Books in my DNA? Safia Minney, Author

Safia writes:

Books in my DNA? Yes, books kind of run in my blood. My Grandparents ran a book publishing house and book shop in Zurich. They published political books, papers and religious books. My Mother and her sisters studied librarianship. Before the days of computers they were expected to have read every book in the shop and were expected to make recommendations to customers from memory.

I remember as a child spending hours in my Gran’s book shop cellar where specialist titles and stock was kept. Of course, I couldn’t read German so many of the books were closed to me, but there were a few children’s illustrated books which I loved and lots of different sized German/ English dictionaries to dip into.  Books were wrapped with gorgeous wrapping paper as presents and brown paper and string for your own use – there were no plastic bags in sight.

I became, like many happy kids, an avid reader at seven, but then my dad died suddenly of stomach cancer, and the shock burst my childhood bubble.  I was the eldest and I felt I had to help my Mum. I stopped reading and fell behind at school. I started to dream about going out to work and earn money, so I could look after my family. I left school at 17 and oddly started as a production assistant at a publishing company working on a magazine.  I loved co-ordinating the artwork for ads, and learning how a magazine is put together. I wanted to understand how it worked as a business so I studied advertising, communications and PR in the evenings and tried different business ideas to test my skills, renting a desk in a nearby office and starting a gorilla gram company in my lunch hour and around work. I became a pretty good marketeer and associate publisher, but I still didn’t have the confidence to write.

I began to write when I started People Tree in Japan. I would research human rights and environmental issues and write articles in English, and then check the nuance of translations in Japanese with the help of patient friends and colleagues reading in Japanese to me. Having a baby helped me get over two decades of ‘writer’s block’.  With as little as 30 minutes to myself between my son, Jerome’s naps, I just had to stop over-thinking and  ‘get it down’.

My first books, By Hand, Naked Fashion, etc, started as a huge wall-paper like flat-plan taking up half my sitting room, I would take photographs with my friend Miki Alcalde in countries like Bangladesh, Kenya, India.  I would interview people as I travelled at our Fair Trade producers and started doing investigative journalism to find out the true cost of fast fashion. Once I had decided on the structure of the book, I would write page by page, racing rather, as I had two companies to run, as well as my family. My first book, was sari covered and hand typeset by Professor Lal in Kolkata, India and told the stories of Fair Trade activists and artisans, then came By Hand, Naked Fashion, Slow Fashion and Slave to Fashion and an autobiography in between – some in Japanese and all in English.  Even my son wrote a book called; Fair Trade for kids based on his experience of kids working in Indonesia.

Reading List

  4. SLAVE to FASHION – Buy it here

MaineEthics insta-slow-fashion-book

I always say that I will NEVER write another book or take on another book project. But you never know…some stories are just bursting to be told…


A post shared by Safia Minney (@slavetofash) on

safia minney slave to fashion world book day

Shining a light on modern slavery in the fashion industry – follow Slave to Fashion on instagram, share our book to raise awareness –  – question fashion supply chain practices, talk about this at school, at work…on social media #SlaveToFash and not just on World Book Day…

20 February 2018 is the United Nations’ “World Day of Social Justice”

The theme for 2018 is – Workers on the Move: the Quest for Social Justice.

Safia writes:

I started as a human rights activist, then became an ecologist and then realised that I needed to become a social entrepreneur to prove that business could be done differently. That business could be a cause for rights violations and it could also be a huge power for good.

That farmers and the makers of our clothes, shoes, food and social justice can be central to good business. With Fair Trade, citizens can promote social inclusion and environmental justice and hold large corporations accountable. Today, empower the workers by bringing the “ME TOO”, campaign awareness to include the rights of women who make up the bulk of our fashion work force in the developing world.

When researching for my book, Slave to Fashion, I met with Elizabeth Khumallambam in Gurgaon, near Delhi. She is senior co-ordinator of Nari Shakti Manch, which campaigns and supports women migrant workers whose rights are violated.


‘We organize migrant women in the community and work at a political, economic and social level to address the problems they face,’ Elizabeth tells me. ‘They are exploited as they are totally unaware of their rights.
In the garment industry, they are badly paid and not given regular work. In their communities they are forced to buy groceries at a shop in the building where they rent a room at exorbitant prices. If they try to buy from cheaper shops, they get in trouble.’” read the full interview with Elizabeth Khumallambam, reference page 80-81, Slave to Fashion.

SEEMA’s story:

I am 32 years old and have two sons, aged 14 and 18. I started working in the garment industry seven years ago. I began in leather, cutting threads. When I made a mistake, my line manager stabbed me in the thigh with his pencil until it bled. I slapped him to defend myself, so they fired me. They tore up the paper which showed how many days I had worked and refused to pay me. I got a new job doing other piece-rate work, and now I am working as a tailor.
A lot of problems are due to the line managers: they try to find fault with our work. They told me, ‘If you start a relationship with me, I will overlook your mistakes.’ When I bent down to pick something up, they would make lewd comments:
‘I can see your body parts.’ They offered me money to have sexual relations with them. I feel humiliated, I feel ashamed to be a woman. I have children, I need to work. I wish I didn’t have to come to Delhi, but I have no choice. I work in a small factory now, as I was denied work with larger fashion factories because I publicly reported the harassment and was blacklisted from larger factories. I am in a desperate situation; I don’t have enough to eat; I have a big bill at the food-ration shop in my apartment block and I am obliged to buy provisions from there. Also, my husband left me and married another woman. For the last three months I have been unable to send money home for my sons, 24 hours away by train in Jacar. Why are women not looked at the same way as men? I come out of the house and I want the same status, but I am not treated equally. Don’t say that it is wrong for women to work. I have two children and I cannot pay my bills. I cannot raise my children without a job. Don’t be prejudiced against women, give us equality! I need a job with overtime for 12,000 rupees ($180) a month to survive. Extract Slave to Fashion.

Livia Firth, Creative Director & CEO of Eco-Age shares her message for World Day of Social Justice:

“Sustainable fashion is all about the people in the supply chain – what we call the handprint of fashion, is made by millions of invisible people working all over the world  to produce the clothes that we wear. It is fundamental that they are treated with the same respect as we would treat ourselves and sadly today that is not the case. One only has to read Safia’s book Slave to Fashion to understand that a change is imperative”.

Sven Segal, Founder, Po-Zu:

“I started Po-Zu, the ethical footwear company, because I couldn’t stand seeing people suffering and wanted to be part of the solution, not part of a system built on social injustice”. (read more about ethical footwear at

Social justice is possible when we remove barriers based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability. Find out more here: 

Follow and support and celebrate #SocialJusticeDay on Safia’s social media here


The perfect Valentine’s – how to do it, like you MEAN it

Safia writes:

Let’s go to our favourite jazz venue, feast on organic food, melt away into each other’s eyes, openness and arms and… surrender.

That’s my fantasy but somehow I get stuck every Valentine’s Day on campaigns about sharing the love. I’m not talking about wild orgies here. I’m talking about Fairtrade roses, and ethical, conflict-free jewellery. But does all that ‘stuff’ really matter? Isn’t it about listening, love, acts of real kindness, and each other’s growth?

Needless to say, I become a very difficult person to please… However, people like me are growing in number; people who, even on, and maybe especially on, Valentine’s Day, want authenticity and ethics. Of course, I take no responsibility if my suggestions get you into trouble, or raise the expectations so HIGH that you find them difficult to sustain …

Here are some personal favourites that promote well-being, health and sustainability

  1. There are some very cool lingerie and underwear brands out there for men. They might delight in imagining you imagining them wearing them. Try Mighty Good Pants and Allvar – both great underwear brands for men.
  2. People Tree NightwearIf you’re buying for women, People Tree camisole sets are affordable, have impeccable organic cotton and fair trade quality and credentials, and are extra cute when used to wrap up a bottle of her favourite perfume or a book she would love.
  3. AmaElla-Duchess-organicFor a luxury lingerie experience try AmaElla where the organic panties and camisoles are pretty, feminine, and cut to flatter – with cute details of velvet ribbon and petal packaging. You feel loved. Organic intimates are a way of celebrating her gorgeousness and health.
  4. Po-Zu Red Resistance sneakers for you both? Hand-crafted in Portugal in organic cotton canvas for the active and fun, this ‘matchy-matchy’ look may be a little Japanese in aesthetic, but these sneakers are comfortable and stylish.po-zu_divine

How about adding one of my favourite chocolate brands, Divine? It’s a company owned by the cocoa producers and is good-tasting as well as good-looking. There seems to be a ‘matching’ trend in ethical weddings. If you’re into that form of showing commitment, people are getting wed top-to-toe in ethical fashion. (We love this photograph from Sarah Passos‘ nuptials – Fabulous Po-Zu wedding sneakers shot by Sara Reeve).

Po-Zu wedding sneakers
Fabulous Po-Zu wedding sneakers shot by Sara Reeve

And for those women amongst us not in a traditional relationship, we might want to empower ourselves with something experiential, like the film season Girlfriends about female friendships, at the BFI, Southbank, a selection of films which runs until 20 March. There’s also the classic “Romy And Michelle’s High School Reunion”, screening on 13th February for Galentine’s Day. If you’re not based in London, finding a film on a feminist theme for you and your friends is a fun and truly loving thing to do.

Most of all, be kind. Give warm smiles to strangers in the street if you feel it. And remember that it’s rare that someone is not in need of a little kindness…

I call my partner to ask what he would like for Valentine’s and he asks for an afternoon off, a leisurely lunch followed by a walk in the park. I guess the most precious gift is the gift of time.

And if you buy something new, buy ethically, so that the love and respect spreads to the producer, and the planet isn’t further stripped naked…