Fair trade fashion, to some people, may sound like a new crafty non-profit trend. Not truly artistic. Not truly fashion. More like an agenda, a mission; but I would like to prove those people wrong. I also want to look at the glass half full: I hope that the people seeking humanitarian, ethical – and perhaps sustainable or organic – clothing, can find it with just a tidbit of gentle nudging and critical advice. And not just some ethnic print clothing made by tribal women paid fairly for their labor (unless you like that style; I won’t judge) or graphic tees manufactured in a sweatshop-free garment factory, but actual contemporary, stylish, creative and well-fitted apparel that just happens to not have been produced by slaves or child labor.
Two years ago I learned that modern-day slavery practically runs several billion-dollar industries. That there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today – more than ever in history. That 1 million children are sex slaves and thousands of women are trafficked in and out of every single country in the world each year for enforced prostitution. I also learned that the term “sweatshop” barely describes the suffering and inequality rampant in farms and factories across the nations. I made a movie for my senior thesis in college about a woman deceived into an American job that turned out to be a brothel. I became an advocate for anti-trafficking in a few ways. I try to buy fair trade anything when I can find it at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and now Target. I started an online ethical shopping guide with another young woman, which will eventually become an interactive searchable website for Fair-minded consumers. I receive newsletters from the Not for Sale Campaign and Fair Trade Towns as well as a local organization. I tell people what I know when I feel I have the voice. I am not doing enough.
I got out of college in May of 2010, my heart and my mind set on breaking into the film industry. I don’t need to get into the whole story, but I became broke really quickly and moved a couple thousand miles back to my hometown in the Midwest. Trust me, there is no booming film industry near where I live. Oh, there’s also no fashion. Or much of a creative outlet at all outside of scrap-booking. But I know I have to do what I can to be creative, and to keep up with my fair trade/anti-trafficking efforts. So, several months ago, I decided to combine them.
I made the decision to start researching fair trade fashion so that I could start a business. I read up on fashion. I took inspiration from People Tree – an amazing fair trade and organic fashion line in London and Tokyo – and a couple American retailers. Mostly People Tree. They have lovely clothing. To get back on track, I also read up on small businesses: how to write a business plan and apply for a business license and find funding. I listened to some advice from my aunt, who recently started a green publishing company in British Columbia, Canada. I then moved and started a job at a call center (then left to become an office manager elsewhere) and considered becoming a doctor and missed making movies and put it all off for a bit.
Now, all the fair trade fashion ideas are seeping back into my philanthropic/creative soul, and for now, since I am only twenty-three years old and a baby at everything, I will just try to inspire people like me. Who want to wear pretty clothes that were made by a well-fed, equally paid, fairly treated, free adult. People who won’t accept that we can live our overstuffed American lives without thinking of the consequences of purchasing and wearing garments that little children and underfed women cut and dyed and sewed together for us.
Fashion is a really big industry. The top designers sell their clothing for extremely high prices, and the likeliness that those garments were made by slaves or low-paid workers is about the same as a $15 pair of jeans from Wal-Mart. To exchange beautiful clothes for low prices won’t make a difference in the lives of the garment workers in China or India. What will make a difference is creating clothes that people want to wear because of quality, are willing to pay a few extra bucks for so that the people who make it are treated fairly, and finally compete with designer and mainstream labels.
So here begins my journey into exploring where those clothes may be found, and how to inspire business- and fashion-minded people into influencing the industry with Fair Trade clothing.