Fair Trade Clothing

Walking with Cake: Design-Apparel-Femme-de-la-Rochelle

(Femme de la Rochelle, a public domain image, via Vintage Printable.)

When I was growing up in San Antonio, the local Levi’s Jeans factory closed and relocated to Costa Rica, putting thousands of San Antonians out of work.  My family, along with most of the city, boycotted Levi’s for years afterwards.

During that same time period, my sisters and I became friends with two neighbor girls who lived down the street from us.  Their mother worked long hours in her garage, sewing blouses for a local clothing factory.  I remember playing in their house while she worked at her sewing machine, and we would sometimes take a peek at the things she produced.  I can remember seeing the product labels lying in a neat pile, ready for my friend’s mom to sew them into each blouse, just below the collar.  When she met her quota, she would bundle up the blouses and drop them off at the clothing factory.  I think I even got to ride along a time or two.

In college, I worked for a large department store, and occasionally, I was assigned to the warehouse, where I unloaded clothing directly from trucks, shipped straight from the factories where it was made.  Many items were wrapped in plastic, which had to be removed, but some were simply packed in boxes.

I’ve always had an interest in clothing and fashion, and my early experiences helped me realize that, though we never see them, our clothes are made by real people somewhere.  I love to shop and I pay attention to fabrics, but it was my search for cotton clothing that marked the beginning of my entry into the fair trade market, something I’m still learning about every day.

October Rebel, one of my favorite fashion bloggers, is on a quest to purchase only thrifted and fair trade clothing, and through her blog, I’m learning more about the industry, which works to provide clean, safe work environments and fair market wages for the employees of clothing manufacturers.  Around the time I wrote about cotton, a clothing factory in Bangladesh literally collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people.  After that, I really started paying attention to where my clothing comes from.

Though I consider myself a frugal shopper and I’m not particularly attached to my clothing, I’m guilty of buying a cheap top or skirt on a whim, just for fun.  I’ve often glanced at the label, wincing with a tinge of guilt when the item was made in some far off place.  But now, I’m actively trying to be conscientious about my purchases, and I’m thinking about the people who make them.  As I’m learning about fair trade clothing and buying it periodically, I’ll be sure to share it with you, too.

One of my hopes for my boys is that they will grow up to be caring and compassionate men, and I want to set a better example for them when it comes to purchasing things we use every day, like clothing.  In our house, we’re pretty good about buying local foods when we can, and this just seems like the next step for me.  I won’t say it’s become my mission, but it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so I will write about it from time to time and share resources with you as I find them.

I hope you’ll enjoy these posts and maybe learn a thing or two.  Please also feel free to share your own information about fair trade products.

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