I received a free item from Eshakti with no requirements regarding editorial direction. Please note that this post was originally published in 2018 and some details have changed. This post was reviewed in 2021 and one update was made (see below).
Is Eshakti Ethical?
In 2014, when I was just a baby ethical blogger, Eshakti reached out to me and offered one of their custom dresses for review. I asked them to send me information on their production standards first, and they promptly responded with information that struck me as transparent and reasonable, so I agreed to the collaboration. You can read that post here.
I featured a vintage-inspired cotton dress with custom-length sleeves. It’s a dress I still wear today to weddings and other special events, and I always get compliments on it. I’ve gained about 6 pounds since I originally received it, but the high quality, woven cotton still fits me like a glove, and I’ve “grown into” the sleeves as my arms have expanded (ah, aging).
Eshakti reached out to me again in 2018, and again I asked them for production standards. They directed me to this, publicly available on their site:
eShakti upholds the labor laws of India in letter and spirit. We have a minimum age requirement of 18 and exceed the minimum wage amount by 70%. We comply with all applicable laws and regulations relating to benefits.
Before I delve into an analysis of this statement, let me point out that this statement is no longer available on the site. It could be an oversight or it could be intentional.
What You Should Know About India’s Labor Laws
India just introduced a national minimum wage with other guaranteed rights and benefits in the fall of 2017, though it is unclear to what extent this policy has been implemented. According to Labour Behind the Label’s 2015 analysis, India’s minimum wage is about 4x less than a living wage, but the new minimum wage standard would be about half the calculated living wage. Compare this to the US, where the average state minimum wage is around $7.20/hour and the calculated living wage for a family is closer to $15.00/hour. I make that comparison simply to point out that pay disparities are not just an issue in “foreign” countries.
Now, if you remember my interview with CAUSEGEAR owner, Brad Jeffery, Indian employees in his model requested 5x the national minimum wage to make ends meet. So Eshakti makes no claims to operate as a visionary business model. But if you look at the minimum requirements of the Fair Trade Federation, you’ll also see that there is no single equation or standard for determining a fair wage.
This varies by company and location, as well as what product is being made. As my friend Hannah has pointed out, there are dozens of branded fair trade companies that barely meet the requirements. This is perhaps more troubling than a company that makes no claims of social good.
All that to say that, all things considered, Eshakti is not operating under a sweatshop model. And thanks to changing labor laws and improvements in their system, they are actually offering a more consistent wage than they were the last time I wrote about them. They’ve also taken a very forthright approach in discussing their standards.
Eshakti’s Approach: Custom & Made-to-Order
I am by no means suggesting that Eshakti‘s production standards are a beacon of ethics. But I decided to talk about them again for one simple reason: they are providing a service badly needed in today’s fast fashion, ready-to-wear industry.
Over the years, I’ve received numerous requests to feature plus size clothing, but it’s actually really difficult to find a variety of brands that offer expanded sizing and also understand that clothing isn’t one size fits all in terms of proportions. There are some brands, like Eileen Fisher and Elizabeth Suzann, that offer plus size lines but their clothes are single genre – they tend to be muted and drapey – and that’s simply not everyone’s cup of tea.
Eshakti is unique because:
- All clothing is made-to-order
- They offer clothing in sizes 0-36
- Clothing styles are diverse, and tend to be brighter and more tailored than other made-to-order brands
- You can pay a small upcharge to customize your clothing based on your dimensions and specific silhouette preferences
In 2014, I opted to change the sleeve length of my dress. But this time around I thought I’d put Eshakti to the test and send them my measurements for a totally custom garment. Even though I can squeeze into a lot of “standard size” clothing, my upper body is normally a full size smaller than my lower body, which makes getting the right fit on dresses particularly difficult.
For instance, if I would have purchased a dress like this in standard sizing, I would have likely had gapping at the bust (they don’t make ’50s style dresses for small busted ladies) and some tightness as the waist transitions to the hip.
Because I could put in precise sizing, instead I received a dress that fits correctly at every portion, and that means I didn’t waste time and money – or material – purchasing a garment that doesn’t really suit me. (This dress is 100% cotton, lined, has a side zipper, and costs $89.95 with a $9.95 upcharge for customization.)
Why Custom, Made-to-Order Makes Sense
Indie companies like Elizabeth Suzann and Not Perfect Linen make all or most of their products to order, but they don’t offer comprehensive customization.
Any made-to-order garment is going to offer these advantages:
- Less fabric waste
- No overstock
- Potential to change hem length before fabric is cut
But when you add in custom sizing, you provide additional benefits:
- The item fits as intended, so does not need to be tailored, meaning even less fabric waste
- The consumer is less likely to over-buy in an attempt to find the right fit
- People with proportions well outside the “industry standard” (in a variety of iterations) can purchase clothing that fits the first time
- A closet of custom goods increases long term wardrobe satisfaction and should contribute to reduced overall consumption
There was a time before massive industrialization when garments were always cut to individual proportions. Yes, per-item clothing was more expensive, but it also meant that people didn’t have to feel like they were “wrong” if they didn’t fit in standard sizes. Today’s ready-to-wear, cheap, disposable fashion industry has managed to wreck the environment, dehumanize its workers, and contribute to mental health issues by misleading consumers to believe that they need more things in order to feel like they matter, and then adding salt to the wound by refusing to ensure that those things actually fit.
Is Eshakti the answer?
Time will tell. They have a lot they could improve upon, and I know I’d be willing to pay 1.5x if not double their current prices if they could ensure that their employees were being paid a living wage.
But they are offering a service, and a model, that I wish other companies would emulate. Custom, made-to-order clothing is more environmentally responsible and honors the dignity of all people regardless of their size.
If you shop with them, I recommend choosing natural textiles, like cotton, over synthetics. What do you think?