Did you know sustainability is one of our core pillars?
It's widely known that a changing climate is one of the greatest threats to gender equality. In fact, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) found that gender inequalities are greatly exaggerated by climate-related hazards. Unfortunately, the apparel industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, so there is a tremendous amount of work to do to disrupt the harmful practices of our industry.
Because S H E aims to create positive change for girls and women for generations to come, we do everything through the lens of sustainability. And in our eyes, sustainability goes beyond environmentally positive practices and involves designing programs that can sustain community development long after our program exists.
How does climate change affect girls and women?
Girls and women around the world are overwhelmingly responsible for collecting water, gathering food, and completing household chores. One of the greatest health risks for girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa is respiratory illness often caused by smoke inhalation while they are cooking over a fire. All of these effects are especially present in remote rural communities, like our 16 partner villages in Togo.
Stories from our Togo program
Togo is experiencing dramatic environmental degradation (some of the worst in the world), so our students are already having to walk farther distances to collect water. This year, we learned that in one of our partner villages, Kpelé, the school principal was forced to delay the daily start time because girls have to walk so far to get water each morning that they're not able to return home and then walk to school on time.
The majority of the families we serve live on less than $1.90 per day, the international level of extreme poverty. Many families survive off of subsistence farming, a form of farming where nearly all crops are used to support the farmer's family with very little surplus to sale. Unsustainable farming techniques and unpredictable rainy seasons have led to constantly decreasing yields. Girls are often pulled out of school to support their family farms, leading to sporadic school attendance and lower grades. Many of our families also report challenges providing proper nutrition for their families.
Three ways S H E is protecting our planet:
1. We design circular products. When we realized girls were outgrowing their school uniforms multiple times each school year, we knew this was a problem for two reasons:
1. Girls can not afford replacements, so this often becomes the reason girls drop out of school.
2. It greatly increases the rate of consumption for school uniforms that ultimately end up in landfill.
So we designed the world's only school uniform that grows six sizes and up to a foot in length. Whatever scraps are generated from making our uniforms are then transformed into reusable menstrual pads or other usable products. Our S H E uniforms are designed to last up to 3 years so school can be more affordable and school uniforms can be more planet positive!
2. We create zero fabric waste in our factories! Whenever we take on a new manufacturing project, we design every product to reduce fabric waste and increase the life cycle of the product. We also select fabrics that can be easily recycled into usable products. We recycle the majority of fabric into reusable menstrual pads for our students, and we make things like chalkboard erasers out of the more difficult fabric scraps.
3. We now recycle fabric from other local factories! In an effort to become fabric negative and build a circular economy, we're partnering with nearby factories to recycle their fabric scraps into reusable menstrual pads. In these factories, scraps are often thrown away or burned, so creating usable products is an impactful way for S H E to protect our planet.
Rita's currently developing two exciting new projects for S H E, so stay tuned for those exciting announcements in the coming months!