Passion Lilie: Fashion that Empowers
Katie Schmidt decided to create a women’s fair trade clothing line in the summer of 2012, after visiting a group of female artisans located in a village near Bhopal, India. At the time, Katie was the Director of a fair trade organization, and had made her way from New Orleans to South Asia to help a small workshop attain fair trade certification. The artisans, who hand-embroidered for the local workshop, were materially unprivileged. This is not uncommon in the fashion industry, where millions of female garment workers do not make a living wage.
The sight of women working full-time hours, yet not earning a living wage was profoundly disturbing to Katie, who was realizing first-hand the benefits of a fair trade system. Troubled by this injustice and touched by her encounters with the artisans, Katie wanted to spring to action. When she asked the workshop owner if it would be appropriate to give an artisan money, he answered, “No, they don’t want charity. They want jobs.” These words ultimately inspired the beginning of Passion Lilie in January of 2013.
Today, Katie is the designer and owner of Passion Lilie, a fair trade and eco-friendly apparel brand, whose two-fold mission is to create ethical fashion and empower women. The company empowers artisans by offering them job opportunities which uplift their dignity through fair wages, good working conditions and a long-term, stable employment. UN-WOMEN explains that women are more likely to work in vulnerable, low-paid and undervalued jobs. However, Passion Lilie seeks to overcome this reality. Half of its production is made by women who get the chance to access financial stability, freedom and empowerment through the workplace. Katie explains, “Our production is ethical, because all of our products are made with fair trade practices in mind, our artisans receive fair wages, have access to an uplifting working environment, [and receive] job training and loans and financial assistance as needed.”
The sustainability goals of Passion Lilie saturate its supply chain: the company uses eco-friendly materials and dyes, and organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO cotton. “We try to be as environmentally conscious as possible during the entire process,” explains Katie, who excitedly told us that the company just introduced organic jersey. Environmental sustainability does not, in fact, characterize the mainstream fashion industry, which contributes largely to water pollution, toxic chemical use and textile waste.
Passion Lilie’s communal and sustainable approach emphasizes the individual abilities of craftspeople, both artistically and culturally, rather than mass-production. In this sense, the process of production is the priority rather than making the most profit instantly. “We have small profit margins and we cannot always fill the demand,” Katie notes, “simply because our process is slower than that of fast fashion.” Today’s fashion industry is marked by this process of “fast fashion,” wherein retailers change designs quickly as trends shift. Fast fashion involves low-cost, shoddy mass-production and much waste, as new trends replace old ones almost weekly. Ethical fashion, on the other hand, prioritizes quality, sustainability and justice over speed and quantity.
These two contrasting ideologies are highlighted when Katie mentions that a common stereotype about ethical fashion is that it is either too expensive and not stylish. However, she goes on to explain, “[…] that is why we are consistently striving to create the best product of the highest quality, with the best price, while not losing our ethics.” Passion Lilie’s brand is indeed incredibly stylish: designs are unique, made with lively prints and having a vintage, bohemian and retro flair. Katie’s favourite item from her collection are her pants, which she admits she wears almost year-round.
Fair trade inevitably involves a long and tedious process. At Passion Lilie, it takes about six-months to create a collection from concept to production. All designs are done by Katie in New Orleans, who creates patterns for silhouettes and subsequently partners with the company’s block printers and weavers on the design for the prints. Patterns are then sent to the production groups in India, who create a sample which is sent back to Katie for approval or adjustments. Production begins once fit samples are approved. The process can be slowed down by print mistakes, or the weather. In fact, fabric printing is halted during monsoon season, as dyes need sun for colors to develop. Moreover, artisans at Passion Lilie, unlike millions of garment workers worldwide, are given time off for holidays, festivals, sick leaves, etc. Inevitably, this slows the production process and makes it more difficult for the company to compete in the fashion industry, but is integral to the mission and heart of Passion Lilie. The challenges posed by this slowed process are ultimately overcome through hard work in advance, and narrowing collections to best sellers.
When asked how readers can get involved, Katie tells us, “As a designer, I can’t tell you how much I love seeing my products out and about in the world. This is something I will never get tired of!” You can support Passion Lilie by following them on social media, purchasing products and spreading the word!
Let’s remember, as Passion Lilie emphasizes, that fair trade is not charity, but a trade-based movement. This isn’t about “giving money” to under-served groups and individuals, but rather seeing a shift in the fashion industry where justice and transparency prevail, and where the dignity of all is considered.
Check out Passion Lilie today!
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About the Author
Jess Debanne, a proud Montrealer, is an International Development major at McGill University, minoring in Communications and World Religions. You can find her reading a book in a coffee shop, planning a trip to a new city or laughing with her loved ones. Her passion for social justice issues has inspired her work in nonprofit organizations both at home and in the developing world.