Strengthening communities through more sustainable fashion
A volunteer exchange promotes knowledge sharing in Brazil’s backcountry
Getting back to the land, learning about organic cotton from close up, talking with farmers and understanding how this fibre, which is so important for the fashion industry, impacts an entire community. That was the experience that 20 volunteers from C&A Foundation had during their volunteer exchange in the State of Ceará, in north-eastern Brazil.
The volunteer exchange is a C&A Foundation initiative aimed at strengthening communities by bringing together the foundation’s most notable volunteers from the previous year to share their experiences with other communities. The 2019 edition of the exchange was held in collaboration with Esplar, an NGO partner that incentivises sustainable cotton cultivation in Brazil and that seeks to provide a dignified life for farm workers whilst reducing the fashion industry's environmental impact.
Through this event, which was held from 27 to 30 June, C&A staff had the opportunity to participate in one of the links in a fashion chain that is far removed from the store: the harvesting of raw materials for clothing.
“Farming families from Irapuá, Brazil opened their doors so that each volunteer could take part in the cotton harvesting, join in discussions about organic production and take part in the traditional Harvest Festival”, said Luciana Pereira, programme manager for the C&A Foundation’s Sustainable Cotton Programme.
“On an extremely challenging global stage, strengthening the communities that are working to reverse the impacts caused by the fashion industry's supply chain is one of the ways we're building a more environmentally and socially sustainable industry”, Gustavo Narciso, programme manager for the C&A Foundation's Strengthening Communities Programme, acknowledged.
As part of their exchange, the volunteers presented community workshops on digital marketing, fashion trends and entrepreneurship, among other topics. The exchange activities focused on four action areas: nature, knowledge, city and community.
“It's very important to understand the process of cotton production and to realise that each item of clothing has a history. I really believe in the power of volunteering and what a force for good it is for changing the future. I myself was positively affected by a volunteer. One day, someone believed in me, and that had a profound effect on me. I once heard it said that you can’t require anyone to be a volunteer, because volunteering is an essence, not imposition.” – Nayra, a volunteer staffer from a C&A Brazil shop.
C&A Foundation believes that to make fashion a force for good, it is not enough to work only within the supply chain. The transformation also extends to the communities where the sector’s staff, customers and workers live.
In that vein, the foundation’s volunteer efforts are meant to enable and inspire C&A staff to get involved with communities that have been heavily impacted by the fashion industry, so that these communities can prosper in socially just working conditions and healthier lives for their residents.
“For me, being a volunteer is about sharing my knowledge and donating my time on behalf of a more equal society—one that holds the possibility of a more sustainable future”, added Andreia Papp, a volunteer staffer from C&A Brazil’s Distribution Centre.
Esplar is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that is directly engaged in the municipalities of Brazil's semiarid region, carrying out initiatives related to organic farming and family farming.