SEATTLE — Shea Parton likes to play with the old proverb about teaching a man to fish. “It is all very well teaching a man to fish, but it is no good if he does not have a big enough pool in which to fish.” Parton, a Los Angeles-based fashion leader, is quoted in a Forbes article. In 2004, Shea and his brother Raan founded a fashion company called Apolis.
The brothers and their company are advocates for social change around the world, trying to take on human and environmental problems. Apolis is quickly becoming the face of ethical fashion.
Apolis means “global citizen.” This is not only what the Parton brothers consider themselves to be, but also what they consider their company to be. These social entrepreneurs refer to their company’s model as “Advocacy Through Industry,” which the company website describes as “a revolutionary way to harness the power of business to create social change” and “founded on the simple idea that people can live better lives when they are given equal access to the global marketplace.”
The Parton brothers’ commitment to ethical fashion originated in their own life experience. According to The New York Times, Raan and Shea were inspired by the fair trade manufacturing practices they witnessed as children when traveling around the world. When they grew up, this experience motivated them to create a socially-minded business. Apolis has received a B Corp certification for its “do-gooder” credentials.
Apolis brings in workers from around the world who live in poor economic conditions. In Bangladesh, it teamed up with women to weave vegan tote bags. In the West Bank, it hired shoemakers to make leather sandals. In Peru, it partnered with a 50-person cooperative to sew alpaca beanies.
More recently, Apolis launched a project in Mexico to employ glassware artisans. According to the company’s blog, “the production of our 100% recycled collection of glassware items of 990 units of Apolis glassware is creating 400 hours of employment for the 14 artisans of Studio Xaquixe. Minimum wage in Oaxaca is currently $89 USD a month.”
By contrast, “Working 44 hours a week, a Xaquixe glassblower makes $592 USD a month + medical security + housing credit + savings for retirement. Xaquixe’s self-developed technologies have allowed them to reduce by 80% their usage of fossil fuels, substituting it with waste cooking oil and methane produced via an anaerobic biodigester.”
This project has come at a crucial time for Mexico’s glassware workers. According to Yahoo News, 75 percent of the country’s glass blowing studios have closed down as a result of global competition.
“We believe that there are artisanal manufacturers all around the world who possess unimaginable talent,” Raan told The New York Times. “Our goal is to shine light on this talent and bring excellent products to a global market.”
Apolis hopes to economically empower the communities in which they operate on multiple levels.
Not only do individual people and their communities benefit from the steady work and generous compensation the company provides, but Apolis also hopes to help establish higher standards in the fashion industry by exemplifying the values of ethical fashion.
As Raan Parton told The New York Times, “If the chef is going to take responsibility for anything that comes out of the kitchen, then the chef should be responsible for every step along the way.”