ABEST Interview: Mrs. Dari Santos, Instituto Alinha’s CEO

By: Érika Masckiewic
Translation: Flavia Fiorillo

Indignant to notice that there were thousands of people subject to working in situations akin to slavery in the fashion industry, entrepreneur Dari Santos founded Instituto Alinha, a social foundation totally focused on improving the working and living conditions of dressmakers and seamstresses.

To understand how the institute works and its services, ABEST talked with Alinha’s CEO. Check out the interview:

What is Instituto Alinha’s mission?

I worked in a field research to understand the socioeconomic reality of immigrants working in precarious conditions in sewing workshops. This research has turned into my final term paper.

As I became more deeply acquainted with this reality, I could understand that these sewing workshops needed to break out of invisibility, and be connected with brands and fashion designers willing to change that industry.

Instituto Alinha’s platform was designed in 2014 during its attendance in Social Good Brasil Lab, a pioneering laboratory in Brazil that supports entrepreneurs to design and validate ideas that use technologies for social impact. We won first place in the challenge and with the award’s funds we started the institute's journey. 

How is Instituto Alinha’s consulting work done in the sewing workshops?

Oficina Alinhada is the name we give to a sewing workshop that was assisted by Instituto Alinha to reach the minimum work formalization and security requirements and thus be available so that conscious brands can engage them through our platform, guaranteeing fair deadlines and prices.

The step by step of this process entails:

1) Entrepreneurial training course, in partnership with Aliança Empreendedora, through Tecendo Sonhos program;

2) Within the entrepreneurship course, those interested in receiving consulting services are enrolled and undergo a process of evaluation and selection;

3) As soon as a sewing workshop is selected, an Instituto Alinha agent pays a visit to the sewing workshop to carry out a diagnostic questionnaire;

4) After that, the sewing workshop gets a visit from a labor security technician, always in the presence of an Instituto Alinha agent;

5) Based on the diagnosis and technical safety report, we create a customized action plan, pointing out the required changes and its costs;

6) We give support for compliance with the action plan, recommending professionals and companies that have the necessary equipment and charge affordable prices. In this phase we always seek guidance based on the sewing workshop available resources, also assisting in the prioritization of the items;

7) We pay another visit to assist with management and fair labor pricing;

8) Once the sewing workshop meets the minimum requirements, we start a search for "matches", signaling brands that may help generating income;

9) The new Oficina Alinhada (sewing workshop) joins Instituto Alinha’s online platform;

10). We do periodic revisions. Alinha's compliance to ensure that everything in the workshop follows and maintains the safety and formalization standards.

All line of work done with the sewing factories is offered free of charge. In order to do this, we raise money with institutes, foundations, edicts and labor services. This funding determines how many vacancies will be open to sewing workshops.

How many accredited sewing workshops are members? How is the follow up done and what are the criteria for the sewing workshops to become an Oficina Alinhada?

To date, we have been active in 58 sewing workshops, directly impacting 228 seamstresses and dressmakers. The number of sewing workshops that meet the minimum established criteria and can be found available on the online platform varies with each compliance visit.

Alinha’s evaluation follows the following criteria:

# 1 Sewing workshops owners training in entrepreneurship courses;

# 2 Formalization of the sewing workshops and issuance of invoices;

# 3 Sewing workshops electrical installations and infrastructure;

# 4 Health and labor safety;

# 5 Work environment organization;

# 6 Work relationships and fight against labor akin to slavery.

What is the current reality of the seamstresses' working environment?

Family owned sewing workshops don’t have a CEO or manager, the entrepreneur who set up the workshop is also the seamstress, more than usually alongside his / her spouse. They set up shop inside their own home. The number of hours worked in a week can easily reach 90 hours.

Electrical installations are installed precariously- we are talking about the famous gambiarras (the Brazilian practice of makeshifts, the art of resorting to quirky and smart improvisation in order to repair what doesn't work or to create what you need with what you have at your disposal), with extensions and wires exposed without any kind of conduits, safety or infrastructure. Since they do not operate within legal standards and have no formalization whatsoever, they end up taking orders from other larger factories, losing a substantial percentage of the profit per piece.

In a sewing workshop like this, the average gross per piece is between R $ 2.00 and R $ 3.00 (respectively US $ 0.50 and $ 0.80). Even working on exhausting long working hours, the seamstress earnings rarely exceed R $ 1200.00 per month (about US $ 317), not taking into consideration that they also need to cover all the costs of the business.

Tell us a little about the Alinha label. Does it work as a quality seal?

Since the beginning of 2018 we have been working on re-launching the Alinha label. The project aims to use Blockchain technology to map productive chains and share decentralized information, ensuring transparency and information for seamstresses, brands and consumers.

The brands will have a profile page to post information about the garments to be produced. When launching the information, the brands will select which of the sewing workshops, registered in the Instituto Alinha’s online platform, will be responsible for each stage of manufacturing.

With the information received, the system automatically triggers a message to the responsible party, who must then confirm that he / she has been hired, the value amount received for the job, the deadline, the garment spec sheet and the number of pieces that he / she will be able to manufacture.

Once the information provided by the brand is confirmed by all service providers, the information is saved in Blockchain and the brand can download the TAGS with the reference code of this "smart contract".

The whole history of the piece can be viewed by consumers - from the fair working conditions to the sewing workshop owner’s history and the seamstresses who produced the garment. 

How has the Instituto Alinha changed the textile and garment industry scenario? 

Alinha changes the scenario of the textile industry by inviting other people to change as well: to change the way they produce and consume.

There is no one able to change the reality of fashion alone. It is extremely important for everyone to realize that we are co-responsible for the problem, be it sewing workshop, brand or consumer. But if we all are the root of the problem, the solution is also a little bit inside each one of us.