Everyone wants to look their best, and accessories like scarves, jewelry, and purses are fun ways to do so. But so often, we buy cheap accessories from big-box stores that only support the wealthy. A great alternative is to buy fair-trade accessories whenever you can.
Many socially conscious people are making the switch to shopping fair trade. Rather than buying from giant retailers, they want to ensure their money is being used in more ethical ways.
There are several organizations around the world that monitor and certify fair-trade companies so you can shop confidently. Fair-trade networks include the World Fair Trade Organization, Network of European World Shops, European Fair Trade Association, Fair Trade USA, and Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International.
Buying fair-trade items like accessories can help you live in alignment with your values. If you value fair treatment of workers, environmental stewardship, and gender equality, then
fair-trade shopping can help you shop according to those values.
When you purchase fair-trade accessories, your money goes to support people who are working hard to pay their bills.
Whether you want to buy a new scarf or unique piece of jewelry, buying from a fair-trade certified dealer ensures the people who worked to create those accessories earn a decent living. They receive a fair wage that’s likely to allow them to support their families.
For those who live in poor countries, worker protections can be limited or nonexistent. Buying fair-trade products helps combat this problem by ensuring better working conditions.
Workers’ rights are an important component of the fair-trade philosophy. Workers need to have the power to stand up for their rights to safety, a living wage, and contracts in order to build a sustainable life.
Wouldn’t you find your jewelry more beautiful if you knew it was made by someone who felt safe at work? Knowing that the artisans who create your accessories are protected from abuse, overly long working hours, and dangerous conditions can make you feel great about your purchases.
Environmental sustainability is a vital fair-trade principle. Fair-trade companies create their products with an eye to protecting our environment. For example, they produce their accessories using less water than in traditional clothing factories. They also aim for low levels of pollution as well.
Fair-trade companies work to pay a higher premium for organic farming to produce certain items. For example, a scarf might be made from organic cotton to help preserve the land on which it is grown.
Using water and other resources carefully is part of the fair-trade mission. Companies with fair-trade certification labels work hard to ensure they use best practices to conserve water and to use more natural ingredients, such as plant-based dyes rather than chemically based ones.
Many of the women who create fair-trade handmade accessories live in countries where women are traditionally marginalized or abused. For example, they may be forced into unwanted marriages to pay off a family debt.
Women around the world also face disparities in income due to factors such as lack of maternity leave coverage and child care. Working with a fair-trade company can enable them to earn a living wage without sacrificing their health or their children’s well-being.
The jobs created by fair-trade companies can help combat gender-based injustices. When women can find dignified, safe work that pays a living wage, they’re no longer indebted to abusive people. Buying fair trade accessories is a good way to help women around the world find work to support their families safely.
In addition to the many social benefits that come from supporting fair trade, you get the joy of knowing that the accessories you purchase are unique. Fair-trade companies are known for designing and creating beautiful pieces that are different from what you’d find at a big-box retailer.
Even though the basic design of a necklace or purse may be the same, you can trust that no two pieces are identical. There are natural variations in fabrics, in the curve of a piece of pottery, in the color or patterns. Shopping for fair-trade items means you get something truly unique and unlike anything you can buy in a store. This makes your accessorizing authentic to you — and a lot more fun.
You will find that purchasing fair-trade products typically costs a bit more than if you go to a discount big-box retailer. But you can enjoy peace of mind by knowing the artisans who made your accessories are safe and well-compensated and the environment is being protected. That peace of mind is worth the extra cost.
Another positive result of fair-trade shopping: You’ll probably buy fewer accessories, but you’ll only buy pieces you truly love. Since fair-trade shopping often costs more than the alternatives, you’ll likely weigh your decisions more carefully and buy less. This helps the environment as well by reducing your carbon footprint. It’s a win-win!
Isabelle Sparks is a fashion consultant in New York. She works with many female international designers and emphasizes fair-trade as part of her projects.