In the last couple of years, Pacific Islanders have truly made a name for themselves in the fashion landscape, participating in fashion shows across the islands and in international locations like Sydney, where Pacific Runway was held. Others have appeared as guest judges on Project Runway and have taken their debut collections to California for LA Fashion Week. One area in particular that has garnered global attention is Fiji. Not only does the country have its own Fashion Week, which was founded back in 2008, but its reputation as the region’s fashion capital is also based on its booming garment industry that could potentially lead the way in ethical clothing production.
When the idea of sustainability in fashion comes to mind, clothing companies tend to focus more on the materials used and production processes in terms of ethical practices. But it’s not just the clothing brands that are getting behind this movement. The style editors from renowned online fashion aggregator Lyst look to promote luxury brands such as Stella McCartney’s contemporary collections that avoid the use of leather and fur. But part of being an ethical company is claiming social responsibility, which carries just as much weight as environmental care. Social issues that must be considered include fair wages, working hours and working conditions, and Fiji has reportedly surpassed the mark in all categories.
According to Fiji’s Fashion Council, the minimum wages have doubled in the last 10 to 15 years or so, improving the work and living conditions of the 8000 locals employed in the garment industry. They maintain the integrity of these conditions with a detailed certification programme that audits factory operations, ability to maintain standards and history of certification. With minimum wages comparatively higher than other wages in popular clothing production destinations, such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, Fiji is attracting luxury labels to expand business practices in the Pacific Islands.
But there is still room for improvement in Fiji. Experts in the Pacific Islands fashion sector believe that it is still fairly low for the region, as the Cook Islands approved a wage increase to $6.25 per hour last year, though in practice, the average wage is close to $8.00—far more ideal than the standard of nearly $3.00 per hour in Fiji.
Fiji undoubtedly has potential to lure in global brands, and once they expand into the archipelago, the Council should look into making further increases to the minimum wage.