Is it hard to be a 100% Fair Trade shop?

When I first started our shop nearly two years ago, I had a vision that I wanted to be "mostly fair trade."  But then, because it was so easy to find incredibly stylish and unique products that were also fair trade, this commitment quickly changed to 100% fair trade.  This commitment has been relatively easy to uphold.  So easy, in fact, that sometimes I get mad that more stores do not care about this.

We live in a world where unless a product is fair trade, it is probably made in bad to awful conditions. 

The average seamster in Cambodia earns $3 a day, which buys them a small cut of meat in their grocery store.  Not enough to feed a family. The sewers are usually women, which means that most products in Western shops involve the exploitation of women.

After working in the clothing industry for two years, I have come to equate products that are not fair trade as probably made by slaves.  When the emphasis is on a trendy brand name, how many people are asking about how the product is made? 

When I was traveling in Indonesia I went to a small island where every day, the villagers who lived in raw mud huts would spend hours hauling out seaweed from the sea and picking through it.  They were "dirt poor," and working for guess who?  A fashionable makeup brand.  Fashionable as in, really high-end creams sold in fancy schmanzy boutiques.  Exploitation like this is just the normal way business is done.  Exploit the poor and package it pretty to sell to Westerners.

When I started this shop, I did have vague worries that running a fair trade store would mean my options would be limited to Rasta backpacks and Bob Marley tee shirts.  (Actually, most Bob Marley tee shirts aren't fair trade or even organic.)  I was delighted to find truly beautiful, classy clothes that are not only sewn fair trade, but designed locally.  By having conversations directly with the designers, I was able to confirm their honest commitment to creating and supporting communities in China, Africa, and other economically challenged areas.  Marilyn of Blue Sky has even named the babies of her seamsters. 

I suspect that most shops do not commit to fair trade because

1) They are brand-focused instead of value-focused. 

2) They want to find products the conventional way, perhaps perceived as "easy," by going to trade shows.  Most products at trade shows are not fair trade.

My response to number one, is that when you run a shop you have a responsibility to change the world.

Yes, people can change.  We Americans can evolve from looking at the brand name to looking at who made it.  We can start to care that Sonja, even though she lives half-way around the world, is being treated like crap to bring you some fancy thing.

My response to number two is, you haven't even tried yet.

It was incredibly easy finding awesome, quality products that are also fair trade.  It just takes the Internet and a phone.  Skip the trade show circuit.  They are boring anyways.

Now our shop is also 100% organic.  The only challenge has been finding fashionable men's clothes that are organic and fair trade.  The other challenge has been finding fair trade + organic + made in the USA.  Sometimes customers have this idea that in order to be really great everything should be made in the USA.  As one designer put it, she would not take work away from her community (in China) whom she has grown to love over many years.  Another line we carry is directly employing refugees and Aids widows in Africa.  I don't want to take away their jobs, do you?

Having some clothing made in the USA is important to us, and we'd like to see more.  We just believe there is a place for both locally sewn and globally sewn, to support economically disadvantaged parts of the world that are far worse off than here.

Does fair trade matter to you, and if not are you willing to spend some time thinking about it?  Asking your shops "where it is made" and "is it fair trade" will help send the message that this is important to you, and it will help change our world.

Amy Kraus

Owner, Naked Clothing