Learning about Fair Trade Fashion
My sister Juliette and I sometimes joke that we switched lives. Growing up, I dreamed of an “exciting” life traveling the world and seeing amazing places. My thought was that I would experience as many different places and cultures as I could before even thinking about “settling down” and having a family. Meanwhile, her heart’s desires were becoming a teacher, getting married, and then proudly taking on the title of Mom and investing in raising kids. As life often goes, some things haven’t turned out quite like we planned, some things haven’t come about yet, and we both discovered some additional passions. :)
I got married young, became a high school teacher, and have three kids I’m doing my best to grow into reasonable humans. My beautiful sister leads the more exciting life; for the past five years she has lived in Cape Town, traveled to countless countries, and is a fierce advocate for marginalized people and social justice on a global scale. So amazing right?! (Side note-I am so proud of her!) I think both of us occasionally think wistfully about some parts of the other’s life and work, but the truth of the matter is we’re both doing exactly what we’re made to do.
Through her work, I have gotten a glimpse of the complicated and heavy field that is social justice. I have so admired her for being “on the ground” making a difference in this realm, whether working to train police on what to look for, getting resources and education to at-risk populations and even working directly with human trafficking victims and safe houses to provide a space for healing and job skills training. While I have admired her work, I also felt a little inept in my impact in this area. I absolutely believe I make a difference here in my state, my town, at my school, in my students’ lives, but what about the rest of the world? Am I doing enough to make a difference on a broader scale?
Through my sister’s work, conversations with friends, books, and other research on my own, my eyes have become more and more open to the ways that the fashion industry is such a significant contributor to the issues of slavery and unsafe working conditions across the globe. I was raised to always be on the lookout for a good deal, and y’all, (shoutout to my fellow southerners ;) ) for a long time I just had no idea what my good deal meant for the working conditions of those who created the clothes/shoes/accessories. I admit I was a little (maybe a lot) naive in this area. As an adult, I learned more about quality and tried to shop smarter in that regard, but even then I didn’t put much thought into the whole pipeline of clothing production and whether the people who made my clothes were being treated well and given a fair wage.
For me the realization that what I choose to buy matters, and can make a difference in someone’s life across the world was an exciting one, but in that same moment an overwhelming and extremely daunting one. How can I afford (on a teachers salary) to clothe myself and my family in products from all these “fancy” (read: expensive) brands that care about ethics and quality and treating both our world and the humans in it with dignity? Do I have to be all or nothing? What does this look like in my actual life to make purchase choices that reflect my values? While I don’t have all the answers, and honestly I have LOTS more questions, I can say that I am so so excited for Brookes Collective to exist! I love that the focus is on clothing that will be timeless, so I’m not worried about having to replace an item next season. I love that one of their main goals is an affordable price point so that ethically made fashion is accessible to more of us. I love the transparency in their sources and manufacturers, and the personal stories of those who are physically creating the clothes. I appreciate that beyond promoting their own line, they are concerned with helping us all style the clothing pieces we already own in a way that is fashionable and timeless. Finally, I love that the founders of Brookes Collective make education a priority, and offer concrete actionable steps that each of us can take to increase our positive impact on the world. I know I have a long way to go, and lots more learning to do, but I look forward to continuing on this journey of making purposeful decisions when it comes to voting with my dollars!