In an effort to bring you closer to your garments and learn more about the people making your clothes, I asked one of the sewers at our garment production facility in Portugal to answer a few questions about her job.
Why is this important?
In order to deepen our connection to people and the planet I think it's important to get to know the people working on your garments. Transparency is the only way forward to a more sustainable fashion future.
The global garment industry employs over 70 million people. 75% of which are women. Most are Women of Color or a marginalized minority. Only 2% of them make a living wage. And most work under informal employment contracts. Which is the number one reason we have an abundance of inexpensive clothes. We’ve been fooled and conditioned to think clothing should “cheap.”
As we learn and hear more from the people directly working on the garments we wear, I think we’ll be able to understand and start to repair the damages and collectively bring back balance to this broken system.
I have to preface the below with an acknowledgement that I expected more elaborate answers to my questions. I thought perhaps email communication was the limitation. But I don't think it is. After leaning into the answers and thinking back on my experience to date I believe the answers I received are actually quite profound. The truth is quite simple.
I hope to visit Portugal again in the coming months as our next production gets underway, so I can hear from more people and relay more of their voices and experiences, so it may be your experience too.
I will continue to ask questions and share my visits, but in the meantime here’s what I asked and how I interpret the responses.
For this first interview, we spoke with Elsa R. M. a longtime employee at SM Senra where all your hernest garments are made.
Q. When did you start working at SM Senra ?
[ELSA] I started 31 years ago.
Q. What can you tell us about working there?
[ELSA] I like my job a lot. We work with several costumers and we make different products. Today customers are increasingly demanding, which means that we have to be more perfect in our work.
It is important to understand that in smaller operations like SM Senra employees have the benefit of working on many different items for many different customers. The volumes are smaller so the repetitive tasks are generally kept to a minimum. This is not at all the norm in the wider industry.
Hernest makes batches of garments in 300-400 - for example for the latest drop of Lucille’s we made 400 (total garments - in all colors and all sizes). This is considered small batch production and is quite rare in the fashion industry to work with partners willing to do this. We are lucky because we get to offer the deep experience of people like Elsa on a scale that benefits small business and innovative thinking.
Photo of the sewing production at SM Senra in Portugal.
Q. What part of your work are you most proud of?
[ELSA] When I see people dressed with garments that I made.
As someone who is part of the garment creation process this is always my answer too.
What is effort if it cannot be enjoyed, loved and celebrated by others. I would take this one step farther and say that seeing people enjoy their garments brings me immense joy. We all want to do work that is worth while. The worth of the work is in the way people love and appreciate these items.
I have said it before but the simple act of loving, mending and appreciating your clothing is an act of quiet activism against a system that is constantly trying to devalue what we (as in Elsa and other) make and what we own. By loving your clothes you are sending gratitude to all those involved in the creation.
Q. There is a growing movement of people who are interested in knowing more about the origins of their clothing, and ensuring that people are fairly treated. What would you like more people to know about your work that maybe is less known?
[ELSA] there are fabrics that they hard to work with and for us is complicate to make it perfectly. Unfortunately, customers don't have this notion. It is not always possible to do better.
This may seem like a strange answer, but I can tell you with 100% certainty she is in part talking about hernest. The expectations for perfection that I have placed on every seam and every detail of every production has been “ahem” a lot. The butter softness of our interlock fabric (the one that we make our Lucille’s and our Edith Joggers in) is HARD to work with. This is an understatement. It is very stretchy, and very souple. Pulled too tight when sewing and the specs of the garment change dramatically. Each sewer has a different hand pull, and each garment in this way comes out a little bit differently. We have worked for the last few years to continue to improve. We learn and we adapt. Over the years we have tweaked out designs to align better with the qualities of the fabric.
Image of a sewer at SM Senra working at the sewing machine.
Q. What are your favourite garments to work on and why?
[ELSA] T-shirts. They are quick to make and give a lot of productivity.
A big part of the garment industry is productivity. Some garments are easier and take less time to complete, which has a direct impact on productivity and profitability. I know many of the successes (bonuses and pay) of the sewers are directly tied to their collective productivity. I look forward to talking with Elsa and others, in person (next time I am in Portugal) so I can get more details around this! I remain curious and inspired to dig a deeper here.
Sewer at SM Senra putting the final touches on a garment.
Q. Our customers are always telling us they love the quality and details of our garments, and they are among their most worn items in their closet. This is not really a question, just a heartfelt thank-you!
[Isabel] - Thank you so much for sharing that with us ❤ I’ll let you know everyone what your costumers are saying 😃
[ELSA] I’m happy to know that.
After each photoshoot I share images with SM Senra of the garments we’ve captured. I always thank them for their work, and I always share the beautiful reviews hernest has received from you, especially the ones that mention the workers specifically.
Here's an examples:
"The fit on this cardigan lets me layer easily (I sized up for a roomy feel). The navy is a great neutral and the fabric is substantial & cozy. The quality of workmanship is very evident, a garment meant to last."
I hope you enjoyed this. This is only 1 voice, but I hope it has brought you closer to your garments.
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