Fair trade flair: How you can help lighten the dark side of cheap fashion

Vibrant prints from Global Mamas will be for sale at the film screening Saturday. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Film Screening and Trunk Show

FilmScene — Saturday, March 25 at 10 a.m.

Discover the devastating environmental and human cost of cheap fashion, discuss solutions with a panel of experts and take immediate action by adding fair trade flair to your closet this Saturday.

“The idea is to get everybody together to talk about solutions so we can collectively see what’s happening, but then figure out how we can move forward,” event organizer Cassidy Bell of Ten Thousand Villages said.

Featured film The True Cost lifts the curtain on an industry rife with exploitation, and a leading polluter second only to big oil.

Revival owner Sheila Davisson said The True Cost illuminates pieces of the process that consumers rarely think of, from cotton farming to leather tanning to dying the fabric and assembling the garment. It also shows the byproducts of those processes, and introduces the human beings that make it all happen.

“Seeing the conditions, and really getting to see that garment worker and watch them have a dialogue, and see that connection — I feel like that’s really important,” Davisson said.

After the screening, staff from Textiles, Revival and the City of Iowa City will lead an action-oriented panel discussion, and showcase fair trade fashion with a trunk show.

“I’m really excited about the panel discussion; I hope the audience participates a lot because I would like to hear what people in this community want from their fair trade vendors and their clothing retailers — and how all of us can work together to make this shopping climate a little brighter,” Bell said.

“One of the misconceptions might be that fair trade is a really specialized product, that it doesn’t hit the fashion high points,” Davisson said. “It’s just like any other fashion company, and it’s really more about choices the company is making.”

Dresses from Mata Traders. — photo courtesy of Mata Traders

For the trunk show, Ten Thousand Villages will showcase styles from Global Mamas, an all-female, nationwide network of Ghanaian artisans producing fashion, beauty products, gifts and home decor.

“They’re really great about helping small businesses and local artists, giving them microloans and a lot of business training,” Bell said. The vibrant prints include women’s blouses, skirts and dresses, men’s shirts and boxers and colorful, reversible children’s clothing.

Revival will contribute Mata Traders’ sturdy sundresses and elegant jewelry, imported from India and Nepal. The Symbology line, also produced in India, includes flowy garments like cactus-print jumpsuits and silky kimonos. Both companies print their own fabrics. Personal care products from Revival Apothecary may also be available.

Revival regularly carries the Mata Traders and Symbology lines and hopes to expand their fair trade selection. They also carry products sourced from small-scale producers that aren’t necessarily fair trade certified, but have responsible business practices.

“They provide fair wages, or, you know, it’s just an owner-operated sort of business. Most of the apothecary lines we carry we try to focus on those that are naturally produced, very ethically sourced,” Davisson said.

Jewelry from Mata Traders will be featured at the trunk show. — image courtesy of Mata Traders

“People assume that it’s going to be outrageously expensive, but since we’ve been open in October, I’ve noticed a lot of people come in the doors and be surprised at how affordable a lot of our pieces are,” Bell said. As in most other fashion sectors, some items can be pricey, but there is a middle ground where workers are paid a decent wage, and a bottom line that often indicates they aren’t. “Just know that if it’s really cheap that there’s a chance that it was made by somebody who was exploited.”

For those on a tight budget, or just seeking a wider selection than local fair trade offerings provide, resale stores are a more responsible choice than big-box retailers.

“You have to be able to buy what you can afford, so sometimes the customer’s not left with many options. So the resale aspect is really where I feel like we can kind of help the situation of this obscene amount of fabric and textiles. It’s just giving clothes a bit of a longer life,” Davisson said.

Event organizer Cassidy Bell of Ten Thousand Villages displays a reversible dress by Global Mamas. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Ten Thousand Villages’ Iowa City location has a limited clothing selection due to space constraints, but if business keeps going well they may expand to a larger space.

“We have a really conscientious population here, which is why we can have a Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade store. People are really supportive of it because they want to be ethical with their money,” Bell said.

Davisson encourages those who care about responsible sourcing to ask questions before buying. “More and more retailers will offer their customers what they want, if their customers voice that opinion of wanting fair trade and wanting to know where it came from,” she said. “It really starts with the consumer and your habits, and I think that’s how the real change happens.”

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