The courage of someone is not determined by how many obstacles they face. What really matters is how they react in those situations, and more importantly, what they choose to do next.
For Nikki McAllum, standing at such a crossroad facing a moral dilemma of her own, eventually led her to founding one of Australia’s most impacting new conscious clothing labels, ‘The Road‘.
The Moment of Awareness
Nikki traces back this defining moment to when a new shipment arrived in their warehouse emitting a stronger than usual chemical odour. The employees stood back. No one wanted to open the goods. Yet these were the garments they had ordered – the very product they would then be on-selling to the Australian public.
That’s when Nikki felt a physical tightening in her stomach. A feeling of disdain towards the commercial fashion industry took hold.
She recalls the thought process her conscience was going through.
“If this is what it’s like thousands of miles away from the source, what must it be like in the dying factory in China?”
She continues to explain, “My heart went out to all the garment workers whose hands had touched these garments in the supply chain. How must have they felt?”
What she was witnessing left a sour taste in her mouth. The thought she had played a role weighed on her mind.
It wasn’t the confrontation that really mattered. Although this certainly fueled the flame inside her at that time. What really stands out is what Nikki chose to do next.
“I quit my job because I was physically feeling sick in my stomach about the work I was doing. I remember that day clearly. It was before I left the company.”
But her story doesn’t end there. And thank the fashion goddesses it didn’t.
“Needless to say I was so glad to be leaving, but this didn’t mean the problem would go away. I knew I needed to be part of the change.”
With this new awareness, how could she go on contributing to the problem?
A seed had been planted in her mind. An idea. And that’s all it takes.
But it wasn’t all tassels, glitter and cute white tees. This time in between jobs left a massive whole in Nikki’s life. It was a time of confusion, anger and exploration.
Nikki goes on to tell the story, “After I quit, I worked in odd jobs here and there, mostly waiting tables. I was angry but not disillusioned, so I spent a lot of time researching sustainable fashion. I knew if I couldn’t find what I wanted, what I thought the world really needed, I would create it myself. I guess I always had that Gandhi quote in the back of my mind – be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Rather poetically, Nikki headed to India to find partners she could work with directly. It took over two years to piece together the puzzle that would unravel as the brand we know today. In October 2016, The Road finally launched. And it launched with a bang.
The True Cost
The Road made a huge impact with their ‘True Cost‘ campaign, shining light on the raw cost of an ethically produced organic cotton tee. This message reinforced Nikki’s new found determination to make a difference and not shy away from the reality we face.
Catching the eye of mainstream media, The Road gained much exposure and created a new conversation around transparency (or the lack thereof) within the fashion industry.
The transparency they present is rare to find and not just within the fashion industry, but across business in a broader sense.
“I’m inspired to keep going because of the number of people who have supported The Road and bought product from us. This confirms my opinion that people really do want an alternative to shopping at H&M or Cotton On. The flawed notion that people want cheap clothes is beyond me. Most people these days can afford to pay more than $10 for a tee.”
The State of Cotton
The sheer volume of garments being produced each year will send most people’s minds into a headspin. China accounts for over half the global textile manufacturing industry. In 2014 alone, they manufactured over 50 million tonnes of clothing (source).
But where does it all go?
Sadly, a large percentage of our clothing ends up in landfill. A wasted product. Trash.
Nikki acknowledges her responsibility in this equation as a producer. This has led to their Facebook campaign, “You don’t need another tee – but when you do, buy one from us.”
For a brand to be so blunt in their approach, it’s surprisingly refreshing. For change to occur, we don’t need people sugar-coating the facts.
Furthermore, there’s the matter of the cotton industry and how unsustainable and environmentally degrading it is. The Environmental Justice Foundation reports US$2 billion of chemical pesticides are laid down on cotton crops each year. Within these, the EJF state, at least US$819 million are considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation.
These are incredibly hazardous chemicals and many workers are not provided with safety gear or educated about the risks. It’s no wonder cotton has rise to fame as one of the ‘dirtiest’ crops under commercial cultivation.
Partnered For Success
This is where The Road is committed to doing things differently.
The Road is strict to only Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. This standard ensures the organic production of the raw cotton material. Furthermore, it shows a commitment to the consumer that environmentally and socially responsible pratices have been employed in the creation of the garments. At this point in time cotton is the only fibre with GOTS organic certification.
In choosing a manufacturer to work alongside, Nikki approached her decision-making in a more holistic context.
“When we visited their premises in rural Tamil Nadu and saw cows grazing in the lush green pasture surrounding the workroom, we had a good feeling about the place. Everyone seemed happy and content. We shared some local pastries and some delicious street chai and it just felt right. Sure, they were the most expensive but sometimes business decisions need to be made with the gut. We have not been disappointed with our decision.”
The team behind The Road is on a mission to prove ethical practices are no longer a luxury. They are a necessity. Their approach also proves that it is possible to produce ethically-made fashion basics at an affordable price.
“We are striving to make ethical practice mainstream and we won’t stop until it is! There are many other businesses out there now with the same values – so instead of trying to set ourselves apart from each other we need to support each other. The more businesses who hold these values the closer we get to bringing about monumental change in the fashion industry.”
Nikki is now proud to be part of the movement towards change.
She states, “I feel like I am living a purposeful life now, not just contributing to the problem.”
True to their word, The Road exemplifies how essential and rewarding it is to lead with a conscience. Now you too can wear your conscience with pride.
The Road is offering The Green Hub readers a special deal.
Buy 2 printed tees and $20 off with the promo code 2TEES at check out.