Surprise! It’s October.

October 1, 2013 in Fashion, Social Responsibility, Style, Sustainability by alliemcc

It's true. I know. Don't worry– you're not the only one looking around for a calendar to check the date.

The great thing about this particular October right here, is that it's the 10th annual Fair Trade Month!

This year, Fair Trade USA has expanded it's third party certification to fibers and apparel, so we have lots to talk about.

Stay tuned, as I'll be posting lots of info on Fair Trade and fair trade, and how it relates to your personal style.

To get started, click the image below to take a short, fun quiz, perhaps win a prize, and learn a little bit more about Fair Trade certification, or just go to

fair trade farm worker girl


Fair Trade: Why I Care

October 16, 2013 in Fashion, Social Responsibility, Sustainability by alliemcc


Last week, 2 weeks ago (good golly, time fliesI posted a quick quiz about fair trade, to mark the beginning of October, Fair Trade Month, a promotion of Fair Trade USA. This isn't a sponsored series, just an issue that I think you should know about, something I'm very passionate about.


bandaid juliaf

Image by JuliaF


For 2 years, I worked as a social work case manager, helping newly arrived refugees and survivors of human trafficking adjust to their new lives in the U.S. On a regular basis, my co-workers and I would discuss our work, new issues that came up with clients, new things we learned, but always circling back to 2 issues:

  1. the anti-trafficking activist movement and all the social workers and law enforcement who are helping trafficking survivors are really just putting a bandaid on the issue;
  2. so how do we stop trafficking, prevent it before it starts, and decrease the demand for forced labor? and how do we empower people to avoid becoming vulnerable to the fear, deception, and violence that traffickers utilize?

I left that job for various reasons, but that 2nd side of the coin– preventing trafficking and empowering vulnerable people– stayed with me. Over the next few years, as I got back to my creative roots and my love of fashion, I saw the potential of the internet and the fashion industry to create change. So here we are.

As with anything that has to do with human beans, trafficking is hella complicated— its causes, prevention, and rehabilitation (aka "rescue") of survivors.

One thing that is a common thread, though, is that ultimately all trafficking survivors were taken advantage of by someone who knew they needed to make money to survive. They were preyed on because of their need for an income and their dream of the better life that would bring.

So, from early on, I realized that one way to keep people out of such a desperate economic situation, is to increase the number of people who are working under fair trade conditions.

Stay tuned for the next article in this Fair Trade series when I'll get into the nitty-gritty of how it really works.

HFFB logo


Fair Trade: What is it?

October 23, 2013 in Fashion, Social Responsibility, Sustainability by alliemcc

We're about the get a little economical, so just hang with me.

Fair trade is the market-based answer to charity. Instead of perpetuating the charity cycle, which just creates dependency on handouts, fair trade principles ensure that farmers get a fair price for their harvest, based on the market, i.e. supply and demand. Trading is done directly, without a middleman, which would otherwise take a chunk out of the farmer's price. These transactions generally involve agricultural products which are sold for export.

gujarati farmer

A farmer in Gujarat, India. Photo by vasantdave


The most commonly Fair Trade certified products are coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, other produce, and flowers.

In addition to fair payment, fair trade ensures that working conditions are safe, farm workers get a living wage, and workers maintain the right to organize for collective bargaining.

All of these principles create positive impacts, like allowing working families to eat better quality food, keep their kids in school, receive healthcare, improve their housing, and save and invest for the future.

And the environment benefits, too. Fair trade agreements require that local ecosystems are protected, and farmers are encouraged and supported in transitioning to organic agriculture

Each fair trade certification organization has its own variation on these principles, so be sure to investigate what they're actually certifying, if you want to know more about a particular issue. Fairtrade International is basically the global leader on Fair Trade standards. Fair Trade USA certifies some products being imported to the US.

Here's more, from this [very negatively-biased] Wikipedia article:

Although no universally accepted definition of 'fair trade' exists, fair trade labeling organizations most commonly refer to a definition developed by FINE, an informal association of four international fair trade networks (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations InternationalWorld Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Network of European Worldshops and European Fair Trade Association (EFTA)): fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the [global] south.

Next time, I'll be talking about Fair Trade cotton and clothes–finally!!!

Here's a short video about Fair Trade Arabica coffee grown in Tanzania.


On the Fairtrade Coffee Trail from Fairtrade America on Vimeo.


Fair Trade: How to wear it

October 31, 2013 in Fashion, Social Responsibility, Style, Sustainability by alliemcc

Here it is: the last part in my series on Fair Trade for Fair Trade Month! Now we get to the good stuff: fashion.

Ethical and sustainable fashion has come a long way since the movement really started taking off in the 90s. There's still way too much yogawear and graphic t-shirts in that space, but the tide is turning. Now, you can actually wear stylish, on-trend, high quality garments out in public!

This year brought the first cohort of Fair Trade certified clothing and shoes, certified by Fairtrade USA (Fairtrade International is continuing to work on standards). Previously, only agricultural products were able to be certified, not manufactured ones.

Cotton— the fabric of our lives– as an agricultural product, is currently eligible for certification by Fairtrade Int'l and Fairtrade USA. The complication comes in certifying an entire supply chain which creates a single garment.

This article at Entrepreneur explains how factory workers in the garment industry will benefit from Fairtrade USA auditing, pricing, and certification:

All workers at Fair Trade certified factories receive a Fair Trade "premium" paid by the brand hiring the supply services. That extra money goes into a single, collective bank account controlled by the laborers in the factory. The workers themselves then vote to decide whether they will use their Fair Trade premium for a community need or pay it out as a cash bonus to each employee. In Liberia, Fair Trade factory workers voted to use their disbursement to support a local school. In India, factory workers are considering establishing a computer training center and clean water projects in nearby villages with their disbursement.

Here's a great short video that gives you a window into how Fair Trade works for small cotton farmers:

On the Trail of Fairtrade Cotton from Fairtrade International on Vimeo.

And if you've been skimming the news headlines for the past 5+ years or so, you may have an inkling into why organic and fair trade cotton is so super important.

Of the Fairtrade USA certified brands, here is my pick:

oliberte shoes f13 lookbook

Oliberte – shoes made in Ethiopia using goatskin leather, of the desert-boot/ boat-shoe variety– quite rugged-looking. They also have a very cute light blue sneaker. And some badass looking backpacks.


There are gajillions of other ethical fashion companies, social enterprises, sustainable designer brands out there who are doing the right thing, but don't happen to be using Fair Trade-certified factories. As I mentioned before, if you find something to covet, do some snooping around on their about pages and in the ethical and eco-fashion media to check out their standards and their reputation.

Jewelry and accessories are heavily represented in this arena– as I mentioned here and here.

Some of my favorite ethical, responsible, and fair– one way or another– fashion brands are:

people tree stripe dress

People Tree Tilly Stripe Dress


For high fashion, with commensurate prices, Maiyet and Edun are doing amazing things, and creating beautiful products.

Etsy is a great source for small brands and independent designers that care about the same things you do– enter the factors that are important to you (i.e. organic, ethical, sustainable, upcycled) in the search box, and prepare to be wowed.

Don't forget to shop Made in the USA! Our democratic government, rule of law, and protections for workers mean that garment industry workers here are generally well paid, safe, and healthy. Brands doing American Made really well are American Apparel, Nanette Lepore, and Milly.

Be sure to take a look through my sustainable Shopcade closet here for a selection of my faves from these brands.