Sonagachi, Kolkata, is home to approximately 11,000 sex workers. The most populous red-light district in India contrasts starkly with Pigalle, Paris or the tourist trap of De Wallen, Amsterdam. Working conditions are poor and a distressing proportion of workers are forced into the trade by human trafficking.
Angel Robins saw hope where there appeared to be none. The business development manager co-founded Perth-based fashion brand One Tenth with husband Sam, an accomplished barista. At its core, One Tenth is a fashion brand, but more importantly, it’s a movement towards more sustainable and more responsible production practises, without sacrificing product quality.
One Tenth outsources production to Freeset, a company Angel visited on a 2015 trip to Kolkata. It offers alternative employment to women trapped in the sex trade.
“It’s something they’ve never had: choice,” says Sam. “The way we see it, it shouldn’t be about closing so-called sweatshops. That would rob people of work opportunities. It should be about rethinking how businesses can operate responsibly and still make a profit.”
Freeset pays twice the average hourly wage compared to other producers in developing Asia. It also offers health insurance and a pension program. Crucially, employees are trained, resulting in products of export quality.
One Tenth tees are made from 100 per cent fair trade, organic cotton. Its first run of branded shirts (available through a Kickstarter campaign) was conceived by in-house designer Miranda Mayne and showcases a striking minimalist aesthetic. Angel and Sam plan on taking a similar tack when collaborating with other designers in future. “We are working towards creating products to be competitive not just within the ethical niche but the industry as a whole,” says Sam.
While One Tenth’s role in outsourcing to Freeset can change the present, its investment in education can transform the future. One Tenth has committed to donating – yes – one 10th of its profits to Tamar, a company that provides education programs to those who might not otherwise be able to access them.
Angel says that a child in Sonagachi can be educated for a month for as little as $37. “By investing in education, we are providing children in these communities with a way off the streets and into a classroom,” she says. “It's an opportunity for them to change their own future, as well as their family’s.”
The Kickstarter campaign is just the start. “This isn’t a one-off,” says Sam. “Our profits must be stretched to have a long lasting impact on others. We're building a social enterprise that provides those living within these communities with jobs, security and stability. We’re also planning on partnering with other companies like Freeset so we can highlight consciously-sourced clothing on a global scale.”
One Tenth tees are available on Kickstarter up to May 26.