Women and Fair Trade

As founder of a fair trade fashion line I find myself in a unique position interacting with so many different kinds of people in the fashion and fair trade industries. My job is to kind of bridge the gaps between them. I help producer groups understand what will sell in the States. I help promote their work to stores in the States. I help stores understand the unique challenges a lot of these groups face. It seemed appropriate to talk about all the amazing women that make up this industry on International Women’s Day…

I have known the people who make my own clothes for years. They show me pictures of their kids, pictures of their grand kids. They think it’s strange that I take pictures of doors. They think my designs are a little strange. They work really hard and no matter what kind of factory they work in, they are grateful for their jobs. I know how hard their lives are, even working in better jobs than most of their peers; they still live in developing countries which means they still live with the threat of gang violence in their neighborhoods. They still have fewer opportunities than we do in the Western world. They are always working to give their children better lives. They almost always use the money they earn to send their kids to better schools hoping their kids will have better lives than they do.

I know the shop owners who sell my clothes, women who own their own business and have a lot of grit; women who aren’t afraid of the hustle. These women have style…I mean they are cool! Cooler than I will ever be!

I know the incredible people who started NGOs and small workshops in developing countries. These people are the real magic behind what I do! I am always amazed by their perseverance. They face incredible challenges with cultural differences, lack of funding, lack of resources. Most of them have worked with their organizations for years! They walk alongside the people they employ. They pour into their lives and understand the complexity - the challenges of life in developing countries, because most of them live in the midst of it themselves. These people have given up so much and I am continually inspired by them!

I have become friends with many other people who have started companies that are seeking to create beautiful products with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place. They are in insanely creative and hardworking people and if I was completely honestly a little idealistic and naïve, but people with inspiring visions who are driven by stories and have really good stories to tell. They have this charisma that I am most of the time jealous of.

And then there are a few super cool designers like me :)

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One of my mentors was talking about why she thinks this industry is important, why ethical/fair trade/sustainable/whatever you want to call it fashion is important. I will never forget what she said, “There are so many do good brands! But there are SO MANY clothes produced every year! That is where the real change can happen. If our clothing alone was produced better - that would change the world.”

I still think this is true, but I have also come to realize if this is going to happen it is going to take all these kinds of people to make any change. It takes designers, manufacturers, humanitarians, and shoppers who are making small changes. Even though I have my own fair trade brand, I honestly love seeing new brands that are making clothing with a better story, or just sharing how their clothing is being produced. 

It is no secret that the clothing industry is one of the most pollutant industries. It is associated with some of the worst social rights injustices. The people who sew our clothes are many times not given a second thought.

Changing this takes advocates for people living in developing countries, people who see potential in brightly colored textiles and the wealth of handcrafts in developing countries. It takes store owners who are willing to understand the differences of clothing sewn by small workshops. It takes consumers spending a little more time to find garments they love and are produced mindfully. And it takes seamstresses and weavers who are working to give their children better lives. 

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While it can be really difficult to bridge the gaps between all these groups, I am also really thankful to get to interact with so many incredible women. Women who inspire me. 

I am always drawn to beauty, drawn to people who create beauty and I think this is what inspires me most about women. They are people who work to create beauty in their corner of the world even in the smallest ways.

Grateful for all of these women, grateful to be inspired by them.

Photo: @ncanada with @la.workshop in Guatemala City