It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the largest in the world – worth 1.2 trillion dollars to be exact. But did you know that over 80% of workers in the global garment industry are female? Despite campaigns and awareness from media outlets, many workers are still suffering from exploitation, physical abuse and unsafe working conditions. That’s why, this International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate and spotlight organisations that empower women involved in the fashion industries complicated supply chain.
One such organisation is I-India. Based in Jaipur, the NGO founded a vocational centre called Ladli to give training and education opportunities to disadvantaged women and children. Jaipur may have gained a reputation on social media for its ornate doorways and pretty pink architecture, but it’s actually a city rife with poverty. On a daily basis, tens of thousands of children forcefully engage in child labour. They receive no real education simply because their families can’t afford it.
Another project that Ladli supports is the Gudri Entrepreneurship Training of Women project, which aims to tackle gender inequalities faced by this particular group of women and girls over the age of 16 from six slum districts. This one-year comprehensive training course teaches them entrepreneurship and handicraft, personal finance management and about their legal and human rights. The goal is to enable them to become self-sufficient and empowered to go on and create their own micro-businesses.
Sustainable fashion label Baliza is one of Ladli’s sustainability partners and helps to provide work through the production of its label to over 400 artisans. Former Mediacorp artist and TV host Michelle Chia discovered Baliza and the labels work with Ladli over two years ago as a shopper and became keen to help the cause. She collaborated with its designer, Gema Santander, to create a limited edition ‘Michelle’ dress, and has used her profile to help spread about Baliza and Ladli’s mission.
This International Women’s Day, we’ve collaborated with Baliza to create another limited edition ‘Michelle’ toga dress. It is exclusively sold on ZERRIN and launching on 8 March. Our full proceeds from the sale of each dress will be donated back to Ladli. This is to help fund their various artisan initiatives.
And who better to model the new design for us than Michelle herself? We chatted about her work with Baliza and what drew her to Ladli’s mission.
Hi Michelle! Tell us how you first discovered Baliza.
I actually met the founder of Baliza, Gema, while shopping at a market stall in Bukit Timah more than two years ago. The easy-to-wear designs instantly attracted me. They are both comfortable and beautiful.
What drew you towards the brand and its values?
It was the handcrafted details of beading, block printing and embroidery that drew me to Baliza instantly, and I was touched after finding out that it was the hard work of people and not machines. The label stresses the importance of their clothes being made ethically, and I was interested to learn about their work with Ladli supporting communities of women, young adults and children living in poverty.
Why is Ladli’s work creating training opportunities for female artisans and children important to you?
It’s always important to empower and lift up women. Especially in a country like India, where women are not yet viewed as equal to men. They don’t get paid fair wage. Enabling and equipping them with skills and employment also means it helps the next generation. They can send their children to school to be educated, so they can have a real future of their own.
“It’s always important to empower and lift up women. Especially in a country like India, where women are not yet viewed as equal to men and most often not paid a fair wage.”
Why do you think that being a sustainable label is important in the fashion industry?
As a fashion label now, it’s important to set an example and better the industry as a whole. Fashion labels should encourage environmentally friendly production methods. So workers can sew and stitch in safe conditions, with child labour strictly prohibited. To also empower our artisans and appreciate their hard work. We can improve the poverty situation by paying people fairly, while more eco-friendly fabrics help to make less impact on the environment.
How did you enjoy the process of playing designer and why did you choose the toga silhouette?
It was lots of fun! I wanted to create something which fitted and flattered all shapes and sizes. The toga silhouette allows every woman to look and feel beautiful without being too revealing. I think the collar bone is one of the sexiest parts of a woman’s body. I wear it just as it is most of the time, or sometimes I put on a belt to cinch in the waist.
Finally, tell us if there are projects you are working on that we should look forward to?
I recently hosted a gourmet food show which featured caviar in Russia and Iberico Jamon in Spain. This will be a busy year for me. With more travelling for various TV programs – and yes, more food! I also look forward to designing more for Baliza in the future. As well as continue to do my part for social causes.