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Friday, December 26, 2008

Fair Trade Fashion

In today's clothing market, you'd be hard-pressed to find high-quality items for your wardrobe that aren't made in sweatshops overseas under torturous conditions, priced up hundreds of times more than the wages paid to manufacturers' workers, and ultimately design-homogenized for the mass market. Whenever I walk into a store, be it H&M, the Gap, a little hole-in-the-wall boutique, or even an online shop, I consider my options--do I really want to pay this price for a dress made out of plasticky material, probably made by someone half my age working sixteen hours a day?

I'm not really crushed by this sense of guilt or impending judgement, but it's always something to consider. What kind of clothes are worth my money? How can I maximize my dollar, when money is tight right now? I am entering a phase of my life now when the wear-twice-throw-away quality of H&M's otherwise stylish pieces are impractical. Being in a new job, though, I'm still not financially stable enough to do the kind of wardrobe basics restock a la Tim Gunn's Guide to Style (I love you, Tim Gunn!). Obviously, corporations running chain stores like J. Crew, Zara, Banana Republic, United Colors of Benetton, et cetera, have masterfully cornered this market and pretty much clothe every working man or women between the ages of 18 and 45 in America today. I've started looking for other options. Other, new, exciting, affordable, fair trade, environmentally and labor rights-responsible resources for a little wardrobe refresher.

First up is out of the UK, Adili.com organizes their collections by age cohort, but don't let that stop you exploring! Here's an example of my one problem with a lot of fair trade clothing...it's just too expensive for what it is. I understand the reasoning behind it, and I do love this dress by Kowhai:

This knit vest by People Tree has the librarian-chic whimsy of a piece you might see at Urban Outfitters. Isn't that cute? But for nearly US$400, I couldn't justify that kind of expense. I want to be fiscally AND morally responsible! (Tip: a quick and dirty way to approximate UK pounds sterling in US dollars is to simply multiply the UK pounds by two.) Adili's shoe collection is a fascinating mix of crunchy-granola burlap-and-string sandals and super-classy, chic high heels. Tempting, no?

Also in the UK (why do they have all the best shopping? OH JEALOUSY) is Fashion-Conscience, where you can shop by your pet cause: organic, fair trade, sustainable, recycled, or vegan. These Amelia two-tone brogues are super-classy.
As someone whose wardrobe consists of a very basic palette and a ska fan, I have a deep love of two-toned shoes. The race-car red! The office-appropriate heel!

If you want a Nike alternative, the Autonomie Project has the spitting image of Converse low-top sneakers that are close to the same price as the "real" thing. In fact, Equita's whole "outlet" sale section has a great variety of bags, tops, and jackets for you and yours!

As you've probably seen recently in the mainstream chain stores, "organic" natural fabrics are a new, huge profit area. I think the fair trade movement is ready to move into the mainstream as well, as consumers become thriftier and try to shop with a conscience. We want our dollars to stretch further, and give our consumerism significance for the rest of the world. Don't you agree? I can't say that I will always buy fair trade, organic, or green, but I can try!


Images from Adili.com and Fashion-Conscience.com.

1 comment:

Barry Wright, III said...

Obviously fair-trade garments will necessarily cost more than non-fair-trade ones, but I think currently most purveyors of these pieces are making you pay more "to feel good."

Once someone who realizes that offering these items for more reasonable prices will do more good for the world, sustainable fashion will take off.

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