We chat with Shannon Keith, Sudara’s SHE-O, about ethical fashion and why you should adopt Kimonos as your Fall staple piece.
Imagine buying a pair of pants that not only look great but also help disadvantaged women in their way to becoming financially independent. Such a thing exists, and the name of the brand is Sudara. Conceived as a socially responsible company and certified B-Corp, this female-owned apparel brand is making a difference one pair of pants at a time. By providing skills training and fair-wage jobs to women in India who are at poverty risk or survivors of sex trafficking, their loungewear pants and robes are making a positive impact around the world.
With an extensive catalog filled with fashion for the whole family, Sudara specializes in loungewear pants and robes with beautiful traditional Indian patterns. Priced between $29 and $79, their pieces are breath of fresh air in the fashion industry. Have I mentioned that their fabulous pieces are comfortable and ultra-stylish? Now that kimonos are all the rage in the Fall Fashion Forecast, I plan to pair their robes with my favorite leggings for a sleek look.
New York For Beginners: When did you decide to start Sudara?
Shannon Keith: It was after my second trip to India in 2005. I traveled often but my trip that year struck me in a way that I couldn’t ever forget. I saw firsthand the tragedy that was occurring daily to women and girls throughout the country. After visiting one of India’s many red light districts I realized what was occurring was modern day slavery. I heard story after story of young girls sold into the sex trade by their families, orphans picked up off the street by pimps, and even young mothers just trying to feed their children. Many were held against their will. Others were trapped by economic poverty. Worst of all were the stories of those who managed to escape the brothels only to return due to social stigma with no other way to survive. These realities forever changed me.
NYFB: What inspired you to create a line of fashion adapting traditional Punjabi clothes? Do you have any personal ties to the Indian culture?
S.K: When I took that trip to India in 2005, I was working in sales and as a sales trainer; though I was not necessarily passionate about the work it paid well and helped provide for my family. I have always been extremely passionate about helping people, though, and had volunteered and been on service projects throughout high school and college.
While I didn’t have personal ties to the Indian culture, I connected as a woman with the women I met in India and their desire to do whatever it takes to survive and care for their children. I also wasn’t seeking to create a fashion line or even a loungewear brand! I just knew that the women I met needed a safer, sustainable job AND this work needed to be easy to learn and an in-demand skill.
NYFB: Where do you manufacture your products?
SK: We partner with established sewing and skills-training centers in or near 4 major cities: Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai. These cities are also amongst the largest concentration of sex trafficking and red-light areas in India.
NYFB: How does Sudara empower women to become independent?
SK: For many of the women who come to one of our partner centers, simply learning a skill that allows them to earn an income, and in a profession that is respected by their family, is a life-changer for them. We are in the process of surveying the women working at our partner centers and have been so encouraged by their responses. So many of them have mentioned that having a job has increased their self confidence because they are able to provide for their children and not rely on others. We know that having a job isn’t enough for every woman who comes to the centers, though. Donations also go towards funding programs at our partner centers for counseling, medical care, and safe housing.
NYFB: Why is trafficking and sexual slavery still happening in the XXIst century? How can our consumption choices contribute to helping women worldwide?
SK: Trafficking and sexual slavery are still happening because there is a demand. In the case of trafficking for forced labor, that demand is for cheaper clothing and goods or keeping up with the latest trends; brands are only able to keep up with this demand at the margins they want by cutting costs down the supply chain.
Each of us have the ability to change this by rethinking how and where we are spending our money; it’s our purchase power. We can choose to shop with ethically-made brands and those who are transparent about their supply chain. We can choose to repurpose the clothes in our closet for another season rather than purchase new, have clothing swaps with friends (this has been popular among the Sudara team!) and shop consignment / thrift stores.
With the rising tide of social enterprises like Sudara and many other notable brands doing amazing things, I am hopeful that our future is bright and that consumers will begin to demand transparency and fair wages for everyone involved in bringing goods and service to the market. No one group of human beings should be enslaved for the comfort and pleasure of another group. This is modern day slavery at the core and needs to be abolished once and for all.
One of my favorite quotes – and one that the Sudara team often cites – is from Lilla Watson: If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. Sudara customers are amazing because they truly get this. They believe in empowering women because the challenges and concerns that affect our sisters half a world away, at some level and at some point, affect us all.
NYFB: What are your plans for the brand? Do you have anything new in the works?
SK: We always want to make really great, fun, high-quality pajamas and loungewear. However, we are continually thinking about growth and will continue to expand as opportunities that make sense present themselves. At this point, we are only limited by consumer demand and appetite. Our model is built on the principle that we want to create jobs and there is no shortage of women who want good jobs and to leave the brothel community.
We are testing out a few new pajama sets this fall. We are also working towards an even more sustainable supply chain through digital printing, which will allow us and our suppliers to reduce water consumption. We are excited about the future for Sudara and all social enterprises.[Sudara Fall Look Featured Below: Anju Robe ($79.00) and Preetha Punjammies ($54.00)]