Wardrobes to change the world

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April 4, 2011

10:37 PM

If you’ve ever felt bad that the new shirt you just bought — and absolutely adore — only became available to you through the tireless work of those who endured terrible conditions for minimal pay, you’re not alone.
But when it comes down to it, it is hard to know where to shop to avoid this problem. The Sharpe Scholars in the Ethical Fashion freshman seminar prepared an event to show students there are plenty of local options for buying clothes and avoiding sweatshop labor altogether.

Last Saturday, this group of Sharpe Scholars brought the Fair Trade Festival to the College of William and Mary. The festival showcased local and campus vendors in the Sadler Center, where they had the opportunity to sell their environmentally safe and ethically made products.

“We came up with the project as a way to show people that they have a lot of power in influencing the production process of the goods and apparel they buy,” Elana Megerian ’14, one of the students who helped plan the Fair Trade Festvial, said. “Buying ethically made products can be difficult for college students, so we [brought] on and off-campus organizations together in one place to show their products.”

Students browsed the various products offered by the vendors while listening to live background music.
While they shopped, they were educated on the causes promoted by the vendors and the festival itself, learning about the injustices of sweat shop labor, and the practicality of buying products that are safe and helpful for the environment.

Vendors like Ten Thousand Villages, AlterNatives, Dessert Classies, Goodwill, New Forest Earth and the Dream Shop all participated in the festival on Saturday.

AlterNatives is a Richmond-based store with the mission of assisting indigenous artisans with their international marketing, providing them with the support they need in order to be successful. They sell jewelry, clothing, home decor and other gifts made by individuals all over the world.

“Some of these stores have connections with third world countries and go down and work with these co-ops who make jewelry or furniture,” Katherine Downs ’13, a teaching assistant for the Ethical Fashion seminar, said. “They make goods that are ethically produced in an environmentally friendly way, and [they] help these communities thrive by selling their goods.”

She cites her trashcan made entirely of old newspapers as one example of these products.
New Forest Earth, a campus-based group, focuses more on the environmental side of the Fair Trade Festival’s message. They promote products made from the natural world for long-term use and hope their vision will eventually help save the forests in North and South America.

Downs was a student in the Ethical Fashion seminar during her freshman year and found the causes discussed in class so compelling that she decided to become a teaching assistant for this year’s section, helping to supervise his year’s students’ plans for the Fair Trade Festival.

“I really didn’t know a whole lot about it when I chose the class last year,” she said. “I was really more into fashion, which is why I chose the class. Learning about the injustices that go on — it’s virtually slavery. Being paid two cents an hour doesn’t really count as a wage.”

While the fight for an end to sweatshop-made products is nowhere near over, and the need for a greener earth is as urgent as ever, the Sharpe Scholars helped take another step toward a more ethical way of living.

“Especially in our country, consumers have a responsibility to demand ethical practices in the production processes of the many goods we buy,” Megerian said. “Currently, big businesses maintain largely unethical production processes, yet they have shown that they respond to demands consumers make. That’s why it is important that people shop ethically when they can!”

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