A conversation on ethical fashion and social justice with Carly Burson of LAUDE the Label
The clothes you wear can change the world. This is a central premise behind LAUDE the Label, a clothing brand dedicated to sustainable, ethically made fashion.
Founder and CEO Carly Burson began LAUDE the Label in 2014 after adopting her daughter Ellie from Ethiopia. The adoption experience prompted Carly to think about the economic circumstances that often lead to child relinquishment around the world. With its low wages and environmentally costly practices, the fashion industry was a key contributor to these circumstances, Carly noticed.
Drawing from her background in fashion, Carly decided to start a fashion brand that valued people and planet above profit, and that provided women with economic opportunities to support themselves and their families. Thus, a fashion label and ethos was born.
Having met Carly when our kids were on a soccer team together, I have long admired her dedication to making the world a better and more just place, as well as her commitment to taking tangible steps personally and professionally toward antiracism. This is exemplified not only in the company’s social impact, but also in its decision to change its name from Tribe Alive to LAUDE the Label to live into its core values of inclusion.
In our interview, Carly discusses the issue of forced labor in clothing manufacturing, how LAUDE the Label utilizes a more just production model, what prompted the brand to change its name from Tribe Alive, and how the company is working to change the world one ethical garment at a time.
Irie: What or who has shaped your brand ethos?
Carly: LAUDE the Label began as a way of doing my part to end family separation due to the economic insecurity facing women all across the world. After finalizing the adoption of my daughter I recognized that I was presented with an important opportunity to support and love an individual child, but couldn’t shake the desire I felt to address the core issue of child relinquishment on a global scale. At the time I was working in fashion and I could no longer show up for an industry that perpetuates systems of excess, inequality, and greed – especially when knowing the result to be generations of women trapped in cycles of poverty.
Our brand ethos were developed as an antidote to the harm caused by conventional fashion where people and planet are not considered in decision making. We believe that the earth and the maker are just as important as the end consumer and work hard to ensure that ethics, sustainability, and transparency are present in all aspects of our business model. That involves safe and meaningful work environments, fair wages, product integrity, and environmental consciousness.
For you, what is the connection between fashion, environmental justice, and social justice? Why has it been important for LAUDE the Label to address all three?
Fashion is both an environmental and social justice crisis when you consider how detrimental it is to the health and wellbeing of both people and planet. Social injustice and inequality are embedded in the industry on so many different levels, yet it is the millions of people around the world who physically, socially, and economically suffer from producing the world’s clothing. Despite the fact that women are the majority of makers and consumers of clothing, the fashion industry serves as grounds upon which gender discrimination has festered since its inception. One in six individuals who are employed work in the fashion industry, and 80 percent of garment workers are female. The industry is the leading employer of women worldwide, yet it continues to perpetuate lack, inequality, and oppression for female work forces.
Ethical business models do not exist without addressing environmental and social justice issues. Capitalism, globalization, and “business as usual” have caused so much harm for people across the world. We’re working really hard to rewrite that story.
What do you think would surprise people about the way most clothes are made? How is LAUDE the Label different?
I think it would surprise people to know that slavery is literally woven into the fabric of their clothes. Forced labor is a major issue in the fashion industry and most companies are making their clothes in countries that have inadequate protection for workers. Right now there are 6 million children held in forced labor worldwide producing many of the items that everyday Americans consume. Our culture’s obsession with fast fashion and the cheapest price contributes to these systems of injustice and oppression.
We’re different because at LAUDE the Label we have extremely strict manufacturing and supplier vetting guidelines. All partners must sign our Code of Conduct which references the Global Social Compliance Program’s international standards for fair labor conditions and fundamental labor rights. All suppliers must have a social compliance certification, agree to full transparency in their supply chain, and allow for annual audits. We also require that all makers be paid a living wage by in country standards and that efforts in environmental consciousness and sustainability be active within each production facility. We’re also a third party certified B Corporation and a Fair Trade Federation member which means that we have been audited, tested, and verified to meet the highest level of social compliance within our model.
Why did you opt to change the name from Tribe Alive to LAUDE the Label?
For us, following through on what was a long reckoning with how the use of the word “Tribe” has contributed to cultural stereotypes was just the beginning of our brand commitment to support anti-racism. For some, it’s just a word, but for others our adoption of the word, used in the context of Native American and African Tribes, amounts to cultural appropriation and is insensitive to the centuries of injustices suffered by Indigenous people. We came to understand that the word “Tribe” is a colonial construct that was used to marginalize Natives and its continued use by non-Indigenous people fails to accurately recognize their history and unique status as Tribal Nations. As a brand we stand to honor all people through every aspect of our business model and could no longer accept that our name failed to meet that crucial commitment.
Your team had the conversation about changing the name for almost two years. What did that discernment process look like?
The decision to rebrand and change our name had been an internal conversation that our team has grappled with for almost two years now. It took a lot of reflection, thoughtfulness, and contemplation to arrive at a final decision. The motivation to change the name was present for a couple years, but as a small business it took us time to take the leap based on how risky it was for us economically.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we watched as many major companies spoke out in support for communities of color. I viewed it as a start, but knew what was needed at that moment was action. We took a long hard look at how we as a company (and as individuals) have benefited from structural racism and intentional inequality – recognizing that as a social enterprise driven by a high standard of ethics we had an obligation to go beyond hashtags and quotes and committed to an agenda that would advance racial equity in meaningful ways.
What opportunities arose from the name change?
I’ve been surprised by how much our name change has revitalized us and opened the brand up to opportunity that wasn’t there before. Ever since we reintroduced ourselves, we’ve received multiple high-level collaboration inquiries, and an influx of partnership requests from respected brands, content creators, consciously minded influencers, and celebrities. I’ve known for a long time that our name was a problem but I failed to recognize that it was holding us back from growth and business development. Our previous name was not only standing in the way of social progress – it was also holding us back from crucial business potential, that in turn impacts the lives of thousands of makers worldwide.
How is your personal journey toward anti-racism and social justice informing the work you do with LAUDE the Label?
I’m incredibly fortunate that I get to live out my values in life and in work each day. As a mother raising three girls of color I recognize how much needs to be done to ensure their equal future. Affirming their worth by working to build a place for women that’s free from violence, discrimination, and scarcity is where my inspiration comes from. It’s important to me that I earn the privilege of being their mom by working to empower the types of places, people, and communities in which they came from. Our family story began as another woman’s tragedy and cycle of economic insecurity – it’s the story of women all over the world, and one that is never lost on me. It’s also one that I will never stop trying to rewrite, and it informs every decision I make in my personal and professional life. LAUDE the Label exists to redistribute generations of resources and wealth that have been stolen from women of color worldwide. We exist to give back what has been taken, and to stand as an example that a people over profit business model is the only way we can move forward justly as an industry.
In what ways would you like to see LAUDE the Label expand – both in terms of the business and in terms of social impact?
If I’m honest, I don’t believe in looking at business from a lens of growth and expansion. Inequity exists within the industry because the goal for most CEOs is always centered around building bigger at all costs and this mindset almost always fails to factor people and planet. I’m more focused on intentionality and ensuring that we have visibility to every aspect of our supply chain before we consider what high level expansion looks like. I want to know the farms where our cotton comes from, [and] I want to focus on our carbon footprint to ensure that we’re offsetting 100% of our emissions. I want to provide more social resources for our teams outside of meaningful employment and I want to grow our Women’s Entrepreneurship Grant Fund to help more women rise in business. As a brand we can focus on all these social initiatives because the mission is centered around reinvesting profits back into our communities, instead of hoarding it all for ourselves. I hope our future is full of intentional expansion within our social and environmental initiatives and that we continue to build from a mindset of people first.
“I hope our future is full of intentional expansion within our social and environmental initiatives and that we continue to build from a mindset of people first.”– CARLY BURSON
Photo Courtesy of LAUDE the Label
Editor’s Note: Cover images shows women employed by LAUDE the Label and is provided courtesy of the brand. You can learn more about LAUDE the Label’s social and environmental impact in its 2020 Impact Report or by watching its Behind the Brand video below.