Clothing is often seen as a product that can be modified, customized and altered to cater to the changing needs of the populace. But, clothing has hardly been considered as an instrument of change so far. While all other instruments of impact are put into operation, clothing is brushed off as a serious element of inclusive development. As I have written about various facets of socio-economic change, the term ‘Ethical Clothing’ struck a chord inside me.
What is so different about ethical clothing? Does that make the mainstream apparel manufacturing unethical? That’s debatable and can be reserved for some other day. According to a research by BTheChange, clothing is a major contributor to trash and eventually to landfills. Consumers opt for clothes that are priced low and can be discarded after a short use, to keep up with the fast pace of fashion. The habit of recycling has diminished. A single stitch comes off, and the piece of clothing makes way to the wastepaper bin.
While I researched more into this, I stumbled across many social good brands which produce and sell clothes, with a strong focus on creating impact for artisans by promoting hand-made production and responsible use of materials. And believe me, they are so beautiful and empowering, it would be a cardinal sin to not talk about them.
In this series, I will take you through some mind-blowing impact businesses that are innovatively using clothing to empower people and bring about change.
Purple Impression is a socially responsible, high fashion brand dedicated to creating an inclusive world through meaningful fashion and art.
Started by sisters, Drakshan and Afshan Khan, Purple Impression is a sustainable, artisan-made online apparels brand using high fashion to provide employment opportunities to women in Pakistan. By fusing the traditional art of hand embroidery from one of the oldest cities in the world (Multan, Pakistan), their designers in San Francisco create exclusive, handcrafted pieces while preserving this dying art. Currently selling apparel to ethically conscious consumers in the US, they plan to expand their operations to Asia and Middle East soon.
I felt the founders’ passion for creating something sustainable, something path-breaking, first hand, when I spoke to Afshan last week. Afshan, started Purple Impression with her sister Drakshan while she was still in the last year of her MBA. Both are in their early twenties, but their zeal and strong drive to create a difference at such a young age is highly palpable.
Co-founder Afshan Khan with one of the artisans at Multan
Artisans at Multan
Purple Impression creates garments while uplifting the social status of women in Multan. Why Multan? Afshan and Drakshan’s parents come from Multan. Although the sisters have been born and brought up in Dubai and US, their roots never left them. Multan is famous for the oldest art of embroidery known as Tarkashi or embroidery between the fabrics.
A buyer of Multan’s embroidered fabrics; Afshan would regularly visit the city. On one such visit, she was taken aback to see that the women who indulged in this art form had discontinued. Reason being, the long chain of intermediaries, did not fetch them the monetary value that they deserved for their art which is one of the causes of the problems women face there.
“The society in Multan is very patriarchal and women are not allowed to go out and work. And then it gets worse for widows, divorcees and spinsters. They are treated as an outcast. They need a means of livelihood where they can work from the confines of their homes. Through Purple we are trying to give them that opportunity.” – Afshan Khan
This heart-wrenching condition of women in Multan and the endangered status of the dying art form urged Drakshan and Afshan to start Purple Impression. Using fabrics embroidered by the women in Multan, the designers in San Francisco make apparels that are modest in looks and fashion appeal.
“Our vision is to empower the women for their talent and not focus on their past. Through Purple Impression, we want to honor the people’s culture, their art and bring the craft back. These women are our heroes.” – Afshan Khan
At the outset, Purple Impression is working towards reviving the art form of Tarakashi. But, through this, Purple Impression wants to give the artisans and their art, a global platform to flourish. By eliminating the middlemen, Purple Impression helps the women at Multan, earn what they deserve for their hard work and zeal.
Each garment sewed by the artisan is hand signed by its maker often showing the construction through videos. By adding a face and a name to every piece, the garments take you on a journey in the by-lanes of Multan, in the brick-walled houses of the women, creating a sense of connection, adding meaning to the garment. Hand cutting techniques are used to ensure zero wastage. The founders also provide knowledge about computer and basic education to the women, helping them grow at a personal level.
Sentiments and Empathy Know No Boundaries
Afshan is a Pakistani, and I am an Indian. Despite the growing tensions, what I realized is boundaries cannot limit thoughts. Coming from 2 countries that have always been at each other’s necks, not once did we feel the adverse sentiment seeping in, while talking to each other. All she did was inspire me, with every passing moment that we spoke.
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