Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Switching my shopping to fair trade

Teenagers are often associated by some small-minded people with insatiable consumerism and ruthless disregard for the environment in their shopping habits. If I had wanted to become one of these teenagers, I would never have stood much of a chance.

My mother is a ruthless shopper at the opposite end of the scale. She has been known to scare away door-to-door fishmongers with her declarations that “we don’t eat meat, our freezer is full of Quorn and lentils, and we’ve decided not to buy cod or haddock as they are endangered species.” At the time she was wearing a stripy, overtly Fairtrade T-shirt, and holding a canvas bag with ‘ONE LESS PLASTIC BAG’ printed across it.

I think I was about 13 when I decided to give up non-Fairtrade chocolate. A few months later I was joined by my little sister. It is not as hard as it sounds. I’m happy to say that a lot seems to have changed on the Fairtrade front over the last three years, and Cadbury’s and I are now best friends once more. Even before that, there were plenty of Fairtrade options open to us which are just as good as Cadbury’s.

My sister favours the Comic Relief Dubble Bars; my after-exam cravings tend to lean towards Traidcraft chocolate buttons, or else Fair Break (shameless plagiarism from Kit Kat, but Nestle deserve what they get!). It is also helpful to know that the Co-operative, the Rainforest Alliance and Green and Blacks have their own ethical policies concerning treatment of workers (ie they count as Fairtrade!)

Even if you really can’t bear to be parted from that Twix bar, it’s equally important to write to companies and let them know you care. It’s become a family joke that it was my very moody and hormonal letter that got Cadbury’s into the Fairtrade thing. Joking aside, I’m fairly sure those letters are counted up- enough of them will make a difference.

Then there are the clothes. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘parrot fashion’ takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Fairtrade vestments. If you don’t find yourself flapping with gratuitous bits of fabric which resemble wings, you will almost certainly be transformed into a stripy zebra, usually of the pink and orange variety.

I don’t have an infallible answer to this problem (if you do, email FoE NOW!). There are some good websites: I recently bought my prom dress from Fashion Conscience.com, and I also have some awesome converses from Ethletic. Natural Collection have some nice clothes, but they aren’t the most reliable at delivering orders. Traidcraft T-shirts can be cool, but most of their clothes are not really teen-friendly .

I realise that if your views on shopping are not analogous to mine (hate it!) there is an inherent problem with buying clothes online. Well, M&S has the occasional Fairtrade range, as does Store 21 on Kings Heath High Street. In town there is Shared Earth, if you don’t mind a rainbow of crazy colours ending in a pot of gold to pay. That’s about it really.

I don’t know if it’s possible to dress Fairtrade all the time- I normally aim for one ethical item per outfit. Really it’s about supporting Fairtrade when you can, and likewise trying to avoid sweatshops. While one pair of converses is all very well, the quickest way to promote Fairtrade is to show the companies at the top what we insatiable consumers really want.

Shoshi Stanton


Tom said...

Really interesting and inspiring blog post. For Fair Trade / Ethical fashion you might however want to look beyond outlets which trade on the fair trade thing.
I love my clothes, especially designer labels such as Paul Smith, Aquascutum or John Smedley. These are all stitched together in England, so by buying them you're supporting British jobs. When you pay what seems like a lot for a garment made in the UK, you re paying for the health and safety of the workers making it, good working conditions and so on. When you pay a lot for something made in the far east, all you're paying for is the kudos of wearing a brand.
The other point about classic British, or European designers is the clothes don't go out of fashion. They also last a long time. My philosophy is to buy less, better quality.
If you get bored with something, if its a good quality garment, you can pass it on to someone else to enjoy.
I know with teenagers your tastes can alter quickly, you're still growing and you don't have the money we do to spend on clothes.
However, its worth considering using birthdays or Christmases to invest in one or two basic items, around which you can mix and match cheaper items. Classic clothes look great on anyone, whatever their age.

Explore Top Shop and H & M, because they have ranges of organic cotton although they are pretty dubious companies and I think their whole business model of cheap, disposable fashion is basically wrong.
I've bought some superb shirts on my travels. These are made by tailors, self employed, in workshops usually attached to their houses. I have several shirts, made to measure, in exclusive designs you won't find on any High Street. I've always paid the price asked and still walked off with an absolute bargain. If you travel anywhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America you can find superb, hand made clothes and accessories made by hand and that way support the local economies. Worth considering if you're going travelling or have any friends setting off on gap years...

Anonymous said...

Great blog entry, but please don't forget that charity shops are one of the most ethical and environmentally friendly choices. They try very hard these days to make sure the clothes are of a good quality. There are some real bargains t obe had! You can always swap buttons, add some braid or ribbon, or chop clothes up if you're clever enough!

I also found this the other day:

How about having clothes swap parties with your friends, or having a bring and buy sale at school?

But don't forget - too much consuming is not good for this one planet :/