Social business is rapidly becoming a prime forum for social justice advocates, and Autonomie Project’s founder and President Anne O’Loughlin is ahead of the game in promoting ethical fashion. “It’s more of a direct, more easily tangible impact you can make,” she says.
“I looked into nonprofits and think tanks, but I figured this form of business – social enterprise – could really make this true and direct impact on the workers themselves.”
Having explored global inequities through personal field research and corporate social responsibility previously, O’Loughlin has since found her own niche – fair trade, organic and vegan fashion. “It’s a way to make as much change as you possibly can,” she says of social entrepreneurship. And the potential to do good is seemingly endless.
Launched in 2007, Autonomie Project aims to bring consumers clothes they’ll feel good about – without feeling like they stand out.
“We wanted to produce products that were very conventional looking – same quality, same style, same trend – but we wanted them to have these three components to them: fair-trade, organic and vegan,” says O’Loughlin. Unlike the ethnic, crunchy-granola look that O’Loughlin says is common among most fair-trade styles, Autonomie Project aims to become the Gap or Urban Outfitters of conscious apparel. “We wanted to get a product that looks the same, but happens to be produced under these circumstances.”
Autonomie Project pushes consumers to think differently about their clothing’s impact on the world.
All Autonomie Project’s products are manufactured in factories with ethical standards and fair wages to support developing communities around the world. What’s more, they are made with environmentally conscious, ethically sourced materials that support a bioregional business strategy.
“There have been studies on how many times one t-shirt goes around the world before it’s distributed,” O’Loughlin explains. “Even if it’s fair-trade or organic, it still leaves a huge environmental impact.” Working with companies in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, the project works to cut down of environmental degradation through regional sourcing, production and output, with one straight route to the United States. “It’s about investing in that local economy,” O’Loughlin says.
What’s more, Autonomie Project focuses on supporting social development beyond merely boosting the local economy.
A portion of the generated revenue from Autonomie Project is reserved for a community-controlled fund. “The funds go to larger initiatives like microcredit or investing in their children’s futures,” and their usage is determined by democratic vote.
With the company’s model of sustainability and social responsibility, O’Loughlin says more product manufacturing has been to support The United States’ economy. “With the recession, we tried to shift more of our productions to have some products made in the USA, and some abroad,” she says. “We do try to balance to produce domestically and abroad.”
Now introducing a pet line this spring, combined with the recent collaboration with Proxy Apparel’s jewelry, Autonomie Project is growing even more to reach its goal of large-scale growth.
“We’re building out that apparel, making it more fashion forward,” O’Loughlin says. “We ultimately want to keep growing the product line, so we have more of a holistic collection.”
Apparel and accessories are available for purchase on www.autonomieproject.com.