We know that shopping can significantly improve our outlook on life during a bad hair day (or hair decade as was the case for me in the eighties). We also know that shopping can be a great alternative to traditional therapy, but if shopping could really change the world, don’t you think we’d all be trying to figure out how to shop as a full-time career?
As it turns out, a new consumer trend that really can change the world is emerging—it’s called fair trade. Fair trade is the idea that when we engage in free trade, we do it in such a way that it benefits the people and communities making the products we buy. Fair trade principles include paying a fair wage in the local context, ensuring clean & safe working conditions, building long-term business relationships and providing feedback so producers can adapt to shifting market demands. When we choose fair trade products we’re sending a message to retailers and manufacturers that we are shopping with our values. Fair trade, ethically sourced products are one way to know that your purchases are making a difference. What this means for us as shoppers is greater access to high-quality, fashion-forward jewelry, clothing and accessories that integrate beautifully into our existing style.
The majority of fair trade handcrafts—things like scarves, jewelry, small gifts and accessories—are made in the informal economy, the part of the economy that isn’t regulated and has no governmental oversight to prevent exploitation. For example, in the United States, when we pay the neighborhood teenager to mow our lawn or we pay someone to clean our house, those people don’t really have any power if they aren’t treated fairly. In the rest of the world, the informal economy tends to be a much larger portion of the total GDP, and globally, women make up 60-80% of this informal economy. As U.S. companies increasingly import products made by the informal sector, we need to ensure that these women are treated fairly.
Not only does fair trade provide employment for these women, but these same women tend to invest their increased earnings in their children’s education and nutrition. Studies have shown that as income increases to more than $2 per day there are many quantifiable positive social impacts such as decreased infant mortality, longer life expectancy and lower health care costs. As one real life example can show, World of Good, a fair trade handcrafts company in the United States, worked with 5,680 artisans in 2006. Those artisans were responsible for an estimated 22,720 dependents, so by simply choosing a fair trade product, consumers improved the lives of over 28,000 people worldwide. That’s one powerful fashion accessory.
Staying in style while empowering women around the world keeps getting easier as forward-thinking fair trade brands merge mission and fashion. For classic fashion staples with a modern twist, Fair Indigo is a high-quality, fair trade brand started by former Land’s End executives. For the fair trade fashionista there’s Edun, the fair trade clothing label started by Bono’s wife. For great fair trade accessories like jewelry, scarves and handbags, check out World of Good. Okay, so back to our original question—can shopping really change the world? The good news is that the answer is yes. The great news is that with these trend-forward brands we no longer have to sacrifice style to make choices that reflect our values. Global retail therapy—shopping doesn’t get any more empowering than that.
Related Story: “One Bag Bought= One Child Fed”