The Process Lab: Progoti, Building Social Impact with Fashion
“I want to built this brand so that people can vote with their wallets” - Nurjahan
Progoti is a Canadian social-enterprise that delivers you your casual fashion while simultaneously having a positive impact on the lives of their garment workers, based out of Bangladesh.
Progoti was born out of the life experiences of their founder, Nurjahan. Having worked in the clothing industry in Bangladesh, Nurjahan was familiar with the retail supply chain and product development. She was also aware of the lack of worker security that often stemmed from the cost of fast fashion. This inspired Nurjahan to build a brand that gives back to the working class.
Raul is a founding partner who brings the brand to life. Raul is a Peruvian who grew up in the United States and moved to Toronto in 2013. His work with Progoti is to bring the vision to life and to help reach a larger audience to increase their impact.
The Clear Cost of Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is the buzzword of the century! But what does it even mean? Simply put, ‘fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing’. Not only is this method of production of fashion not great for the environment, it also often leads to the exploitation of workers in developing nations.
“The supply chains are so complex that some of the stakeholders don’t have a clear view on the outcome and implications of their decisions.” – Raul
One of the major side effects of fast fashion is that the constant need to produce leads to unsafe working conditions and, in some cases, exploitation of under aged workers. A major company that has been taking heat is Fashion Nova for allegedly exploiting LA-based sweatshops. If this is the cost of fashion in a highly regulated country, one doesn’t have to think too hard to realize that conditions in developing nations, where people work for barely liveable wages and have little to no job security, the conditions are much worse.
Progoti’s brand value is to educate and allow consumers to give back by directly supporting the retirement benefits of seamsters and seamstresses that make their clothes.
Innovating a unique Business Model
One element that makes Progoti a unique business is their take on having their consumers ‘vote with their wallets”. How does Progoti make this concept into a reality? They disclose the cost of production and shipping upfront, and sell their products at cost with the option to add a voluntary contribution to your cart. This voluntary contribution supports the retirement benefits for their seamsters and seamstresses in Bangladesh.
“When I was talking to the workers, basically one third goes to their food, one third goes for their rental space and then one third goes to their parents because there is no formal legislation for pension in Bangladesh.”
Presently, those working for public corporations and the government sector are eligible for pensions, however, this excludes the 4 million people who work in the clothing factories. Progoti’s business model addresses the lack of pension plans for these private employees, who often struggle to make ends meet upon their retirement. This model also highlights the opportunity that we have to pay it forward in a very tangible manner.
Your Money, Your Call
One novel effect of the social impact approach that Progoti is taking is that it empowers consumers to reflect on the impact they can make. In allowing their consumers to ‘vote with their wallet’, Progoti educates the consumers while also building a system that ultimately benefits seamsters and seamstresses in Bangladesh.
Further, using their blog, Progoti holds space for important conversations that speak to the ethics behind our fashion choices. Nurjahan and Raul also pointed us to resources to educate ourselves about the fashion industry. These resources include Fashion Revolution, Growing Culture and The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. We encourage you to check these out as well!
The Future of Fashion
When asked about what the future of fashion will look like, this is what Nurjahan and Raul had to say.
“People really want to see how they can help the people who are making their clothes… With fast fashion, there are two issues. One is the environmental issue and the other is the human element, which is what we are targeting” - Nurjahan
“I think that the future of fashion is circular… Which also speaks to what we do, which is work with upcycled fabrics. We make small batch collections because we buy fabrics from vendor markets in Bangladesh. The fabrics that are available are the leftovers. So we indirectly address the sustainability aspect, which also speaks to the circularity. So the future will be less production and more repurposing.” - Raul
What’s our takeaway? The future of fashion is impact driven and what can enable this impact is allowing consumers to vote with their wallets.
The Vision and Parting Words
When asked about the vision for Progoti, Nurjahan and Raul indicated that they look forward to being out in the markets again. One of the critical ways that Progoti was reaching an audience pre-COVID was through pop-ups in marketplaces and small boutiques that aligned with their values. Due to the pandemic, Progoti has had to rely more on their website and social media to reach an audience.
“Moving forward, we want to do better and demand better work situation for the workers but also improve the condition of the entire [fashion] industry” - Nurjahan
Another key part of the vision for Progoti is to continue building new collections that can speak to their audience. In reaching a larger audience, Nurjahan and Raul are building a platform that can educate and advocate for the ethics of fashion, while also directly contributing to the cause by enrolling seamsters and seamstresses in Bangladesh into pension plans that support them beyond their working years.
How You Can Help
Nurjahan and Raul are dedicated to improving the lives of workers in Bangladesh. You can support this cause by educating yourself further and ‘voting with your wallet’ by ensuring that you spend your money on brands that stand for bettering the fashion industry. Do your research about different brands and support smaller businesses. Be sure to check out Progoti and support them in their mission to tackle the human issues in the fashion industry.
Resources & Further Readings:
This article was authored by Pallavi Dutta with excerpts from our interview with Progoti.