The story of Ninety Percent is one of friendship, collaboration and a deep-felt desire to change the world. For Shafiq Hassan, seeing children living in poverty while visiting family back in Bangladesh had a profound effect on his outlook on life. He was also greatly inspired by his cousin, the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed who established BRAC, one of the world’s largest and most successful NGOs which creates opportunities for people living in poverty. Shafiq has been on the governing board of BRAC since 2011.
Ninety Percent is more than a brand. It is a new way of doing business, spreading the profits in a more equitable way towards environmental and social justice that empowers the people who make our clothes. For too long, the fashion industry has been built on exploitation of the poorest people at the bottom of the supply chain. When Shafiq and co-founder and creative director Para Hamilton set up the brand in 2018, it was with a shared vision for a better world, something that had kept them motivated since they first met in 1988. For Shafiq, the driving force was social justice and a deep felt desire to lift the poor out of poverty, while for Para, it was all about saving the environment.
“She was the first to tell me the planet comes first,” says Shafiq. “We just connected in an explosion of ideas and a chemistry that was to do with making a difference.”
Instead of taking on a PhD in chemical engineering in the mid-80s, Shafiq saw a way to create jobs for women in Bangladesh. He set up Echo Sourcing in 1996 with Para to change the way garment factories operate. Today, their vertical factory Echotex, which produces much of the Ninety Percent collection, employs 12,000 people. It is LEED platinum-certified, was the first to provide health insurance for all its workers as well as a free hot lunch. Whilst working as a sourcing director in the early 90s, Shafiq had seen children playing in polluted rivers and workers who had to buy rotten food because it was all they could afford. Children’s Hope foundation was set up by Para and Shafiq in 2000 to provide education and healthcare for children and their families living in the slums in Bangladesh.
In 2005, Make Poverty History crystallised everything Shafiq had been thinking about. “It impacted me in a huge way,” he says. ‘I kept questioning how businesses are run and why there was so much Third World debt. Exploitation happens through business, how they are exploiting the planet, controlling people.” He started to read up on it and concluded: “These people are wrecking the planet with the way they do business.” He started to question the traditional business model. “If you don’t change the way businesses are run, you can’t make that much impact.” Thinking about an alternative, the seeds of Ninety Percent were sewn and in 2018, a brave new business was launched. We pledge to share 90 % of all distributable profits between five charitable causes and the workers who make the clothes. Both Para and Shafiq will not take any remuneration from the company.
Two years later, there is still much work to be done. Building a new business model isn’t easy, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. 2020 has been challenging for everyone, especially garment workers in countries like Bangladesh but Shafiq is more determined than ever. “The business as usual idea must be challenged by many and we shall most likely see massive shifts in public perception as we pass out of Covid,” he says. “We have seen the writing on the wall, for a while. If we are not going to act now, when will we, as a race? The world and our lives as we know them have been turned upside down.” We must change, and the way we do business must change. “It is now or never.”
Small steps we can all make for the world we want
Find your style
One of the best pieces of advice Shafiq Hassan ever had was “create your own niche.” This applies to many things but also to finding your style - and having the confidence to stick with it. That way, your wardrobe will always service your needs and you won’t be swayed by trends to buy something you’ll only wear once. Knowing your own style doesn’t mean you have to be boring. (We can tell you that Shafiq’s favourite piece of clothing is a John Lennon ‘Imagine’ jacket he bought in 2010. He also has a cotton cardi from Hackett and an Issey Miyake denim piece that he says has worn “a thousand times!” )
Think before you buy.
Choose wisely. Don’t be tempted to make impulse buys. Think about how many times you will wear a piece. Does it fit within your wardrobe? Do you already have something like it hanging at the back of your wardrobe?
Look after your clothes
Shafiq says: “Both my parents when I was growing up lived with very little. Both mended their clothes. My mother had few saris (possibly, ten in all). When her saris got really old, she used to make them into kantha (blankets), where old soft saris were piled together three to four layers and hand stitched fully. My father was even more frugal, he has one suit, but in a hot country, he used to wear the same one for all formal occasions. He had four shirts and three pairs of trousers, few vests, a pair of shoes, two pairs of sandals. All clothes were repaired.”
As you know, the materials we use to make your clothes are precious, so let’s make them last as long as possible. Always wash your clothes carefully and according to the instructions. Give your clothes some TLC, and give them a little cosmetic surgery if they need it – sew on buttons, and darn holes. If you don’t know how, watch a tutorial online, or employ the services of a local seamstress or tailor, or see what repairs and alterations are offered by your local dry cleaner.
Vote with your purse
Join us in challenging the poor working conditions that have become the norm in the fashion industry. By supporting Ninety Percent, you are supporting a new fashion system that connects your spending power with a fairer, more equitable system, one that gives 90% of the profits to a combination of our workers and one or all of our five environmental and social causes. We believe in a different business model that pays its workers fairly and empowers them to create a better life for themselves and their families.
“We need to take a stand by our actions and we need our cultural revolution to look at how we do things. We need to take inspiration and learn from people like Greta Thunberg and Sumak Helena Gualinga. Everything is connected.
Happy New Year, Peace and Love, Keep Sharing!”