NOVAA’s Leading Ladies take control of the wheel...
Bridget and Becky are on a bus. Their eyes are wide and blue. The date is April 15, 2015, at noon on the dot. The bus (in reality) is going to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, where this prolific business duo will write their business plan for the ethically-sourced fashion brand and movement, NOVAA.
But do you know where that bus was really headed on that fateful day? No, not “Fashion Week,” or “Project Runway.” The Leading Ladies were certainly not taking that bus to NYC to make their fashion dreams “come true.”
That bus was headed into the world of fashion’s future.
These bold ladies were after a deeper truth. Well, more accurately, it was quite an obvious truth. Nonetheless, one which almost everyone else in fashion doesn’t want to be bothered with. Here’s what Bridget and Becky choose not to ignore. In a 2015 report asking brands about their knowledge of the origins of their products, Behind the Barcode discovered some disturbing realities.
You’re going to hate what I say in this first set of facts:
- Only 5% of companies can demonstrate paying a living wage to all workers at Final Stage facilities (meaning the very last factory in which the clothing is assembled)
- 63% of companies do not publish full direct supplier lists of factories or even countries
- 19% weren’t even trying to trace where their brand’s clothing is made
That is a whole lot of ignorance… dare I say negligence. I guess those companies also hadn’t taken the time to learn the consequences of not knowing - and not acting. I wish they had witnessed Fact Two:
“On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. There were five garment factories in Rana Plaza all manufacturing fast fashion for big global brands,” Fashion Revolution reported, echoing world news reporting like this NYTimes article.
Those “Fast Fashion” companies may not be concerned about these terrible realities, but Bridget & Becky are. As the wiley duo sped onward in their bus toward the future, they started making some stops. At the first stop - the Leading Ladies got their license. It wasn’t a driver’s license, though; it was a business license to start NOVAA.
The day was July 23rd, 2015. The time was 4:47pm. The location? Chicago, Illinois. Bridget eagerly opened the envelope from the State of Illinois stating that NOVAA had been approved as a registered business.
Bridget and Becky sat together at this important step and reflected on their motivation. These two ladies were making change where Beauty, a victim of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse and the mother of Farzana, Afsana, and Abdullah, couldn’t.
Bridget & Becky know that sewers are *people* even though you can’t see them because they’re in a different location. That sounds basic, right? Somehow an entire population has unlearned this logic.
Becky & Bridget had a long road ahead, but they were picking up speed.
First things first - and that was finding clothing production with ethical standards. A lot of fashion entrepreneurs outsource their manufacturing to obscure factories. They are more concerned with their profit margins than with asking important questions like what are the working conditions in these factories?
Steering fashion in a better direction...
The NOVAA duo came out with their first private label collection of screen printed t-shirts, tank tops, and long sleeved tees in November 2015. And they were doing it the right way.
Becky designed the graphics for each top each top, and NOVAA commissioned the sewing to a WRAP Certified manufacturing facility. Wrap certification includes high standards for human resources management, health and safety, environmental and eco-friendly practices, and compliance with customs laws and security standards.
Bridget & Becky refused to look the other way. They resolved to recognize the humanity of others. Just because we don’t look at sweatshop workers in factories in our everyday routines, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
...All clothes are handmade.
The screen-printing process of the very first NOVAA products.
The next stops on this whirlwind tour were pop-ups. A lot of them. And they began at the Wicker Park Fest in Chicago in July 2016. It was the first time the Leading Ladies would get to spread the word of ethical fashion and share their brand with everyday people (more on this shortly…). It was at one of their recurring pop-ups that summer at the Randolph Street Market in Chicago where they really began impacting the standards of fashion in Chicago. Bridget explains, “This was where we got our footing at the beginning of our journey.”
Since then, pop-ups have been a huge part of raising awareness about the importance of ethical fashion. While constantly spreading their mission and deepening and diversifying their products, NOVAA has been invited to “pop up” at several landmark locations in over half a dozen major cities. In doing so, they have partnered with national as well as local brands.
Becky and Bridget don’t deny there was a pineapple situation.
Becky & Bridget of NOVAA can’t deny that there was a pineapple situation. The first citing took place at the Leading Ladies’ first pop up at Wicker Park. The duo was so excited to share their new business - especially its awareness of fair labor practices - with the festival-goers that they decided to make their pop--up really attention-grabbing. What better way to do this than to string 8 pineapples to their tent?
Well, in retrospect there were a lot of better ways. Now this was quite the process which included gutting the pineapples like pumpkins, stitching them back together with needles, transporting them in a rolling suitcase, and stringing them from rope in 90 degree weather. We will let your imagination fill in the gaps on how gutted, hanging pineapples held up in 90 degree heat.
The pineapples weren’t totally out of the picture after this, however. They also made an appearance at the first NOVAA photoshoot. Here are some photos from their very first collection. (We know what you’re thinking, and no, unfortunately, you can no longer purchase pineapple hats from NOVAA.)
There’s been a lot of speculation about the reason for NOVAA’s love of pineapples, but the most important one is to actively stand witness. On April 24, 2018, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, nearly 3,000 survivors and supporters gathered at the site of the Rana Plaza collapse to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the disaster. The visitors placed wreaths of marigolds and roses, and purchased fresh pineapple and cucumber spears for refreshment. As they rallied for better working conditions they commemorated those lost, though had little hope that any real change would be enacted. All of us should read this powerful New York Times article and all of the others like it, and open our eyes to these realities.
The “NOVAA pineapple situation” was not just aesthetic, but it was also a silent way to actively keep the Rana Plaza incident in the hearts and minds of NOVAA’s founders. Everyday the two founders work to increase awareness and demand, because those working in factories like this cannot be heard. More specifically, the 3.5 million workers in the 4,825 garment factories cannot be heard (85% of whom are women) in Bangladesh alone. Will you hear them?
With this in mind, Bridget and Becky crafted their very first mission statement. They resolved every day to run their business…
“To raise the standards of the fashion industry by increasing demand for ethically sourced fashion and shift demand out of sweatshops.”
At that point, NOVAA was moving in the right direction and people were getting on board. Everyone was excited that Bridget & Becky were headed somewhere very different… They were embarking on a journey to a land where clothes are sewn by happy, well-paid adults.
They were headed to a place where clothes are sewn with each worker’s heart and soul, not their sweat and tears.
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