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Women Power Fashion: an interview with Cora Kemperman

Author Mama Cash

“You have to take responsibility instead of looking away.”

Mama Cash donor Cora Kemperman (70) is one of the grandes dames of Dutch fashion. For 18 years, she was a purchasing star and designer at Mac & Maggie. From 1995 until her retirement in 2012, she managed her own clothing label Cora Kemperman. Moreover, she not only focused on aesthetics, portability and affordability, but also on decent living and working conditions for textile workers – especially for the women among them. “Not only because they are often the worst. But also because investing in women seems to have a greater scope.”

“Even back in the seventies and eighties, during my shopping trips for Mac & Maggie, I came across alarming working conditions in India. But I wasn’t in a position to improve anything. When I set up the Cora Kemperman label with Gloria Kok, I was keen to do that. For example, we have ensured that all our suppliers have been SA-8000 certified, thus meeting standards  for social sustainability and human rights. In addition, we have refused to work with companies that apply the Sumangali system, whereby young girls are employed in a garment factory under inhuman conditions in exchange for a dowry.

We also intervened when we saw that men in Indian clothing companies had the best positions. They were behind the sewing machines, earning more than the women who cut off threads or carried out packaging work. We advised our suppliers that women were also trained to operate the sewing machines. In 2012, 50% of the sewing machine work was done by women! I think that as a client, you should take your responsibility instead of looking away.

As a company, we have also supported our social projects in India with our charitable foundation, Amma. Initially, these were mainly children’s projects, but along the way we discovered that the children got the most benefit when their mothers earned money. They were then able to send the children to school! Amma now supports the Women Self Help Groups of SAVE. These groups provide women with training and microcredits to start small businesses, such as a mushroom nursery, a breakfast service for single men, a crèche.

As an individual, I also support Mama Cash. I have donated since 1999 and have named Mama Cash in my will. And this is all because I’ve discovered that making women stronger is the only way to give children a better future.”