We are proud to announce that our own Gyal, Shamini Dhana has been featured in B The Change Magazine! Check it out!

Ethical Fashion Benefits from Employee Engagement

Some Indian Clothing Manufacturers Find Employee Satisfaction Is Also Good for the Bottom Line

Esha Chhabra • June 14, 2016 [Original Article]


Eighty percent of the 200-plus factory workers at fair-trade-certified Mandala Apparels are women. Here they stich and inspect garments in Mandala’s Puducherry, India, factory.
Photo courtesy of Dhana


Some of India’s textile factories are finding that improving their employees’ lives is good for the bottom line.

In a small industrial complex in Puducherry, India, sits the Mandala Apparels textile factory where sewing machines hum, and women chatter as they stitch fair-trade clothing. Rows of fans cut through the hot, humid air. A breeze wafts through the open doors.

Ezhilarasi, wearing a mint-green sari, delicate gold earrings and bangles, sits near one of the doorways at a massive table, prepping collar tags for an order of shirts. Now 40 years old, she came to the factory seven years ago. She likes her job — it has allowed her to pay for putting two children through college. She’s also eligible for retirement and health benefits.

“I want to at least complete 10 years here at the factory,” she says. “It’s been good for me.”

Mandala and a growing number of other textile factories in India are part of a new wave of enlightened operations that offer wages and benefits that exceed fair-trade standards to create a community in which their workers can thrive in business and in life. The vision isn’t purely idealistic. Its architects believe employee engagement is likely to result in a more motivated workforce and better employee retention. Their workers and also likely to be more productive — with benefits ultimately showing up on a company’s bottom line.

“I want to see how fashion can become responsible not only to the environment but also to the people who take great effort to make the garments,” says Anjali Schiavina, founder and CEO of Mandala, which is a fair-trade clothing manufacturer that uses only organic cotton.

Discover how good practices can become good business when you download our FREE Special Report, Why Is Corporate Social Responsibility Important? CSR Advantages, from Profit to Longevity

Schiavina acknowledges that Mandala and its fellow fair-trade clothing manufacturers face serious challenges as they scale up to be able to compete with the goliaths of fashion. Fair-trade operations immediately incur higher costs, and improved productivity takes years to develop. She believes the answer lies in gradual growth and ensuring that employees are treated well and benefit directly from the company’s success, which will improve employee retention.

In India, the textile industry is second only to agriculture in providing jobs and about 60 percent of its employees are women. Since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh — where a textile factory collapse killed more than 1,000 workers in 2013 — the fashion industry has been under scrutiny. The disaster alarmed consumers who were previously unaware of widespread worker abuses in developing countries. A 2014 study by the Freedom Fund and the C&A Foundation reports that at least 100,000 girls and women working in the South Indian textile industry were exploited with low wages, forced overtime, and verbal and sexual abuse.

The Rana Plaza disaster was a critical wake-up call for the industry and has led to reforms. Employee health, safety and engagement are now discussed in locales where they were previously ignored. Some companies are seeking ways to increase employee engagement and employee retention, rather than just paying their workers as little as possible.

At Mandala, Schiavina employs 220 workers, 80 percent of them women. The business started in 2002 with just one tailor. The founder speaks with conviction and emotion about the importance of educating and engaging fashion workers, and of empowering women.

Women at Mandala Apparels sew fair-trade clothing for U.S.-based Dhana, an ethical fashion brand that selected Mandala as a supplier largely because of its fair labor practices.
Photo courtesy of Dhana

“It’s not just about me having these values. They have to be shared. Everyone here has to have the same vision,” she says.
After living in Italy for a decade, Schiavina returned to Puducherry at age 34 with a fervent desire to transform fast fashion from an industry that views both its products and employees as disposable. She now admits that she might have been naïve.

“I didn’t want to be just sitting in the office but working at the grassroots level,” she says. In search of the “grass roots” she discovered Chetna Organic, a Hyderabad-based nonprofit co-op that works with more than 9,000 farmers in three states in India to produce organic, fair-trade cotton. Started in 2004, it directly connects organic cotton farmers to businesses (see Revolution in the Organic Cotton Farming Industry). Schiavina was thrilled to discover that by managing her supply chain, she could improve lives beyond her circle of employees to the people who grew her raw materials.

Competitive Advantage of Employee Engagement

Research by Dr. Nick Lin-Hi, interim professor of business and ethics at the University of Vechta in Germany, suggests that companies that are publicly concerned about communities, workers and the environment have more committed employees, higher job-satisfaction ratings and more motivated employees. He also found that money is less important than working conditions — so much so that even a salary increase of 10 percent isn’t as motivating to employees as a good working environment. Mandala and other like-minded Indian manufacturers are creating a positive feedback loop where the support of their workers in turn bolsters the businesses’ profits, which in turn allows the companies to sustain more employees.

Schiavina first learned how to bring on the right employees, and she favored hiring women instead of men, and not just because she cares about empowering women. “They were more responsible,” she says. Women are more likely than men to take home their earnings to their families, put their children in school and feed them, Schiavina says. “If I’m going to be offering a fair wage I want that wage to actually be helpful.”

Schiavina has found her female employees to be more willing to accept change and try new designs. Today, standing in her factory, she’s surrounded by a predominantly female workforce, dressed in brightly colored saris with fresh jasmine woven through their hair.

On the other hand, the women Schiavina hires often have no previous employment experience. “When they walk in here, it’s like starting at zero,” she says. During their first eight weeks they’re given basic skills training led by various nongovernmental organizations.

Mandala Apparels’ employees are offered a retirement plan and health insurance on top of their salaries.
Photo courtesy of Dhana

The new hires are trained for one of the various jobs available: sewing, cutting, packing or quality control. Depending on an individual’s performance, she can advance to different roles and eventually management. “We don’t turn down people. We find an appropriate role for them,” Schiavina says.

The starting monthly salary for an unskilled worker is the region’s legal minimum wage of 7,500 rupees, or $115. Mandala offers a retirement plan and health insurance.

The company has a personal-improvement program, offering workshops on health, wellness and environmental topics. For instance, last fall Mandala hosted a three-hour session on waste management. The factory stopped production in the afternoon so all the employees could learn from Raja Manikamoorthy, a local environmentalist, about how to reduce the amount of trash at the factory and at home.

One video clip — of a cow’s stomach that had to be cleaned because it was filled with plastic — made a strong impact. “You should’ve seen the faces of the women as they watched the vet pull out plastic bag after plastic bag by hand,” Schiavina says.
After that, workers at Mandala say they abandoned plastic bags and returned to old-fashioned jute or canvas bags for their shopping. Ezhilarasi, for instance, says she then educated her friends and neighbors, who also now avoid plastic.“We had no idea that a simple session would have this kind of ripple effect,” Schiavina says.

Rather than running the health and wellness sessions herself or having a medical professional at the helm, Schiavina had 15 workers trained at Mandala who conduct sessions for their colleagues.

And, by improving workers’ lives outside the factory’s walls, Schiavina has broken down cultural barriers, such as husbands and in-laws who objected to women working. Such family support helps her keep a steady workforce — reducing employee absenteeism from 14 percent to 11 percent.

Schiavina isn’t the only businessperson in India exploring a new employment model. Rajat Jaipuria of Rajlakshmi Mills is a third-generation textile manufacturer who runs three fair-trade factories in Kolkata and one in Delhi, employing about 1,000 workers total. Jaipuria has committed his company to organic cotton, higher wages and improved benefits in search of more productive employees and lower employee turnover. Today, Jaipuria’s workers are offered a host of benefits on top of their daily earnings, including health insurance, pensions, subsidized lunch on-site, and transportation to and from work. The employees receive an annual bonus plus paid leave and holidays adding up to nearly 30 days off each year.

The workers at Rajlakshmi Mills have a calm, safe workplace compared with the conditions at other Indian textile factories.
Photo courtesy of Rajlakshmi Mills

Jaipuria says these benefits explain why his company’s employee retention rates are high: “We have little employee turnover — maybe 1 percent — and that’s mostly because of a special circumstance or medical reasons.” He says his turnover and training costs are lower — and his employee productivity is higher — than his competitors.

In Chennai, about 90 miles up the road from Mandala, a small sewing center employs women who were previously exploited by sex traffickers. Sudara, established by American Shannon Keith, produces loungewear — primarily printed pajamas — in factories throughout India.

Keith traveled to India in 2005. She was amazed by what she saw: hundreds, if not thousands, of women working in brothels, looking for a way out. Many could sew or could easily learn how, so she launched a brand to employ women whom society had dismissed. The company began in 2006 with six women in one sewing center in Mumbai. Sudara has employed more than 500 women since its inception. Most of the partner sewing centers are small, with fewer than 20 women producing 500 to 5,000 garments each month.

Shannon Keith (yellow top) founded Sudara with the goal of employing and empowering women who had previously been exploited by sex traffickers.
Photo courtesy of Sudara

Sudara is empowering women by providing job-skills training, health care, child care, a savings plan, and, when applicable, housing support through local partnerships. Keith says her employees make 10,000 to 18,000 rupees ($166 to $300) a month, depending on skill level. In contrast, a woman working in the sex trade in Kolkata, she says, makes between 200 to 6,000 rupees ($3 to $100) a month. (Read about the real impact on the life of an employee by working as a Sudara seamstress.)

The workers also have some autonomy, Keith says: “They got together and decided, for instance, that they would start work at 10 in the morning, instead of 9, so they could take care of their families and drop off their children at school before coming to the center.” By having this flexibility, the workers are able to show up regularly and are more dedicated to their work, and the company reaps unexpected benefits, including lower employee turnover and higher quality craftsmanship.

Fair-Trade Clothing: A Look at the Costs of Fair Treatment

Sudara’s compensation plan does cost significantly more than many of her direct competitors’ plans, Keith acknowledges. “I’ve had business folks tell me that I could be more profitable if I did it differently,” she says. “But that’s not the point. The point is being profitable so we can become a known, lasting brand whose mission genuinely benefits the people it represents. Our sincere belief is that we can achieve both impacting the world for good and being profitable.”

Customers sometimes complain that Sudara’s wares are pricey. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I can get similar pants at Target for $20.’” Keith says. Sudara’s pants cost twice as much, starting at $44. The price difference helps pay the workers more than they would make at other factories, Keith says. Sudara’s garments are sold online, mainly to women who like the unique designs and are keen to support companies that align with their values.

Mandala’s Schiavina says that her costs are marginally higher than a typical factory’s expenses, and organic cotton costs about 10 to 20 percent more than conventional. Despite the increased costs, the company has been profitable. “We were profitable until the global financial crisis hit [in 2008] and, because our customers were primarily European or North American, it affected us adversely. But now we’re back on track,” she says.

Schiavina says she spends an additional, significant amount on various certification and licensing fees. Mandala is certified by three different bodies: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), FLOCERT (a global certifier for Fairtrade International, or FLO) and, most recently, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) for endeavors employing local artisans. She says these fees can cost Mandala as much as $15,000 a year — enough to hire 10 more entry-level seamstresses.

“It is expensive and certainly a factor for smaller companies who don’t have the means to pay for these certifications,” she says. Yet they’re a necessity. While Schiavina knows her supply chain is mindful of people and the planet, the certifications provide transparency and credibility with her customers.

Rajlakshmi Mills’ Jaipuria agrees. His company has five certifications to satisfy European and U.S. customers who contract with him to manufacture organic cotton clothing in his factories. He estimates that, together, the certifications can cost upwards of $40,000 a year. He has them because his customers demand them, and they make it possible for his garments to fetch a higher price. (Read more about the value of certifications in Are Certifications Out of Control?)

Under the leadership of Rajat Jaipuria, Rajlakshmi Mills’ employee engagement has increased, resulting in a low, 1 percent turnover rate.
Photo courtesy of Rajlakshmi Mills

“You have to find the right customers and partners to do it. But once you do, it’s a much better way of life. The environment in our factories is calm, pleasant. It’s not tense, stressful like it would be elsewhere,” Jaipuria says. Zara and other fast-fashion brands probably aren’t going to be the right customers, he says.

Satisfying and Finding Ethical, Fair-Trade Clothing Customers

U.S.-based Shamini Dhana launched her eponymous children’s clothing line, Dhana, in 2008. She sources all of her company’s garments from Mandala because of its business practices. Dhana believes the number of shoppers demanding transparency and superlative ethics in business practices will continue to grow.

Being transparent means paying attention to supply chains, so, when Dhana launched her brand, she took multiple trips to India seeking out suppliers. She whittled down a list of a dozen potential suppliers to a few. Mandala made the cut after a factory visit.
“I remember walking into the factory and seeing smiles, and workers laughing and enjoying their work. That’s because they’re treated like decent, respected humans, not just workers,” Dhana says during a phone interview from her Northern California office. “I was blown away by the integrity, conviction and celebration of life.”

Mandala’s staff includes women who are single mothers with limited education and some who are handicapped. “These women may not have university degrees, but they’re smart, passionate and willing. They need an opportunity. And for them, that was Anjali [Schiavina],” Dhana says.

Dhana’s Shamini Dhana visita Anjali Schiavina at Mandala Apparels’ factory to review the factory workers’ conditions in person.
Photo courtesy of Dhana

Third-party certifications matter to Dhana when she markets her apparel. “The standards do help explain to a customer that this T-shirt or clothing has been made in a mindful and ethical manner.”

Schiavina says that’s exactly why she’s put so much time and money into getting the certifications that attract socially conscientious customers. WFTO certification, for instance, demonstrates that Mandala sources from fairly compensated rural artisans. Most recently, she worked with a group of Lambadi tribespeople in the Sittilingi Valley, reviving a traditional embroidery technique.

While working in rural health clinics in the region, Dr. Lalitha Regi, an obstetrician by trade, came across tribal women who embroidered in a unique, beautiful style. Recent bouts of drought had forced farmers to migrate to cities and take on low-wage jobs. Regi wanted to find a way for them to make more money without having to leave their community.
“Health and social problems come up with people migrating. Families have to separate. The working conditions in the cities are generally worse, which means they get sick more quickly,” Regi says.

She put the women to work: Elders taught younger women the technique. Now, more than 50 women in the valley are employed and earning incomes of 4,000 to 5,000 rupees, or $60 to $80, a month — a good living by the standards of the region. The women have named their group “Porgai,” which means “pride” in their dialect.

The program is in its early years, says Schiavina, who supplies the women with organic cotton on which to stitch their designs. The embroidery has also opened new opportunities for Mandala: Mela Artisans, a U.S.-based company that sources artisan-made products from India, commissioned a line of embroidered pillows to sell on its site. “I want to do more of these projects where we employ workers from the villages, as much as in the factories,” she says.

This article originally appeared as “Worker Abuse Is Out of Fashion” in the Summer 2016 issue of B Magazine. Read more about the companies in this article in Revolution in the Organic Cotton Farming Industry and A Real-World Story of How Ethical Fashion Brand Sudara Is Empowering Women.


« Previous

Next »

Meet the world’s most influential and innovative people and products: Subscribe to B Magazine.

Gyals Making Change in Fashion: A Recap and Action Plan

Last week, Gyals Network brought awareness to the impact of cheap fashion by hosting It’s a Fashion Revolution: a screening of The True Cost movie followed by a panel discussion on the importance of connecting the dots between fashion, consumerism, capitalism and structural poverty and oppression.    This event was part of our Gyals of Impact initiative where we develop programs to bring awareness and change to issues impacting our communities.  In the following we will summarize what we learned during this event and how we can all play a part in making change.

Our amazing guest panel included:

First, let’s talk about what we learned:

We learned that 97% of items are now made overseas by roughly 40 million garment workers; many of whom do not share the same rights or protections that many people in the West do.  We witnessed footage of workers who had been beaten unconscious because they asked for a living wage.   We saw the proceedings of a funeral being held for a Cambodian worker who was killed just for asking for a livable wage.

We learned that fashion is the 2nd highest pollutant in the word and has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other serious diseases.  During the screening of The True Cost movie, one of the most painful scenes was of a community where many of the residents had been born with an alarming skin condition due to the contamination of their water supply from a leather manufacturer.  We saw communities where many children were born with severe disabilities that prevented them from ever taking their first steps.

What can we do?

After watching The True Cost movie, we were left asking ourselves “what can we do as the consumer to make change?”   Although we know we don’t have all the answers (sorry Kanye), we've gathered the following with some help from our amazing panel.

      1. Share and reference this quick guide courtesy of Dhana

2. Buy from brands that focus on sustainable and fair trade fashion (See links below)

3. Buy high quality garments that will last longer #qualitynotquantity

4. Buy used clothes to reduce landfill

5. Continue the conversation on sustainable and fair trade fashion and spread awareness on this issue


Join the DhanaWORLD2016 campaign!

 Dhana will be hosting an opportunity for you to share your thoughts on this issue with the goal of communicating your values from the consumer’s perspective to brands. Opt into the #DhanaWORLD2016 campaign today to share your thoughts.  Provide your email using this link and you will be contacted in a separate cover.  Check out their video from last year here:

We hope you enjoyed this recap.  Join our mailing list to stay in the loop of future Gyals Network events.

Other Resources/ Suggested brands











Feature on Our Special Guest, Vermeulen & Co.

Feature on local indie designer Vermeulen & Co.

The Vermeulen & Co. line represents the company’s commitment to offer beautiful, fashionable and sustainably made garments to complement artistic living.  High-quality fabrics such as organic cotton, silk, Tencel twill, and wool lend both a luxurious feel and sophisticated look to styles that take you from a day at the office to a gallery opening or night on the town.

Are you curious about how and where your clothing is made?  Vermeulen & Co. garments are designed and sewn in Oakland.
Do you love clothes with design details that add a spark to your day?  Limited edition styles make a unique addition to your wardrobe.
Have you experienced an increased confidence when wearing clothes that fit well and step your style up a notch?  Elevated basics designed for the curves of your body can offer a positive and transformational experience.
Are you too busty for a great fit in off-the-rack dress shirts?  Designed for shapely sizes 2-16 and offered in several fabrics, the Vermeulen & Co. buttondown shirt fits a B-G cup and highlights the shape of your waist.

Find something special at the Vermeulen & Co. PopUp Shop + Sale!

La Clotherie
461 43rd St, Oakland, 94609
Saturday May 14th 11-3
Sunday May 15th 2-5

RSVP here:

or here:

Saturday: https://www.facebook.com/events/257102621302683/
Sunday: https://www.facebook.com/events/1191012934244308/

For personalized shopping and styling attend an event or reach out to us at info@vermeulenandco.com to schedule your private appointment today.

Lets Talk Fashion, our Environment and Fair Treatment

Gyals Network will host a special free screening of the groundbreaking documentary film, True Cost with an interactive discussion with the Associate Producer and other leaders in the fashion industry. This event is sponsored by McKesson's Emerging Professional's Employee Resource Group and will include special guests from Vermuelen & Co. and Dhana. Connect with amazing professionals while you uncover the untold story of the high costs of fashion and how you can make a difference.

Wine and delicious Hors d'oeuvres will be served.

Limited free admission available with RSVP.

Join Us and Take Your Career and Network to the Next Level!

Gyals Network will convert the beautiful FAME building into an awesome GAME BAR filled with SF’s most diverse group of emerging female leaders.   If you're a professional woman, entrepreneur, or just want some #gyalpower fueled inspiration, you don’t want to miss this.  Our events are one of a kind featuring FUN facilitated networking and empowering panel discussions that will help you take your career and network to the next level.  Connect with amazing professionals while you participate in our #playwithpurpose segment, playing games that bring you back to your inner child! 

Amazing Guest Line-Up :

  • Heather Gold – National Comedian
  • Alexandria Lafci - Co-founder of New Story
  • Francesca Valdez - Body Language/Leadership Presence Expert
  • Amber Jenae - Published Author

Discounted early-bird tickets are available for $15 in limited quantities.   Door tickets may not be available.

Check out photos from our previous events: https://www.facebook.com/gyalsnetwork/photos_stream

WANT FREE ENTRY?  We’re looking for volunteers to help out!  More info available here: http://gyalsnetwork.com/volunteer

Lets Play!

Hashtag your event photos #gyalsnetwork and #playwithpurpose on social media for your chance to win during our drawing at the end of the night.  You must be present to win and your post must be public.

Be sure to also sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date with events and get them sent straight to your inbox.  Sign up on our website here http://gyalsnetwork.com/


Opportunities Available to Join Gyals Network Leadership Team!

Gyal's Network is focused on expanding our women's empowerment reach nationally and need more help!   Our network is growing so we have opened some great opportunities in our Leadership Team! If you have a passion for women’s empowerment, seek community involvement, or simply want to gain experience in leadership, check out our open opportunities before they close on 2/11.  We also have opportunities to volunteer at our next event on 3/10 in SF.

Name *

Win Free Tickets to our EPIC Gyals for Impact Event ($50 Value)-November 12th 2015 in SF

Want to win 2 free tickets ($50 value) to one of the Bay Area's most unique, and FUN networking events next week?

Gyal's Game Night has worked hard to bring you our very first community focused event and we've came up with a fun way to get you involved.

First, what is the event?

On Thursday, November 12th 2015, Gyal’s Game Night will host #gyalsforimpact , a new community initiative bringing together one of the most diverse groups of professional women in the bay area in effort to combat youth homelessness. We are partnering with the Covenant House to raise funds for care kits to benefit the homeless youth in Oakland.  Learn more about the Covenant House here : http://covenanthousecalifornia.org/index-pg.php

This event will be held at the swanky Empire Room in SF and we will #playwithpurpose over classic games like UNO, speed, dominoes, Operation (yes, you read that right), and more! Network with the most diverse group of young professional women in SF! Hors d'oeuvres will be served.

How Can You Win Tickets?

The winner gets 2 free tickets, which include complimentary drinks and a raffle entry for the big grand prize ($50 Value).  Simply write a post on our facebook page and tell us what social/community issue you would like to see addressed at our next event and why you should win a free ticket.  Be sure to include the hashtag #gyalsforimpact

We will contact the lucky winners on Friday, November 6th.

What you need to know:

  1. You can enter once a day (no duplicate entries)
  2. You must like our facebook page
  3. Posts must contain the hashtag #gyalsforimpact
  4. The deadline is Thursday, November 5, 2015, and the winners will be announced shortly thereafter.
  5. If you’ve already purchased a ticket, no worries. If you win, we’ll either give you a full refund or you can give your spare ticket to someone you really like.
  6. No purchase is necessary to win.

We look forward to seeing your posts. Good luck!

Gyals Creating Change

We are excited to bring you a series we call Gyals Creating Change where we will occasionally showcase female pioneers making an impact in their communities. Our goal is to support their work and empower you Gyals to support them too. Our first Gyal Creating Change is the Karen Fleshman (www.karenfleshman.com), a sought after public speaker who's mission is to dismantle systemic racism. Prior to starting her consulting practice in the Bay Area, Karen was a founding team member of Year Up New York, where between 2007 and 2012 she led a fundraising team that fueled its growth from serving 27 students a year to 270 students a year. Previously, she served in the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations in the City of New York Department of Youth and Community Development in a variety of capacities, including Assistant General Counsel and Director of Internal Review. She is a cofounder of Citizenship NYC, a city service that assisted 50,000 New Yorkers to apply for naturalization, and of Ladders for Leaders, a city service that connects low-income high school students to corporate internships and college. Karen began her professional career as an immigrant community organizer in Austin, Texas.

Karen has now partnered with Dr. Dionne Wright Poulton, and Dr. Verenice Gutierrez to create trispectives, a training consulting group focused on making workplaces more diverse, inclusive, and engaged. Come out to their first joint engagement on October 26 at General Assembly in San Francisco. More details in the link below:

Are you a Gyal Creating Change? If so please visit the GCC section above and tell us about yourself!

Gyals Creating Change

We are excited to bring you a series we call Gyals Creating Change where we will showcase female pioneers making an impact in their communities. Our goal is to support their work and empower you to support them too.   Are you a Gyal Creating Change?  If so, please fill out the form below for a possible feature.  We will contact you if you are selected. 

Thank you - GGN Team

Name *
Phone *
Please share any work you are doing (current and past) that has made an impact to your community.