The global denim supply chain is not as democratic as the products it produces, but one major player in the sector has an action plan to change course.
Pakistani vertically integrated denim manufacturer Soorty recently launched the Prism Project, a program designed to create an inclusive workplace that embraces disabilities and diversity in the workforce. The four-part plan serves to deepen Soorty’s core values of innovation, education and sustainability in the denim and fashion industry, while uplifting the local community.
“Denim is not just the most democratic fabric, but [it] also holds the potential for real impact on the values and, consequently, quality of life of both its wearers and its creators,” Mobeen Chughtai, Soorty corporate communications and corporate social responsibility manager, told Rivet.
While “most of the world’s denim is manufactured in the developing world,” Chughtai said there are “real consequences” in fostering innovation and jobs such as tax money that eventually finds its way towards providing education, health, safety and more to local citizens. Through the Prism Project, Soorty aims to see underserved populations on the receiving end of those benefits.
The Prism Project will be rolled out in four stages, beginning with a new denim finishing facility built on the Karachi campus of the Network of Organizations Working with Persons with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP), an initiative that promotes disability inclusion through holistic and sustainable endeavors in the areas of education and economic empowerment.
The finishing facility has been up and running since mid-October. There, NOWPDP is training 35 people with hearing and speech impairments to work in high noise finishing departments such as grinding, distortion and airing that typically pose a risk to people with no hearing problems. The project is intended to “flip the circumstances” and turn a disability into a strength that works in the employees’ favor.
“Not everyone from this community is disabled,” Chughtai said. “More often, people suffer from a mismatch between their abilities and their circumstances.”
Part of the beauty of a project like Prism, Chughtai added, is that it boosts the overall morale of the company’s workforce. Since launching the program, the company has received requests from its own line supervisors, HR managers, support staff and many more for sign language training so they can work with and interact with their new colleagues.
Soorty states that its internal policy framework already stresses a need for diversity and that its hiring policies highlight the importance of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work regardless of difference of religion, culture, ethnicity or color. Chughtai says the company has always had an open-door employment policy and makes choices based on candidates’ qualification. As a result, Soorty’s demographic makeup is balanced in the conventional sense, he added.
“But lately, we realized that ‘convention’ simply isn’t enough,” he said. “In fact, it may be the problem.”
With this in mind, the denim manufacturer is on a mission to “create a butterfly effect of change for the better in the fashion industry.” The Prism Project, Chughtai added, allows the company to break out of its bubble of “doing good” to make lasting and positive impacts on livelihoods.
“We see denim as a power of good. We will actively reach out to those from underserved and underrepresented communities—people who normally wouldn’t turn up at our door looking for a job,” he said. “This is what Prism Project is really about.”
The next step in the Prism Project will be a focus on hiring employees from the transgender community, which Soorty stated is perhaps “one of the single most misunderstood and underappreciated groups in Pakistan.” The company is reaching out to members of the transgender community for various projects including vocational training, organizational hiring as well as health interventions.
The final two parts of Soorty’s project include a collaboration with the United Nations Development Program on its Leading Diversity initiative committed to adopting worker-friendly values that enhance organizational inclusivity and diversity. The company is in the process of redesigning its organizational policy to facilitate more female hiring, family-friendly policy framework and better maternal leave.
“Now that we understand the value in diversity, we want to [make it] a business strategy, not [only] an altruistic gesture,” Chughtai said.