Tag Archives: corporate social responsibility

Cultural Resources: Please Borrow Responsibly

Cultural Appropriation Cat, borrowed from http://www.discontent.com/log/archives2/1088.html

It’s difficult, nowadays, to say that anything is original. We are constantly borrowing from each other. Borrowing is a part of being a global community. Ideally, our interactions with other cultures provide beautiful opportunities to discover other traditions, expand our views, and learn from each other. However, as we covered in our last post, borrowing from other cultures can also come with serious negatives, when we don’t do it respectfully and appropriately. So, how exactly can we share with our diverse communities around the world in a healthy manner?

First, it starts with evaluating our motivations and attitudes for borrowing. Why are we doing it in the first place? Do we understand what we are borrowing in its full context? Or are we leaving room for misinterpreting and misappropriating the cultural artifact? It is easy to disassociate cultural traditions from people, like when we adopt fashion styles because they might make us “stand out” from our normal crowds. Not that there is anything wrong with appreciating the appearance of cultural artifacts, but if we do not look deeply at where they come from and how they are used by their culture of origin, we end up creating caricatures of the culture and the very real people who shape it and give it meaning. This brings us to our first step to healthy cultural borrowing:

Step 1: Actively seeking education about the cultural group. 

Even further, we should try to seek this education from a direct source, otherwise the knowledge we obtain can be by biased by the interpretations of non-members of the culture. By learning about where these artifacts come from and how they are used, we learn the context behind them, and we can better understand how certain (or all) uses of the artifact may be inappropriate or offensive.

Also, we should inform ourselves regarding the history of oppression in the cultural group and our  own culture’s relationship history with them. By recognizing the inequalities that may be present, we also recognize the wounds our cultural group may have inflicted on them, and we can work towards not repeating the mistakes of the past. All of this brings us to an informed respect of the cultural group (the people and their traditions and values), and helps us avoid harmful homogenizing and degrading stereotypes.

Step 2: Giving back to the cultural group.

Giving back involves a couple of different levels. First of all, we need to give credit where credit is due. We are, after all, borrowing not taking. In giving credit to the group, we must be able to disclose to others what we learned in Step 1, especially emphasizing appropriate and inappropriate uses of the cultural artifact.  In fact, being able to tell others isn’t enough, we should also be pro-active about sharing our education with those interested in the items borrowed. Secondly, if we are making profit distributing the artifact, we should also give monetary credit to the cultural group. Without them, there would be no profit, after all. Too much to ask? We don’t think so. We believe that businesses should be held accountable for this, as it is a method of showing corporate social responsibility and understanding that businesses are part of the community too and their actions have a deep impact on people and the environment. Borrowing cultural artifacts is using a resource, and taking resources without giving back to the community is exploitation and theft.

We, at f.a.c.t.s. are very proud to be making every attempt to give as much as we can (our goal is to reach a point where we are giving 50% of the profits) back to the communities, who share some of their unique cultural resources with us. For every fashion article we sell, we will also be providing our customers cultural appreciation cards (with information on where the article came from and its cultural context) as well as social issues cards (with information on the particular community need we will be investing in with the profits). Our blog will also highlight the cultural group in focus for each season, giving a platform to the multiple voices in the community. That is just the start. As we expand, we will be doing social needs assessments in collaboration with the community in focus, in order to ensure that our investments are being put to the best use. This blog will allow transparency with our customers to hold us accountable for our policies and principles. (You can check our Business Ethics page for more information.) Look forward to our next post, where our media analysis expert (and co-founder of f.a.c.t.s.), Marlaina Dreher, will be finishing off our discussion of cultural appropriation and the role/influence of the media. Again, we want to open the conversation up to our potential customers and supporters of f.a.c.t.s. So, if you have any relevant opinions, comments, suggestions, or questions, please feel free to give us feed back. We love to hear from you!

We are still working hard in the preliminary stages of setting up our website/store site, but will keep you updated as soon as we have finalized our exact opening date! (We are still looking at mid-June.)


Welcome to our official blog~ Notes from the Authors

Hello, readers! We’re so excited to be getting this blog started, and even more excited to be starting the f.a.c.t.s. website (coming mid-June, we’ll keep you updated!).  We know you are all wondering what exactly f.a.c.t.s. is about. How in the world can fashion, of all things, ally cultures together, and what on earth does “through sustainability” mean? Well, we have set up an extensive about page, products page, and business ethics page you can peruse. We will also be posting, over the next few days, on our vision and principles in more detail. For right now, though,  we (cofounders and partners of f.a.c.t.s) want to offer you a bit about ourselves and our perspectives on f.a.c.t.s.–how it coincides with our own personal values, and how, if everything goes somewhat according to plan, f.a.c.t.s. can be such an effective tool for change!

Zulema’s Story:

My name is Zulema Ibarra. I am currently in the last stages of finishing my Master’s Degree in Social Sciences, with an emphasis in Anthropology. Only my thesis left! I have long been involved in various community initiatives for change, from social justice rallies and campaigns, to writing a curriculum for a domestic violence nonprofit program. I have also long held a conviction that real sustainable change cannot happen without mobilizing ordinary people, like you and me, to do our part to improve our communities and, in turn, our personal quality of life. But, as I am intimately familiar with the struggle of having no time and living paycheck to paycheck, I know that “doing our part” to help change our communities is both vague and daunting. There are so many issues that need to be fixed and after working (or studying or both) all day, there’s hardly energy left to devote ourselves to volunteering, and no extra money for donating to causes, no matter how worthy the cause!

Out of these frustrations, the vision for f.a.c.t.s. was born. I had to do something to quell my activist-minded conscience now, not in five or ten years when I would be settled into a comfortable but hectic professor’s life, not when I would finally write and publish that New York Times bestseller, and certainly not when a billionaire would miraculously find me and decide to sponsor my grandiose ideas for change.  My applied anthropology classes trained me with tools to help communities achieve the change they envision. I knew I could put those tools to use immediately, but what would my focus be? I couldn’t possibly solve all the world’s problems. But then, I’ve always been interested in big pictures and my dreams always somehow ended with me pursuing a million things at once. It was possible to change a big chunk of the earth, I finally decided, if I changed one community at a time and made it a life endeavor that would eventually be carried on by many other groups around the world. Yes, I would use rapid assessment instruments (social science tools to help quickly evaluate community needs and develop more effective and comprehensive plans for social action) and slowly go about the globe. But I still needed the big bucks.

How to make money? A business! I figured I could start an eco-friendly fashion business that was somehow more affordable than the usual $200 organic dresses  I coveted from various green online stores. People had to clothe themselves, after all. Why not make green fashion affordable and accessible? I though about ideas of making the items reflect other cultures, to somehow provide a different edge to the fashion industry and support cultural diversity. Then, I realized, wait a minute, people around the world are already making these items. I could buy items from them, then, in anthropological fashion, go to their local communities and help them construct a needs assessment and plan of action for improving a social issue. After six months, I’d  give back half of the profits to their communities so that they could get their plan of action going! And if they wanted to continue business with me, I’d keep giving back half of their profits to their community fund, while continuing on to the next community and expanding the fashion line!

I dreamed on, for a while, until I happened to impart my idea with my good friend and colleague, Marlaina Dreher. She only had to say one thing, “That’s totally doable,” and my impatient imagination started dragging my lofty ideas to earth. We worked together to iron out all the wrinkles and came up with our f.a.c.t.s. company: an online retail shop where people can buy different fashion creations from around the world for a relatively affordable price while putting their money to good use and helping to support local economies and communities around the world! And that, my friends, is the journey of my vision for a socially responsible business.

Marlaina’s Story:

Hello! I am Marlaina Dreher.  I am also finishing a Master’s Degree in Social Science.  My concentration is in Sociology.  I have always known that I wanted to do more applied work than traditional research whenever I finished my education and I have spent countless hours planning and working on my future projects; my babies as I call them.  I have been involved as an advocate in countless political and social issues groups, campaigns, and non-profit organizations; particularly dealing with low income populations, women’s issues and more recently the autism community.  And I dreamed of the day when I could open my own agency that helped alleviate some of the social problems that our world is facing.  And for a while I did not realize that I could start fulfilling that dream right away.  I felt like I had to wait, until I was older, or until I had finished a doctoral degree.  But I realized that I did not have to wait to begin doing my part to make the world a better place.

Part of my vision has been to aid and educate populations; to teach people that they can live the lives that they want to live without compromising their values or the earth.  Humankind needs to learn that progress does not require us to exploit other people or the environment.  We can move forward and improve the quality of life of our species without destroying the planet and without destroying the lives and livelihood of others.  And there are simply ways we can all do this from the biggest wealthiest corporation to the most impoverished individual.  We can all be a part of this movement away from exploitation.  These have been the guiding principles in everything that I do.  As a student from a working class background I knew that I would also need to figure out a way to support myself during my long journey to Ph.D. (which is still not even close to being over) so I began brainstorming about business ideas that I could do while I was still in school and that hopefully would allow me to use the skills I had learned training to be a sociologist.

I had always had a secret ambition for fashion and I often thought that in a world without barriers I would have loved to create vintage inspired fashion that everyone could afford.  But that did not seem to be a dream that would be coming real anytime soon and so I tried to think of ideas that were plausible in the immediate future.  At the same time Zulema had told me about some sari inspired wrap skirts that were very versatile and inexpensive and I began researching them on the internet as a consumer.  Because they were so beautiful, ecologically friendly, and could be worn in so many different styles I thought they would be a great addition to my summer wardrobe.  After finding some retailers and wholesalers that had them I finally realized that I could purchase these items from a wholesaler and earn a small income selling them myself.  At this point Zulema approached me with the idea of creating a business and a socially conscious business model and I thought it was a great idea.  So the wraps became our first product.  From this F.A.C.T.S. was born with the idea of bringing some social responsibility and purpose to fashion; fashion that does not exploit but rather helps to benefit the culture that inspired or created it.  And I am very excited to be a part of this pioneering effort to incorporate a system of social accountability, cooperation, and charity into our business model.

We will be blogging consistently about things we hold dear to our hearts, as well as the progress of our soon-coming website, so come back and check with us often! Follow us on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too!

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