Fair trade. This two-word phrase has become a bit of a buzz word lately and for the most part, consumers know it is a good thing and they know it helps others. But, other than the logo being on your favorite coffee or chocolate, what does it really mean?
My fair-trade journey began very slowly, over the course of more than a year now, as I learned about different companies, causes, and the value of my dollar- not just where I was spending it, but how it was making an impact. In a small town, there doesn’t always feel like there are many opportunities to shop in a “fair trade” way. I am still not perfect and do not always get it right, but I have learned, slowly, that the process is just that: a slow process.
Now, take it from me, I have the perfect personality type to just sort of mess myself up (INFJ; Enneagram 6). I will get hooked on an idea and mull it over and ruminate some more, until I decide to jump head first. When it came to understanding fair trade and ethical standards, the moment that caused me to leap was the #whomademyclothes movement on Instagram. Just like that, I was ready to change where my dollars went, and to who.
The first year I explored every avenue I could, following accounts on Instagram, looking up brands and their policies, and trying to get my head around the fair-trade idea. I wanted to be like the Instagram influencers who have wardrobes of nothing but fair-trade items (which, I suppose, makes them good influencers). I am happy to say that I have many clothes that are now fair trade and could even pair down my closet to only those sustainably and ethically made, and I would be okay with what is left. But I also learned that I don’t want to waste clothes just because they were not made ethically. To me, that was almost like another slap in the face to the person who did make them; not only was I saying it was made in an unfair environment and those individuals lost fair wages because of my purchases, but my throwing it away would affirm the insignificant value of the clothes, and in turn the person who made them.
So, I shifted my thoughts once again and looked at my clothes. I really do like my clothes, even the ones that are not fairly made (just being honest here), and I knew that if I were able to get a good amount of wear out of them, I would also be doing my part by not adding to the fashion waste. For those who are not familiar with the terms, a quick internet search of “fast fashion versus slow fashion” is a definite eye opener.
Looking at my personal journey over the past year, I realize the power of a dollar really does go a long way. If I spend a little more on a pair of boots that are made by a real person getting the money they deserve and earned to make those shoes, as opposed to less than enough to feed their family for the day, then it is a conscious choice on my part to invest. Not just investing dollars into a company or a cause, but a significant investment into a person’s life, into their family’s life. And maybe I can’t afford to buy 10 pairs of shoes, but my buying one pair makes a much bigger difference in the life of that artisan compared to 10 shoes at a box store. I do what I can, taking small steps. Small steps are still steps, and if we all take those steps together, we can have a larger impact. Just think, my investment in a $80 pair of shoes multiplied by 100 other people buying the same shoe is an investment of $8000 toward fair wages for that artisan group. Choosing to purchase $24 or $30 pair of earrings from human trafficking survivors and telling others, who then do the same, multiples the impact. It sounds simple, because it is. Igniting change takes that simple step of choosing where you put your money.
It is not always easy, or convenient, to buy fair trade. Sometimes, you can’t always find what you are looking for, or you have to be committed to wait until your budget allows you to shop fairly. But every time you choose fair trade, you increase that small step forward. Changes are already being seen in places like Nordstrom, Levi, and even Target because these businesses are starting to listen to the shift in the consumer’s voice, as global awareness is more fully incorporated into our plugged in, accessible culture.
Wear your fair -trade clothes and shoes with pride. Serve up your fair- trade coffee or tea. Buy the hand painted platters or mugs from Morocco. Invest. Spread the news and change the consumer narrative.
And for your items that are not fair trade or ethical? Wear them in honor of the people that made them, the same people the fair-trade movement continues to fight for to have fair wages and decent working environments.
Invest. Into companies that have high standards of working environments. Companies that seek to build relationships and are on the ground, working directly with these artisans (and they are artisans because the skill they have is truly art). Invest in the lives of those who are treated unjustly. Small steps, small investments, huge impact. Together. Because that is the premise of fair-trade: building better lives and work spaces, together.