On May 27, School House CEO Rachel Weeks visited FLA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to update staff on the development of her business and share lessons she learned while working in Sri Lanka to help ensure women were paid a living wage while producing School House apparel. School House was the first company to visit FLA’s new headquarters location, and staff gathered to hear Weeks’ story.
In 2007, Weeks traveled to Sri Lanka as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar with the goal of launching her own ethical fashion line and bringing more stylish and customized collegiate apparel to Duke – her alma mater. In a short time, Weeks hired a designer, found a factory, and started producing her clothing line. The most important part of her business? Paying premium prices to the factory to provide a living wage for the workers producing School House apparel.
“Students don’t often stop to consider that they can have their cake and eat it too – they think that they have to choose between being ethical and being fashionable,” Weeks said during her visit. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. My goal with School House is to create clothes people want to wear while ensuring a living wage is being paid during production.”
Although Weeks started her company with ethical sourcing in mind, she recognizes that many of the big brands are working to overcome huge barriers to ethical production. “Consumers should be willing to recognize companies’ efforts to improve. Sometimes we don’t realize the enormous challenges companies are up against in managing global supply chains,” Weeks said.
Production in School House’s newly contracted North Carolina factory is slated to begin this summer, and Weeks is working closely with her small staff to ensure each design is fashionable and produced ethically. School House works closely with designers and schools on unique clothes and new designs, and produces apparel for 90 schools across the U.S.
Weeks acknowledges that there will be other challenges on the road to running a sustainable business. “We’re learning – every day, and t-shirt by t-shirt – how to build a better brand,” she said. But for now, she’s happy to have played a part in getting management at the factory in Sri Lanka to commit to paying a fair wage to their workers. She also emphasized some of the business benefits for the factory in their approach, including: reduced turnover, production efficiencies, and attracting new customers as a result.
Learn more about Weeks and School House at http://www.shopschoolhouse.com.