I started Style Wise with the relatively simple mission to promote fair trade clothing. But it’s become clear to me that it’s time to take things a step further.
We hear the terms organic and fair trade tossed around in the same conversations, but I think we often fail to differentiate between the terms. I recently suggested to a coworker that our company promote and use more fair trade products with the hope that the business could be a leader for change in its particular market. She responded: “We already offer organic options.” I resisted the urge to turn my head down and sigh.
People know organic. We buy organic produce, organic bamboo sheets, and organic cotton dresses. And, due in part to excellent marketing on the part of organic lobbyists and producers, we think we’re getting the best of the best when we see the Organic label. And it’s true that we’re more likely to support eco-minded farmers when we purchase organic products. But organic doesn’t guarantee that laborers are paid fair wages or that work conditions are safe.
So we change the subject to fair trade. We now have access to hundreds of products that were produced by laborers who received a living wage. We buy from American Apparel, People Tree, and Mata Traders. And we feel great because we see the smiling faces of laborers spread all over the globe. But fair trade doesn’t guarantee that cotton farmers aren’t forced to inhale pesticides or that land is properly maintained or that water supplies are clean.
But for some reason – maybe the two categories emerged independently of one another? – we very rarely happen upon products that were produced under both fair trade and organic regulations. I’m starting to discover them, slowly, but it’s really surprising that there’s so little overlap considering that they apply to the same markets and appeal to the same people.
It’s time for me (for us, I hope) to seek out companies that use both fair trade and organic production practices. I’m falling farther down the rabbit hole of ethical living and I’m scared that it’ll be hard, inconvenient, or unpleasant. But I’ve realized in my journey so far that, by taking baby steps forward, I hardly feel the growing pains of the lifestyle changes that have occurred. Meanwhile, I’ve cut out almost all unethical clothing consumption and have been able to make a positive impact on others through articles, essays, and plain old conversation.
Ideally, companies should adopt an ethical model that encompasses all aspects of the production process. That means organic farming, fair labor practices, efficient use of energy in shipping and office space, sensitive and honest marketing tactics, and positive customer relations. Being great at any one thing just doesn’t cut it – too many people get hurt. So we’ll keep working to purchase wisely, make our voices heard, and make an impact in our spheres of influence. And maybe it won’t be too much longer now ’til things get better.
If you have some fair trade, organic suggestions, let me know!