Possibilities galore

Anjali Jhangiani
Wednesday, 11 July 2018

A Sydney-based social enterprise collaborated with slum communities in India to produce their own slow clothing label called slumwear108. We speak to its founders

Kim Pearce and Kath Davis are on a mission -- to facilitate a shift in mindset for anyone who wishes to see possibility in places and experiences we often interpret as hopeless. And the way to do this, Kim (who was an Economics teacher) thought, is to establish real world solutions based on a circular economy. Together they devised a plan and founded the Possibility Project, a Sydney-based social enterprise which collaborated with slum communities in India to produce their own slow clothing label called slumwear108.

The duo point out that their work can often be mistaken for charity, or that their primary focus is to change people’s lives in India, but that is not the purpose of Possibility Project. “The intention of our work is to help promote a shift in creative thinking so that individuals realise the power they possess in addressing positive change for our planet. And we happen to be doing it with a focus on the fashion industry,” says Pearce. 

But then why else would a Sydney-based social enterprise be interested in helping the slum communities in India? “I have a personal connection to India as both my parents and the entire extended family are of Indian descent. But beyond nationality, race, religion, income and gender, we wanted to create something that demonstrates the power of the creative spirit to get things done. We don’t consider our differences at all, rather, we embrace our commonalities. I guess that’s the essence of ‘namaste’ - it’s the only Indian word I understand,” says she. 

Circular economy
Inspired by the work of The Ellen MacCarthur Foundation, the circular economy encourages us to question waste and use it as an input resource in order to close the loop, as opposed to a linear economy based on the ‘take-make-waste’ concept. 

slumwear108 uses dead runs of fabric where possible and also sources second hand saris. This way we rarely use virgin materials. We also want people to reimagine how much we waste when we devalue human lives or devalue our impact on the planet - we educate people on valuing the worth in what we have deemed ‘rubbish’,” says she explaining that if we learn to honour and respect each other’s worth, we will not be wasting so much. 

“Slow clothing is an extension of the concept of a circular economy. Slow clothing is a response, and ideally, a solution to the impact that fast fashion has had on environmental and human resources. Slow clothing has been championed by many in the fashion industry who can no longer accept practices that deliver fashion through exploited labour or complete disregard for our land and water systems,” explains Pearce as she refers to the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh and how it woke up many in the Western World to realise they are part of exploitative supply chains, and they can no longer accept this. “Slow clothing is open to interpretation, but for us, personally, it means creating clothing in total harmony with planet and with a sense of dignity towards every hand that touches the production process,” she adds. The founders recently spoke at the Vivid Sydney festival, an annual celebration of art, music, light and ideas.

Naming the brand slumwear108
She claims that her experience in the slums in India has been extraordinarily different to what is often shown in mass media and this is what inspired the name of the brand slumwear108. “There is no denying that living conditions have to be transformed, but the people are extremely connected, the children are joyful and the entrepreneurial spirit is immense (which is so contrasting to the affluent Western communities we live in), slumwear108 is all about demonstrating this light within the darkness, we want to nurture people at home - where we sell slumwear108 - to shift their perceptions of what has value, we believe positive change will come if we can move beyond valuing things simply on their physical appearance,” she says. 

The products under the brand, which include dresses, shirts, scarves, knotted beads, jackets and more, are called ‘possibility materialised’. “Some of our products are made through I-India and some by a manufacturer in Jaipur whom we have a family relationship with. We pay directly to our makers, no middle people, and we never ‘bargain’ for lower costs as this is not in line with our consciousness. We leave it up to I-India to run profit sharing within their own community as they know far better than us how to manage things in India,” she says.  

Collaborating with communities
“We collaborate with a charity in Jaipur called I-India who have been helping both urban and rural slum communities for over 20 years. Our project started with a partnership to help support the vocational training of youths and mothers into dignified employment,” says she, adding that these training programmes are established by the authorities at I-India who have intrinsic knowledge of what is needed to provide dignified employment for disadvantaged youths and mothers. 

Youths over the age of 14 can participate in voluntary training programs in the afternoons after school. “They are encouraged to take ownership of their work and lives and many have gone on to obtain higher qualifications and great employment opportunities due to their participation in the programme,” she informs.  

The Possibility Project encourages people to share their skill set. “ ’Empowerment’ is created when people believe in themselves. We don’t empower people, but we do help create conditions where people can choose to feel empowered. We do the same in our own society, we don’t tell people what clothes they should or shouldn’t buy. We simply create situations where people realise they have a choice, alternatives exist and it’s up to them to choose what they feel will elevate their wellbeing,” says she adding, “I-India may have a different take on empowerment, but the Possibility Project believes empowerment is a personal choice (something we learnt first hand from people living in the slums).”

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