In episode 275, Kestrel welcomes Liz Ricketts (the cofounder and Director of The Or Foundation), alongside Sammy Oteng (a fashion designer, researcher, and the Community Design Lab Manager at The Or Foundation), to the show. A nonprofit based in the USA and Ghana, The Or Foundation’s primary goal is to catalyze what they call a justice-led circular economy.
“What’s so unfair about what fast fashion has done is that it’s created a situation where every single garment that’s created, whether it was from me or from Sammy or if it’s upcycled or recycled — it’s still waste until proven otherwise, because we just have so much excess in circulation right now, and it’s just very unfair to anyone who’s trying to do the right thing.” -Liz
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Before we get into it, there’s one thing I want to contextualize. And it’s probably something you’ve heard about - maybe something you’ve even heard a lot about recently. That thing is – Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR.
EPR policy would ideally ensure that producers are required to assume the costs of collection, treating, and recycling of their end-of-life products. Basically, it puts the financial burden of the waste management on the actual brands to deal with their products after citizens are done with them.
In 2007, France was the first country to declare a legal framework for managing textile waste through EPR policy with the goal of holding textile producers responsible for the collection and recycling of end-of-use clothing, linen, and shoes. The EU also recently announced EPR schemes to help address textile waste from fast fashion.
However – France and the EU’s policies fail to compensate the communities where the majority of that waste ends up. So, the tax is supposed to go to waste management, but when a great deal of that textile waste ends up being exported to countries in Africa as a part of that so-called “waste management”, AND those tax funds stay within France or Europe, these policies are only continuing to perpetuate a long history of waste colonialism.
This is only a very brief overview – but it gives you a little context on EPR before we get deeper into it.
The Or Foundation x Shein Agreement To Create EPR Fund
There were shockwaves sent across the fashion industry, after an announcement at the Global Fashion Summit this year (2022). The Or Foundation unveiled their agreement with SHEIN to receive $15 million over three years, as the first grant recipient of SHEIN’s new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Fund to help manage textile waste.
The commentary and discussions across social media and the web have been intense, with a lot of very emotionally-charged reactions from varying vantage points. Here’s just a glimpse of some of the feedback that has been shared –
Concerns about the way this is blatant greenwashing by SHEIN, considering that their ultra fast fashion business model is largely to blame for the waste being dumped in Ghana and other areas of the Global South
Concerns about how SHEIN will be able to use this partnership as a way to *look good* while continuing to perpetuate a savorist mindset
Concerns over the criticism of this partnership being directed at The Or Foundation instead of at SHEIN
Concerns about what this showcases with regard to the nonprofit industrial complex
Concerns about the apparent need for wealth redistribution, but the question of when and why the origin of those funds should matter
Concerns over when and how SHEIN will address the root causes of its impact, instead of simply throwing cash at the problem, which some have identified as only offering a bandaid solution
And so many more. In this week’s conversation, I had the privilege to speak with the folks at The Or Foundation to get their take on it all. And more importantly, to hear some of the responses of the community in Kantamanto, and how this money wi