On April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1138 low-wage garment workers and injuring 2500 more. Several well-known international brands were known to have clothing produced at Rana Plaza. On the second anniversary of this tragedy, conscious consumers around the world will mark Fashion Revolution Day by turning their clothes #insideout and asking their favorite brands who made their clothes.
As we prepare for the second anniversary of this event, we'll feature multiple ethical fashion bloggers on the Greenheart Shop blog, to share their stories about seeking out fair trade fashion alternatives, connecting with other conscious consumers, and their favorite new apparel and accessories at the Greenheart Shop this spring. Today, we're featuring Hannah Theisen, of the blog Life+Style+Justice.
Hannah Theisen blogs about conscious consumerism, fair trade, and social justice at Life+Style+Justice and can be found on instagram as @lifestylejustice. Hannah has spent the last 7 years in the Philippines and the US working with sex trafficking victims, refugee communities, orphans, and social enterprise startups. Now she spends her days working with cause-based brands and non-profits through her consulting business, Brand Dispatch. Read on for Hannah's thoughts on shopping consciously...
Q: How did you discover fair trade? When did you make it a priority to shop for fair trade products, rather than spending your dollars in conventional shops?
Long before I was involved with fair trade, I was involved with anti-sex trafficking work. I did quite a bit of teaching and public speaking, as well as providing direct services to trafficked women and running a small boutique selling survivor-made products. I was living a lifestyle of promoting justice through my words and my work but I became convicted that if I was running around saying that I was “against modern slavery,” I needed to be against it in all its forms… and that included labor trafficking. I knew that I needed to make some radical changes in my purchasing habits to ensure that I wasn’t contributing to companies and industries that didn’t value the same things I did. (Goodbye colorful foam flip-flops from Old Navy! Goodbye cheap throw pillows! Goodbye Reese's Pieces!)
In 2012 I embarked on a year-long journey where I pledged to ONLY purchase products that were ethically made. I wanted to see if it really was practical to make this lifestyle work for a “normal” person with a small budget and a busy schedule! Aside from a few inconveniences (I had to shop at two grocery stores to ensure that I could get both my fair trade chocolate and oils and my locally grown produce, I had to track down second-hand electronics when an appliance broke since I couldn’t find an affordable and ethical option), I found that it was easier than I thought it would be! I completed my “experiment year” and just didn’t look back!
Q: What’s your strategy for seeking out fair trade products? How do you find stores that are selling ethically-made items?
Lots of googling and scrolling though social media hashtags! Connecting with others who are also interested in fair trade and ethical goods and comparing notes on the ethical companies we’ve discovered (click here for an excellent list of ethical bloggers who always have good recommendations).
I think it’s also important to remember that fair trade isn’t always the only option… While looking for the fair trade certified label is often your best bet to make certain the that company is properly vetted and has taken the steps to create a fair and healthy working environment, don’t let that limit you - there are lots of ethical companies that haven’t yet been certified. Ask questions, do your research, and look for companies that manufacture in the USA (under fair conditions! Check to see if there is proper accountability, like third-party audits - sweatshops can exist in the US, too!), stores selling recycled clothing or goods, and handmade, slow-fashion pieces.
Q: Have you ever approached the owner of a fast fashion boutique and asked them to source fair trade products? How was that conversation received? Was it successful?
I haven’t personally managed to introduce new products to any fast fashion companies… however, I did work for a boutique years ago that sold both fair trade products and conventionally made, plastic purses. I campaigned long and hard to get those purses removed from the shop’s offerings, but they were some of the biggest money-makers in the shop and the funds were sorely needed. It can be difficult to compete with cheap, non-ethically sourced products!
Q: Why do you think it’s important for consumers to shop fair trade? Do you have any advice for people who are interested in seeking out fair trade products?
I’m a huge proponent of “everyday justice.” I think that often, when we’re confronted with great injustices like labor trafficking or poverty, the numbing and defeating thought of “there’s nothing I can really do” sets in. That’s really what I’m trying to combat with my blog - I want people to know that, yes, maybe it’s not practical for you to move overseas right now and do humanitarian aid work, but you can make a real difference in people’s lives by living with intention and “voting with your dollars” to ensure that the companies that do good in the world can thrive and grow.
You buy coffee every week, right? Why not spend a few dollars more and help a fair trade company make the money it needs to expand and hire more workers at fair wages? You’re looking for a new dress to wear to a wedding this summer? Buy a fair trade one and provide a day’s work for a woman who's saving up to go to university.
Just this week I walked into a local Target store and saw a fair trade coffee company’s beans on the shelf, as well as play sets from a locally-manufacturing toy company that creates awesome recycled and recyclable toys. I truly believe that as more and more consumers ask for better, more ethical options, we’ll be able to take ethical production and fair trade “mainstream” and reach the masses with a movement toward using our purchasing power for good.
Q: What are your favorite fair trade products?
I have so many!
Off the top of my head - The Divine Chocolate milk chocolate, toffee, and sea Salt bar. It's my favorite chocolate bar ever! (Ed. note: buy it from Greenheart Shop here!)
Also, PACT Fair Trade hoodies and socks. They're so soft, and have a great variety for girls and guys! My husband loves to shop at PACT, too. (Ed. note: Shop PACT's collection at Greenheart Shop here!)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Hannah!