For me, ethical really is the new black.
I go through a style reboot about every six months. I don’t have a publicist advising me to keep my image fresh. I’m just naturally indecisive, and my love of clothing never allows me to settle in to one particular style.
My latest wardrobe craze is fair trade and ethically produced clothing from developing countries.
It all started on a mission trip to India. The Indian fabrics and artwork were absolutely stunning, but the poverty and injustice was heartbreaking. I worked with the medical team for a few days in small, rural villages, and the doctors saw numerous eye infections, lung issues, and women receiving medical attention for the first time.
On the other hand, I was breaking apart pills with scissors and trying not to be a nuisance in the pharmacy. After completing our work in Uttar Pradesh, we toured the city of Delhi and stopped at a local tourist market. Our leader made our souvenir stop this particular market because all the proceeds went to helping disabled Indians. I fell in love with everything there and wished I brought a bigger suitcase. The trip was over a year ago, and I’m still using the handbag I bought there, which is an extremely long time for me.
That wonderful market opened my eyes to the concept of doing good with my purchases and the wide-world of fair trade.
Back home, I started researching different places where I could find unique clothing with a purpose deeper than higher profit margins. I didn’t have any trouble finding tons of great retailers selling clothing and accessories that helped people in need all over the world. It’s not just clothing, either. From coffee to soccer balls, almost everything you need can be found fair trade.
To be Fair Trade Certified, companies need to meet FLOCERT’s standards in labor and trade practices. Another option is purchasing from a Certified B Corporation. A B Corp is a for-profit company that is dedicated to positive change for a social or environmental issue. (For certified fair trade manufacturers go to Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade.net or the World Fair Trade Organization.)
Most manufacturers are quite proud of their B Corp or fair trade status, so they advertise it right on their labels and websites. It’s best to play it safe and purchase from certified manufacturer, but if they aren’t certified yet, don’t be afraid to email the company and dig a little deeper into their practices.
I’ve been on the fair trade train for almost a year, and I’m not ready to change tracks anytime soon. Not only does my latest style look great, but I have experienced these unexpected benefits:
1.) Making new friends.
When I carried my Louis Vuitton, the only question anyone ever asked was “Is that real?” Which was sometimes followed up by “How much did that cost?” At the time, it was my unicorn, and I usually had a snippy answer. However, when I’m carrying my hot pink Indian tote bag the questions have been transformed into compliments. Instead of going on the defensive, I’m happy to open up tell my stories about India. It can lead to fun conversations and friendships with fellow travelers.
2.) Feeling good and looking good.
We all know purchasing fair trade can leave you with all the warm and fuzzies, but don’t all the clothes look like they belong on a strung-out, van-driving hippie? Absolutely not! Although there’s nothing wrong with being a hippie love child, there are fair trade retailers appealing to all different styles. Featuring local designs and artwork from their country of origin, fair trade pieces can be nothing short of stunning.
3.) Buying less, but buying better.
Fair trade clothing typically costs more than their non-ethical competitors. While going through my style transformation, I couldn’t just quickly buy four new shirts to fill my closet. I had to put more thought into my wardrobe. The result is a leaner closet filled with thoughtful pieces that I love and wear frequently. Being handmade in small batches, fair trade clothing is typically very high quality and will last a long time with proper care.
4.) Changing my life one necklace at a time.
Okay, so maybe that new fair trade necklace didn’t bring me prince charming, but wearing ethically sourced clothing has led to a lot of changes in my life. I’m now more conscious in all my buying decisions. I’ve opened my mind to new causes, and learned more about all the injustice over the globe. All this education has encouraged me not just to buy “good,” but to actually go out there and do something good.
October is Fair Trade Month, so it’s the perfect time to add a few fair trade pieces to your wardrobe. We vote with our money, and I’m voting for a better world.
Author: Staci Lerch-Moist
Editor: Renée Picard