Priya Patel, founder of Fashion for Development, guest blogs for PR Couture about her successful Fair Trade Fashion Show that introduced the important issue of Fair Trade Clothing to DC Fashion Week. For more information, please contact Priya at fashion4development[at]gmail.com.
Fashion For Development's Fair Trade Fashion show on February 28, 2007 was a huge success. The Fair Trade Fashion show opened this year's DC Fashion Week and welcomed over 500 guests to the show. This was the first time in DC Fashion Week's 4-year history that such a show was produced, and we hope to have a Fair Trade Fashion Show every year in the future! The event was attended by local media, World Bank staff and members of the public at the IFC auditorium, part of the World Bank Group. The show featured designers, retailers and producers who work with local artisans from developing countries. We ended with DC Fashion Week's featured designer, Knaf Couture from Ghana. Fashion for Development (F4D) worked closely with our special guests, the Fair Trade Federation as well as the Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund, and promoted several of their clients during the show. In addition, we would like to thank IFC's Grassroot Business Initative Program for co-sponsoring the event with F4D.
Promoting the event:
DC Fashion week posted their upcoming shows on their website. Since this was the opening and the first Fair Trade Fashion Show at DC Fashion week, a lot of interest came from members of the public. We also distributed flyers and posters to World Bank staff. We had an RSVP list which gave the list of names and associated companies. From this I estimate that 80% of people who attended were members of the public.
The decision to be the first show at fashion week wasn't strategic - I just happened to pick the date of the first show. However, it worked out for DC Fashion Week and myself in terms of publicity. It was a two way relationship, they wanted the relationship with the World Bank group as much we wanted them to produce our show.
The whole event was a huge networking opporunity for me and I met a lot of people working in the fair trade industry and emerging market event planning that want to be involved in future events together. PR at Partners did the hair for free - I have a friend who works there. They received huge publicity out of this, including a flyer in our event program. The DC Fashion Week producer was very impressed and is keeping them in mind for future events.
We had an open RSVP list being monitored by 2 people, and before long we had over 300 people so we had to close it. Our origninal thinking was that not all 300 people would show up, so we allowed also people to show up at the door. Unfortunately, due to capacity constraints, we ended up turning people away at the door, which created some negative responses the day after. This was a really difficult issue to deal with. The issue really was in communication to the security, they were given unclear and sometimes conflicting instructions for door security. In the end the RSVP list become redudant as anyone was allowed in. This upset people who had RSVP'd and I was greeted by some nasty emails the following morning. (I had no idea since I was not at the door at the time). I apologised and expressed this by giving them priority to any F4D events in the future. This seem to soften the blow for most participants who were felt mis-treated in this way. The event was free and open to everyone, but next year, we hope to have ticket sales to help control capacity. The money will go toward paying for event costs in terms of music, staging and venue had to be paid for. This year the cost of the show was split between myself and our IFC sponsor.
I did a press conference at the end of the show with the Hill newspaper and a couple of local papers. I have received other press, mainly from bloggers and and repsonses I have written for articles. I am also doing an interview tomorrow with another local publication.
Fair Trade Messaging
I am really proud of was the image on the program cover, taken in Kenya. Part of the image is a Kenyan model representing high glamour. The other is the same layout, like a fashion magazine, but with a Masai women wearing the same outfit.
The message here is, fashion is a tool to make development. I also included the worded message ethically fashionable, or fashionably ethical - as a ironic message to my cause. If ethical fashion becomes trendy, is it likely to be just another fashion trends? That's something to think about.
Motivation for the Fair Trade Fashion Show
My motivation is about helping people at the grassroots level. Our world becoming increasingly globalized, resulting in the widening of the poverty gap. The best solution is to create a level playing field for developing markets so they can compete with developed markets. Fair Trade ensures that developing country producers are not exploited by giving them fair prices for their products.>
Fashion may appear to be frivolous in the context of development, but it is at the center of some critical issues relating to global trade and production. The apparel industry is worth over $500 billion worldwide, and the textiles and clothing industry represents 10% of all world trade with developing countries. This makes clothing one of the largest trade items being imported from the developing world. In addition, the textile and apparel sector employs more than 30 million people, most from the developing world. One in six of these workers are under-aged, poorly paid and forced to work in hazardous conditions.
I recently visited some Fair Trade initiatives in Kenya, where I spent some of my childhood before I moved to the UK. I talked about the experience in my introductory speech at the fashion show, to really explain to people that these types of initiatives are working. My partner on this project, Iliad Terra, and I, visited the Khaame group, a community based initiative set up to help HIV orphaned children in the Eastern Province of Kenya. The initiative has helped single parents by giving the women jobs making baskets and the men jobs weaving ropes. The profits they make on the selling of the baskets and ropes are then shared amongst the orphans and their families. In addition, on World AIDS day they make special HIV ribbons, which were worn by the models and volunteers at the fashion show.
The impact of the profit share not only benefits the children's life, but everyone around them. Parents who can afford to send their children to school can pay health-care costs and even educate themselves. In addition, community based initiatives like this one teach people how to save and manage their earnings, as well as give them access to newspapers or radios, little things that we take for granted.
Fair Trade initiatives give people the tools to help themselves out of poverty, and in turn, they help those in the community. Young people can grow up knowing how to make a living instead of holding out their hands for charity. The small amount of money we spend on a piece of clothing or jewelry can have a massive impact on these workers, their family, and greater community.
Fair trade in clothing industry
I want to put a bed a myth that fair trade clothing is expensive. It's not at all, most of the clothes in our show were reasonably priced and cost just the same as non-fair trade items, especially if you buy them directly from the producers. Many of us who are well traveled visit the countries where the goods are made and buy them for a lower price. However, what people don't think about is the price of the plane ticket that took them there in the first place. In much the same way, retailers who source from these producers have overhead and shipping expenses. The mark-ups are exactly the same, and it's important to remember that one person's bargain is another person's tragedy. Producers often get a very very low price for the product.
To clarify, the producers are the craftspeople in the developing country whilst the designers and retailers will source from them. So a designer will get clothes stitched by the producers whilst the retalier will purchase ready-made goods from the producers. The retailer is a profit business but is promoting the work of developing country craftsmen and women.
The Challenge for Fair Trade Clothing
Although labeling initiatives like the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) have proven hugely successful in increasing the sales of coffee and other food products. Labeling fashion as fair trade is much more of a challenge due to the many steps in the production chain for a piece of clothing. It can be difficult for fashion companies to guarantee fair trade standards at every step in the chain, especially when the components of clothes may have been made in several countries. This is currently an ongoing challenge.
The are currently two ways in which fair trade can play a part in the way a piece of clothing is made: The cotton used to make the garments can be marked as fair trade if the farmers are paid fairly and have fair working conditions; and ensuring that the workers used to make the finished garment are also given a fair wage.
Members of the Fair Trade Federation are fully committed to the fair trade criteria and is 100% of what they do. Other ethical brands featured in our show comply to some, but not all, of the fair trade criteria.
I think that only a handful of fair trade companies really understand the fashion industry. Most just like helping the producers and want to sell their stuff as best they can. Edun and Be Sweet have fashionable items that are wearable by the average person, because they advise the producer on exactly what to make. This is important, as producers do no have access to market information in the same way we do in the developed world. This consultation is really what will ultimately help retailers sell fashionable products.
At the end of the day, consumers buy clothes based on their perception of quality and look. The fair trade argument is still the secondary factor. It makes people feel good but is not the the primary reason why people buy clothes.
Retailers and producers featured in the Fair Trade Clothing Fashion Show include: