Human trafficking. A term one rarely utters in general conversation and a concept that is difficult to grasp for the nightmares it brings to the mind and the ache it brings to the heart. Anti-Slavery.org.au defines human trafficking as:
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploiting that person through slavery, forced labour, sexual servitude, debt bondage, organ removal or other forms of exploitation.”
Human trafficking is labour exploitation often seen in such industries as fashion, commercial sex trade, agriculture, hospitality and construction.
Indeed it takes a certain kind of strength to look at circumstances that involve the worst parts of human nature, grapple with its hard-to-swallow truths and then do something about it. It is fair to say that Stephanie Hepburn writer and founder of ethical fashion business Good Cloth has that particular kind of strength.
HOW GOOD CLOTH BEGAN
Stephanie Hepburn's ethical fashion journey began with a book. Not a book on ethical fashion, rather, one on human trafficking. “My book Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight was published in May 2013 and I began giving talks and presentations on human trafficking,” explains Stephanie. “It was an eye opening experience. It transitioned me from the world of academia and interviewing those related to the realm of anti-trafficking advocacy to mainstream society.” Writing the book also changed her life, altering not just the way she lived and how she shopped but what she would eventually do professionally: become a social entrepreneur.
Conducting book presentations in various cities across the United States, Stephanie noticed that the audience members’ concerns were almost universal. “People wanted to know about their purchases and how they could ensure that what they bought wasn’t a product of labour exploitation and human trafficking.” After conducting these talks, it occurred to her that many people didn’t have the expertise or time to vet designers. She decided to use her background as a fashion writer and knowledge of human trafficking to create a space where people could purchase ethically made pieces thoroughly screened for transparency. After a tonne of planning and research, she finally launched ethical fashion e-commerce website Good Cloth in October 2014.
The Good Cloth website is cleanly presented with a logical navigation structure that makes it easy to find what you are after. Shoppers can browse by using a particular 'ethic' such as "handcrafted", "organic" "recycled" or "vegan" or you can browse by type of item such as accessories, apparel and jewelry. One thing is certain - Stephanie has done the homework for you offering eco-friendly and socially responsible fashion brands that are transparent in their sourcing, manufacturing and distribution. “Each item that we carry is ethically sourced. Meaning, the pieces are sourced and created in a way that ensures respect for the planet and that workers are safe, treated well, paid fair wages and work legal hours," says Stephanie. Environmental impact is also a part of their ethical criteria: “Each designer we carry selects sustainable materials and production processes. The designs in slow fashion are made for longevity.”
BIG HEART, GREAT STYLE
After spending time on the Good Cloth website, it is evident that Stephanie has a good eye for fashion. The ethical items she has curated are beautifully made and stylish. “There are so many eco-friendly ethical brands out there that are wonderful! The newest addition to the Good Cloth shop is Miakoda, an eco-friendly vegan clothing line. It is comfort and luxury meets ethics. The designer, Julia Ahrens says about Miakoda exactly what I hope all designers will say one day, “Transparency holds us accountable. It gives proof that companies are doing the good they say they are doing.”
THE BALANCING ACT
Like many ethical business start-ups, Stephanie faces a multitude of challenges but admits nothing compares to the idea of self-promotion, a concept that goes against her nature. “My father taught me to be humble. It was a cornerstone of my upbringing. You don’t brag and you don’t show off. You work hard and accolades will follow, and you accept them with a heartfelt thank you,” says Stephanie of the lessons she was taught. “I love that he is this way but it has made self-promotion incredibly challenging. As a writer and now with Good Cloth I need to campaign for the shop and me. That comes with some degree of shameless self-promotion, particularly since I am bootstrapping the store and am the PR person on staff.” Stephanie continues to work through it, learning the delicate balance between self-promotion and annoying self-indulgence. If Good Cloth's Twitter feed is anything to go by, Stephanie has struck the right balance.
But it's not just social media where she's been able to strike a balance. She's found it in her professional and personal lives too. A proud mum, she cites her children as being the center of her pride and joy. “I am fairly sure my daughter is going to rule the world like a benevolent CEO and my son will likely do something that involves throwing things - if his one-year-old tendencies are any indication.”
There is no doubt the ethical fashion movement is incredibly lucky to have an advocate such as Stephanie Hepburn, who articulates issues like labour exploitation and human trafficking without making people feel helpless: “Sometimes in this over-saturated world of quick streaming Facebook feeds and social media, it is easy to get overwhelmed by so many issues that seem to have no solution. I get that. I founded Good Cloth so that shopping ethically is easy, positive and a win for consumers, workers and the planet.” Intelligent, stylish, ethical and real - what's not to love about this woman?
So if you're after carefully curated ethical fashion that directly improves the lives of its garment workers, head to the Good Cloth website. If you're interested in learning more about Stephanie, make sure to connect with her directly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.