By Mariela Patronne
Maryland designer Nadia Tandra decided to launch her own ethical clothing brand, Lunellery, after being disappointed by statistics that show how big clothing companies are treating garment workers. Here’s a look at how DC-area designers are embracing ethical fashion.
It’s midnight in Maryland and Nadia Tandra is on a video call with the owner of the garment factory she works with in Indonesia. Nadia virtually supervises the production of the fall collection of her brand Lunellery.
In 2020, Nadia launched her first design of romantic princess-style dresses made from dead fabrics. Each is made from 100% cotton or 100% polyester, which means they’re less likely to end up in landfills.
From her home in Maryland, Nadia Tandra started Lunellery in 2020 with the help of her Indonesian family and friends whom she trusts in the fashion industry. Her clothing brand focuses on the small production of dresses made from selected and dead fabrics.
What is ethical fashion?
As a business owner, Nadia said she wanted to emulate the way her grandmother, a former garment factory owner, treated her own workers fairly.
“The garment factory I currently work with is one of my closest friends that I have known for a long time,” Nadia said. “We have worked together in the fashion industry.”
Nadia said she was disappointed with the statistics that show how large garment companies are treating garment workers.
Fashion Revolution, a nonprofit that researches, educates and campaigns to end “human and environmental exploitation in the global fashion industry”, releases annual study that analyzes 250 of the top fashion brands in human rights and environmental policies.
The 2021 study found a lack of transparency about how these companies treat garment workers. Ninety-nine percent of companies have not disclosed the number of workers in their supply chain who receive a living wage, according to the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index 2021.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the study also found that only 3% of brands revealed how many workers in their supply chain were laid off due to the pandemic. This left Fashion Revolution with an “‘incomplete picture’ of the negative socio-economic impact workers have faced throughout the pandemic.”
In 2020, the study found that most companies do not disclose how they check their suppliers for human rights violations, and only about 5% of top brands surveyed reported “annual and measurable progress towards the payment of a living wage to workers in their supply chains “.
Mimi Miller launched her Washington-area-based MM Womenswear brand in 2016, a year after graduating from college. From the start, she focused her activity on ethical fashion.
“To me, ethical fashion means that the people who make any product I make are working under safe conditions,” Miller said. “They get paid what they deserve.
“They work normal hours, they have breaks, they are not locked in a sweatshop,” she continued. “So are basic human rights.”
Miller said there has been a boom in designers, like Nadia, who have embraced ethical fashion over the past two years.
“I think it was just very unforeseen and just a coincidence,” Miller said of the boom.
“All of our conversations, in terms of marketing our businesses, but also talking about it to customers, are really what helps bring it to the fore and where it is today,” she said.
The team Nadia works with consists of 10 to 15 people.
“They have the same goals,” Nadia said of the relationship between the workers who sew her clothes and the owner of the factory. “They want to be successful by creating high quality clothing.”
The production process can take up to two months, which Nadia says is longer than the time that mass-produced clothing companies take.
“This is how we are different,” she said.
To build a trustworthy and ethical brand, Nadia stressed the importance of being practical and building close relationships with everyone involved. She uses social media to take clients behind the scenes.
“We like to share our story behind each collection and just be transparent with our audience like the design and production process,” she said.
Miller says transparency is the foundation of his business.
“Transparency with my factories and my suppliers and also translate that into transparency between myself and my customers,” she said.
Photos: DC-Area designers adopt ethical fashion
When she goes to textile shows to get fabrics, Miller said she was able to ask questions directly about how the products are made.
“I like having your hands on every step,” Miller said. “So like that, I really know what’s going on.”
Miller’s advice to those who want to launch their own ethical or sustainable brand is to start slowly.
“I think you should pick a thing or two to really focus on at the start, whether it’s a sustainable brand or an ethical brand,” she said. “And then once that’s sort of mastered, then add a new goal.”
“I just think taking baby steps is the way to go.”
This is part of a series of sustainable and ethical fashion in the DC area. Find the first part here.