Budapest, Stories, and The Shine Conference
From the beginning of The Simple Kind, Molly and I knew we wanted one of our core values to be “story”. The very heart of the ethical fashion movement involves looking at a garment and asking, “Where did this come from? Who made it and how? What are the human details behind the tag?” By asking these questions, we can begin to see our closets for what they are: anthologies filled to the brim with soft, embroidered, human stories.
By daring to wonder about the anonymous, humming workforce behind this multi-trillion-dollar-a-year industry, we invite ourselves and others to examine our own part in this worldwide story. In this way, the clothes we wear become a sort of woven relic: a symbol of the connection between the one who sews and the one who wears.
As a writer, I was captivated by the inherent poetry of the movement. As an idealist, I was optimistic and passionate about propelling it forward and inviting others to make bold moves towards awareness and justice. But, just like all social justice movements, the nuances quickly unravel all hastily formed ideals. The more we learned and read and traveled, the less we shouted and the more we listened. From garment workers to NGOs to other social businesses, we encountered bold, wise voices who both kindly and sharply asked all the right questions.
“Should we become a nonprofit or should we stay a business? How are we going to be sustainable and profitable? What does NGO dependency look like? How do we avoid exploiting someone else’s story? What does successful impact even look like to us?”
Under the weight of these questions, The Simple Kind’s seemingly straightforward framework suddenly seemed a bit wobbly. And so we've spent much of 2016 trying to research and pray and talk and labor our way towards some kind of conclusion and direction. We’ve traveled to Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, connected and reconnected with new and old friends, swerved through awkward conversations, banged our heads against countless walls, swooned over sweet little dresses (and the babies in them), cried over failures and injustices, and fallen into bed from pure exhaustion...all while working day jobs, might I add.
We have found that forming a social business is hard work in every sense: physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally, the whole endeavor requires some serious guts and endurance. At moments, I’ve had the lurking desire to take the easy route: “This whole thing is way too complicated. Can’t we just find an affordable production group? Or run some kind of marketing campaign without considering every single ethical implication? Let’s get to selling! Let’s succeed now! Quick!” But soon I realized: these hurried thoughts are the same voice of instant gratification that we’ve been so vocally condemning within the fashion industry.
Instead, we’re intentionally and earnestly listening to a different voice: “Slow down. Pay attention. This is the story of The Simple Kind.” We’ve learned more and more that the process has been fixed and steady for a reason: the women we want to work with deserve far more than a quick-fix attitude. This road isn’t centered around outcomes, and success may look different than we expect. For now, we’re focusing more on creating a good, sustainable business than we are creating a cut-and-dry success story.
Several weeks ago, we traveled to Budapest to take part in the Shine Conference, a network of organizations working with victims of exploitation around the world. The conference was designed to encourage and connect these groups in order to meet needs and facilitate relationships. Walking into the conference, we felt a bit timid. Most of the people here were on the “front lines” of the fight against exploitation...we were merely a social business. Would we fit in?
The answer turned out to be an emphatic YES. After listening to many of these groups discuss their needs and experiences, the common denominator was a need for sustainable jobs. It turns out work (and especially meaningful work) is the most healthy long-term solution to staying out of exploitative situations.
Needless to say, we walked out of the conference with fresh perspective, renewed passion, new friends, and one potential production partner. We met some truly incredible folks (Freedom 61, Hope Dies Last, Kaleo, and Dignita Amsterdam, among many others), saw some insanely beautiful pieces of Europe (wowee, Budapest), and felt the tides begin to turn.
Keep up with us in the coming months to see what we have in store! Our plans include...
- A Fall/Winter 2016 Line release in October (sneak peek below!)
- A limited Fall “Simple Kind Tour” in several US cities (a sort of party/Q&A/pop-up shop)
- Holiday shopping opportunities in Texas and Colorado
- More announcements about production + travel
Be on the lookout for details and dates!
- Kelsey Yandura || TSK Storyteller