The Nashville-based shoes and accessories brand Nisolo are on a mission to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction, prioritising paying living wages since it was founded in 2011 and sharing their lowest wages publicly since 2019 – a level of transparency almost unprecedented in their industry. Sustainability lead Matt Stockamp shares some things Nisolo learned from the process.

1. Living wages can vary wildly

‘A living wage is a wage that would be sufficient to cover nutrient-rich food, water, housing, education for children, healthcare, transportation, childcare, clothing and other essential needs – with 5% to spare for disposable income and savings for unexpected events. What this amounts to varies significantly by country and also by urban area compared to rural area. And living wages may be quite different than the government-set minimum wage.’

2. Look to the research

‘We invested a lot of time in doing our own calculations about what constituted a living wage, but there is so much great secondary research out there already that’s been put together by fashion organisations and governments. For the US, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s [MIT] Living Wage Calculator provides great benchmarks for every district of the country. And the Global Living Wage Coalition is well-respected for living-wage calculations abroad – it also offers courses on calculating living wages.’

3. Choosing the right suppliers can be key

‘The United Nations declared a living wage to be a human right, but it’s something that businesses often overlook. For us, it’s been a key part of business. Whenever we decide to start working with a new supplier, we do a pretty intense on-site assessment of their practices and values and make sure that their lowest wage is at or above a living wage. We’ve been fortunate because our suppliers have kind of always been moving towards this direction anyway.’

4. Sharing starts a conversation with the consumer

‘Consumers are hungry for truth. They’re hungry for this kind of transparency. As brands, we owe this kind of information to the people who are purchasing our products, but consumers can be shocked when they hear our numbers because they can sound so low in the western context. We had people who asked, “How can you be charging $150 for a pair of shoes if $280 is your lowest wage for a producer?” It actually created a lot of really proactive and good conversation, and we were able to provide the kind of context consumers need.’

5. It’s an opportunity to collaborate and not compete

‘When we think about our voice and impact in the industry, we believe that we’ll have a greater impact if we can create inclusive models for other brands to jump in on. We actually shared our lowest wages in partnership with a competitor brand called ABLE. Fashion can be really competitive, but when it comes to social and environmental responsibility, everyone is quick to want to share information because that is how we impact more people more quickly.

This article was first published in Courier issue 40, April/May 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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