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Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Fair Trade Organic
When I was a kid, organic was something fringe and pretty uncool -- something that got you labeled "weird" at lunch. Nevertheless, my mother was a health food freak, and took me out for organic carrot juice instead of soda pop, and insisted on baking with molasses and carob.

These days, organic is reasonably hip, not only for hippies, but for posh folks as well, and it's trickling into the middle class suburban mind too. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are no longer fringe, and regular supermarkets typically have a natural foods section and at least some organic produce, which is often farmed as a subset of a big company that used to sell only "conventionally grown" foods -- meaning stuff sprayed with toxic chemicals that get into our bodies, as well as the soil we depend on for future nutrition.

So how did organic become mainstream? Enough people started being willing to pay higher prices for organic, showing the bigger companies there was a profit to be had in organic farming. We changed the wind by our buying power.

I'm guessing we could pull of the same thing with Fair Trade. If enough people start buying a significant amount of their clothes, coffee and Christmas gifts Fair Trade, could you picture WalMart offering a Fair Trade section?

What if all committed to buying at least 40% our clothes, gifts and coffee in the coming year from Fair Trade sources? And what if next year, as a result of our patronage, we found even more options and decided to purchase at least 60% at Fair Trade? Maybe the following year, 80% and so on until Fair Trade becomes as mainstream as organic baby food. Or is that too modest a goal?

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posted by Jemila Kwon at 10:51 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 1/02/2007 11:44:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    This is actually one of my goals for our household once I'm working full-time (which could be at any time - I'm job-hunting now.)

    I buy as much organic and fair-trade food and cleaning supplies now as we can afford in the meantime. I figure every little bit helps.

  • At 1/02/2007 08:32:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I think its a great idea/goal. But is it even possible?

    The coffee/tea/chocolate/beans thing is easy for fair trade. This is just a money issue, but its all easily available.

    But finding other stuff - useful stuff - is a lot harder to find. Unless people really like ethnic art or woven baskets there's not much out there. Does everyone want to look like a hippie or a couch potato or wear clothes that don't fit just so that they are sure they are fair trade. Its a chicken/egg issue. The big companies wont go for it unless there is demand, but the demand wont exist if there is nothing good on the market.

    We get our furniture at IKEA and I only wear Birkenstocks (companies that are environmentally friendly and pay all the workers fair wages) and we still get made fun of for using those "mainstream" options - and those are the best we've found.

    So I guess I'm frustrated. I would love to do it, but am finding it near impossible.

  • At 1/02/2007 09:04:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I found a company, Fair Indigo that markets itself as Fair Trade apparel, and is the startup company of the execs of Lands End; however, a few things are a bit sketchy: for one, they don't make public the names of the factories that produce for them in developing countries, and two, as a critiquing website writes, "One of the biggest challenges in making a fair trade claim for apparel, however, is the fact that unlike coffee and some other food products, there is no certification standard for clothing, Although stores that sell fair-trade apparel may be members of the Fair Trade Federation or registered as a fair-trade organization."


    Another site which looks promising to me is Hemp Clothiers (not all their stuff is hemp, and some stuff is organic.)

    I guess even if there aren't great options yet, if we all wore slightly misfitted clothing once a week, would that be too great a sacrifice to send a message with our buying power as an investment in the future dignity of workers, the environment and our self-respect?

  • At 1/03/2007 10:56:00 AM, Blogger Uncomfortably Numb

    Holy Cow... I just switched to the low-E lightbulbs at Home Depot. We've got a baby on the way and one income. (Insert nervous laugh) I'm totally overwhelmed!

    This is the first I have heard of fair trade. I didn't know such a think existed. Man, you guys are evolved... I have dabbled in the issue of worker dignity through the organization One.org. I like working with that organization because all it costs me is action, not cash. We routinely solicit Congress to support/reject legislation on behalf of the poor and dispossessed globally. One recent issue involved action on behalf of African garment workers, an endeavor I was proud to support with a couple phone calls to my representatives. Anyways, I'm growing...

    Thanks for bringing this phenomenon to our attention. This is what I love about the blog.

  • At 1/03/2007 11:34:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Cool about the low-E light bulbs -- I'm going to have to check that out! BTW, I'm expecting my third and we have student loans and the equivelant of one income; I just want to encourage you that getting all the "right" baby stuff/kid stuff really isn't important. Like at all. My kids all prefer playing with bowls measuring cups and cardboard boxes over fancy baby eignstein-esque toys. Most baby gear, while possibly cool and sometimes detrimental is overall unnecessary. I buy my kids' clothes at goodwill or in the off-season for the following year (and maybe soon I'll find a good Fair Trade children's clothing company.) Anyway, just a loving reminder to keep it all in perspective :)

  • At 1/03/2007 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Uncomfortably Numb

    What an encouragement. I have to say, a well-meaning friend bought me a guidebook for baby-buying, and I nearly drove my husband to distraction with the words, "I want to check the book first..." I feel a tremendous need in my life to simplify. Maybe I should have gotten on that bandwagon BEFORE pregnancy, eh? Thanks for the good words. Good thoughts for your third, though you are what, like a pro or something, at this by now, right?

  • At 1/03/2007 01:01:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Yeah, peer-parenting-pressure is hard. I feel it all the time at the megaplex birthday parties my daughter's friends' parents put on -- my kid is the only one who still has a birthday party at home! People seem to find that, "charming" yet surprising, quaint and something between nostalgic and passe'

    In terms of learning along the way, I don't think I'm a pro, but you do learn to experientially understand that "this too shall pass" when going through a tough stage that you've already made it through with another child. And you learn the joy of getting to know and discovering how to love, nurture and guide each child, because they are all so unique in their gifts, challenges, dispositions and needs. Hey, parenting is definitely an art, not a science.

    Amen to the simplifying thing. And pregnancy is a great time to simplify, remember what's important: Nurturing yourself so you can nurture you baby and fostering the relationship you develop with your baby, on which she will base all her future concepts of interrelating with other human beings, and even God. And if you're feeling pressure from so-called "experts," it may help to know that most of the real experts say that simplifying could just save your child's soul -- or help her develop a strong inner core in the first place. Check out "The price of privilege" as one example. There also one called, "Einstein didn't use flash cards" or something like that. In addition developmentally speaking simple toys (like plain old blocks, crayons and tinker toys) are best because they allow for of creativity and inventiveness.

  • At 1/04/2007 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Noel

    This is the first time I've looked into an Emerging women's stuff. I guess I've been putting it off because... well, sometimes women specific groups seem to me to be all about feelings, laundry and how to be a better wife. NOT that there is anything wrong with those things, but I've sometimes felt like women were excused to the next room to talk about those things while the men explored new ideas, challenged old ideas and made the decisions.
    SO today I hesitantly decided to take a peek and I saw the social justice link. I was amazed that the first topic was about Fair Trade! I co-lead a grassroots Fair Trade action group in Las Vegas called GIFT (Growing Into Fair Trade at www.giftlv.org). So to see women talking about something so important to me and so close to my heart... I was so... hmm what's the word? Happy? Relieved? Validated? Encouraged? It's really nice to see. Thanks ladies.

  • At 1/05/2007 06:45:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Welcome Noel!

    I laughed, because your opening comment followed probably the most "mommyish" comment I've ever typed on Emerging Women, ironically enough ;)

    I too very much appreciate a context where women discuss and share substantive stuff beyond where to buy pampers on sale bla bla bla.

    I'm going to check out the website you posted RE Fair Trade. Thank

    What have your experiences promoting Fair Trade been like? Any advice you could offer to those of us who want to move responsibly in that direction?

  • At 1/05/2007 01:10:00 PM, Blogger Noel

    Hi Jemila!

    Ha! That is funny. I am a mom of an 18 month old and so, of course I'm interested in all the mom stuff and the "girly" stuff. I just don't want to be left out of the rest of it. ...

    Congrats on your new addition! ... so, where are those cheap pampers? ;)

    Thanks for looking at our site. For now it’s just our group myspace page. We're working with our "guy" on our page this month... so check back!

    Thanks for asking about my experiences. Um... I think that people like the idea of having a positive impact on the world through something they're already doing (buying coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.), like what "uncomfortably numb" said about the One Campaign. I think that a lot of people just don't know about FT or don't know how to go about FT. That's why we call ourselves "Growing Into Fair Trade". We are all learning and growing and none of us have it down or are living out our ideals perfectly.

    As far as advice goes... first I would go to www.discoverfairtrade.org and watch the 30 second(ish) video that pops up. It's super simple and super informative.

    Then I would suggest looking at your local store for one or two products that you already buy to see if your store carries any FT versions. (coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, rice, vanilla, molasses, bananas, pineapple and mango are products that TransFair certifies). Maybe switch over slowly, a product at a time.

    I know that products are hard to find sometimes. If your store doesn't carry anything, ask. Stores want to know what you want. Here's another idea: Amazon.com carries a big line of FT products in bulk. Get one or two friends together and purchase a month of rice or sugar or coffee.

    Above all, though, don't feel intimidated or guilty. Every bag of coffee is valuable and makes an impact. Lydia is right "every little bit helps". And Julie, I hope that you can feel empowered by the things you are doing. You seem to be making a lot of efforts and I'm sorry that you are feeling frustrated. It sounds like you've encountered some "activism snobbery" which is a shame.

    Here are some FT shopping links:

    This is a sweatshop free clothing site:

    Here are some info sites:
    (if the links don't work try org instead of com or vice versa)

    Whew... that ended up MUCH longer than I intended! Ha! If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

    My daughter is sleeping and so I'm going to either nap or shower... lets face it, nap.

  • At 1/05/2007 01:28:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Jemila & Noel, thanks for the information and resources.

    Like Uncomfortably Numb, I'm pretty new to this, so having somewhere to start and to find more information is terrific.

  • At 1/05/2007 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Hey Noel -
    Welcome to Emerging Women and thanks so much for the info. I like the idea "growing into fair trade." It is a process that takes times. There is so much on my radar now, that its hard to see that I am doing something even if I at times think its not enough. I posted some of my struggles with this a couple of months ago on my blog (here).

  • At 1/06/2007 04:35:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Noel, thanks for the good info. Hope you got a nap! Amen to being able to be open and real about ALL aspects of who we are!


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