.