First things first, I just want to say how blessed I am to be writing this blog. My name is Michaela and I’m originally from the Bay Area. I hear you all cheering for me because I heard that some of you are from there too! As for why I’m part of Fair Trade LA (FTLA). I am an intern who has one more semester at Chico State (“Go Wildcats!!”) and who has a blog of my own! In fact, I blog at www.instantgratitude.club and you can follow me on Instagram @instant3655 & Facebook. I love learning about Fair Trade and after doing a presentation in the Stop Trafficking of Persons (S.T.O.P.) Club at my school, I knew I needed to get involved, so, if you aren’t already motivated by my story, I hope the blog of the Garment Worker Center’s Fashion Show will inspire you!
At first, I thought this was a strike to raise awareness of sweatshops. I was going to bring a sign, but I’m glad I didn’t. I went in and it was a medium sized white room. It was originally a house, and I liked that because it brought me comfort and showed how this event got so much local coverage, but is making history in the books! There was art all around and it was great seeing local artists presented through their amazing painting talents. It brought color to the white house. While I was there, I got a chance to meet Michele, Coordinator of our LA Fair Trade Town Campaign, Katie Bond, member and Founder of The Peace Exchange and who’s in charge of the FTLA Instagram (do check out those pics and follow us @fairtradela and like the pics from this event), and Pam Michell, member of FTLA and survivor of domestic trafficking. I also met Kristeen Singh, FTLA member and Founder of Fair Trade Project rHope, as well as Laurel Averill, FTLA’s merchandise and pop-up shop gal! She also has her own Fair Trade company called Vida Verde.
This event was held at the historical Tropico de Nopal Gallery and just so you all know, there are only three paid staff at the Garment Worker Center and the rest are awesome volunteers! I was able to help find a place inside the gallery for the beautiful gift baskets donated by FTLA members for the silent auction. We helped raise over $300 for the Garment Worker Center!
We heard from Blanca, the guest speaker. She was in the TV show East Los High! I watched that growing up, and it is very old school. It was an amazing show of culture and how much passion and work people behind the scenes put in to make this event happen. Slavery still exists behind the doors of sweatshops and in this fashion show a number of the models wore clothes protesting sweatshop conditions. There were many people who made their clothes and had fabrics brought in from all around the world, which was nice to show appreciation to the many types of cultures and styles of clothing.
Blanca spoke on the second shift syndrome and how important it is to recognize self-care and focus on you and then others. Women work hard enough, and need more people to just give them the time, attention, and care, to lighten their burden. We need to discuss realistic ways people can try to create better relationships in their world today. Fashion is a perfect example of this burden on workers, especially women. People care about what’s the best and most trendy, or “in” fashion. The media just makes this worse and this can be seen with how popular this or that top is based on the latest Kardashian wearing the most recent of all the Top Shop dresses, yuck. It’s hard to be a woman and a worker and raise families, and this goes for men too. Gender has been talked about a lot too these days and it’s very interesting to see where this goes from here. Blanca shared a Bulgarian poem about an immigrant and she translated this into Spanish. At the end of the poem, she shared how she couldn’t even teach her kids how to make tortillas. She never went to school, but always put others first. Unfortunately, Spanish for tasks that they needed her for like laundry, food, chores, etc. It was sad, but made me realize that in this world if we don’t fight, how are we going to make changes? I remember Kimi was a woman on the Garment Worker Center team and her Mom made $100 dresses but was paid $1 for the work she did. This is why she got into the work. It was great celebrating someone who has done so much for the Garment Worker Center and it was cool seeing all the work she had done in addition to seeing her casual Fair Trade clothing style! In addition to her and many of the other attendees, there were many Mata Traders dresses and clothing so unique and beautiful from all over the world. The women wore outfits that fit each of their unique style.
I felt like I was a red carpet interviewee when I talked to the models. Most of them were family members and they made their clothes or FTLA or other companies donated them. I will point out my favorites in the pictures that I post below. Check out the signs that these amazing people made for this historical event: #activism everyday fight on the streets to make this happen (not sure what this means). My goal with my involvement in the Fair Trade Movement is that people are educated about this. I hope that people that make clothes get paid fairly like the Garment Worker Center fights for. I also wanted to pay respect to Orlando and let you all have a time for silence for those family and friends mourning for lives that should never have been lost. Whether you are or are not religious, God bless them. Also for the deaths in the black community and the movement of Black Lives Matter, Jesse Williams says, “We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day.” I just wanted to pray for them during this time, because all lives matter and that’s why we are trying to bring awareness through the work the Garment Worker Center does to bring awareness that there are still slaves in the world doing sweatshop labor!
Without a doubt the food, band, and event were so authentic and historical. I wish I stayed longer not only because there were cute band members, but it would have been fun to dance!
We as FTLA all sat together and it was a nice table in a beautiful venue. I was shocked with how they fit as many people as they did there, but they did an amazing job! The little ones were so happy too and shy, but it was cute seeing them getting their makeup done and all.
This event was completely translated in and out from Spanish to English and some Spanglish in-between! The gallery had items in it from local artists about fair trade (not sure what this means) and it was so beautiful to see. I wish I could’ve bid on some items. They also had a timeline, a must see! The gallery takes no more than 15-20 mins to go through, everyone should go!
They spoke about those receiving awards, and please see the pics for these awards at the end. There was a woman, Nora Phillips, who came for the part of the show called Call of Action! She was a woman who was an immigrant fighter, survivor of domestic violence fighter, refugee fighter and attorney and has her own Tijuana Nonprofit too. She was awesome and made her own cape that said, “Show me the money!” She’s a human rights activist and helps with the LGTBI movement. You have got to see this pic. For a great laugh, she handed out spiced oil and pickles since she was originally from Wisconsin, it was a great time with her!
“They are doing this for fairness and for the people and for their people to feel alive!” And that’s why I want to continue writing and bringing art to this type of work!
With all the peace, love, and happiness,
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am single-handedly trying to expand the market for fair trade coffee by enjoying copious amounts of it. Usually while holding a mug I am discussing big ideas and talking about the latest news with the many wonderful people I get to work with and customers I get to be around at Ten Thousand Villages (stores in Pasadena and Redondo Beach).
My favorite person to drink coffee with is my wife, Rosie, and we need all the caffeine we can get to keep up with our four young kids who love a good adventure into the mountains or to the ocean which is still pretty spectacular to my native Midwesterner sensibilities.
How did you hear about fair trade?
In 2006 a friend told me about a plan that was being concocted to open a fair trade store in Pasadena. The concept of business that was developed for the purpose and measured by its effectiveness at creating a more just and equitable world seems so apparent and obvious to me now, but at the time it was a light bulb moment and I knew that I wanted to find a way to be as deeply involved as I could be.
When did you first get involved with fair trade?
Ten years ago I started working at first in a part-time role for that new start-up fair trade store and within a year I was working full time with Ten Thousand Villages. Also I began getting involved with the still relatively new Fair Trade LA group as we planned the first fair trade festival in Los Angeles. I met other friends that year who were starting a fair trade soap company called Anti-Body. I met a group of women coffee growers from Nicaragua whose coffee we were just starting to sell in our store. Objectively it seemed like an unexpected turn for me as I finished grad school that year at Fuller Seminary. To me it felt like the culmination of so many of the things I am deeply passionate about and like the most natural and exciting way to fall into something that I wanted to invest significant energy into.
What is TTV?
Ten Thousand Villages is the oldest and largest retailer of fair trade crafts in the world. We build relationships with social enterprises, co-ops, and entrepreneurs of all types in more than 30 countries and we create a sustainable and long term channel for them to bring their products and stories into our markets. We are organized as local nonprofits that foster ownership and involvement at all levels in our stores with a vision for a fair trade business that is transformational for everyone involved at all points along the way from maker to customer.
What do you enjoy the most about working in fair trade?
The people I work with and the sense that in my day to day bustle I am connecting to a broader movement and a deeper purpose than the limited scope of my own work. I love being with people who care deeply and to sense that we are getting somewhere together.
What is unique about fair trade products?
The products themselves are unique in their handmade idiosyncrasies, and in their quality. For me the product itself is most unique in light of its context. In a mainstream context the market dictates what we buy and when and for how much through the commodification of all products whether they are household goods or agricultural goods. The market plays an important role in fair trade but it seems to me be a different role in that it more facilitates rather than dictates and it is some deeper more human force that brings the product to our market and it is embodied in the sense of connection someone experiences when they purchase an item that has a story and suddenly the product is no longer a commodity but something imbued with meaning and significance.
Do you have any upcoming events or ways for people to get involved or learn more?
We are celebrating our tenth anniversary in Pasadena in July. We will be holding a massive tent sale in the parking lot behind our store July 21-24 (and in Redondo Beach July 28-31) as part of our month of celebration. We are also looking forward to being a part of the Fair Trade Fashion show with The Peace Exchange and Bead & Reel on July 16. And of course our two local Ten Thousand Villages stores are open seven days a week and it is always a fair trade party in our stores.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Growing up in a small town in Southern Ohio taught me a great deal about community. My small farm background gave me the platform to truly see the importance of helping others. I learned at a young age the concept of being a global citizen and always knew I would do some kind of international work. I started off working in higher education and now happily work in fair trade.
How did you hear about fair trade? It was not until college, when I was finishing my graduate degree that I learned about fair trade. It made so much sense to me. I saw the first hand connection to creating real change in some of the poorest places on the globe. I wondered, why is this not taught in public schools? Why are not more people promoting fair trade? It helps create a middle class where there is none, it gives women the chance to earn fair wages, and in most cases it allows the artisans children the opportunity to go to school. That in itself is priceless.
When did you first get involved with fair trade? I started as a volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages and now I am the CEO of my own fair trade company. Yes, TTV-Pasadena was where I got my start. From volunteer to assistant manager of the store, to starting The Peace Exchange. I am still highly connected to the store and love the people there, so many great supporters.
What is The Peace Exchange? The Peace Exchange is a fair trade company that works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We currently have two sewing centers in the Kivu region of Eastern Congo with our third center in the planning phases. With a monthly payroll of almost 40 artisans, we have a direct connection with the women, their families, and their overall well-being. Our goal is to empower women through fair trade and in return the women have a commitment to us to keep their children in school. Empowering women and educating children, that is our ethos. We work hands on with our seamstresses and are very committed to their growth as well as the growth of the Peace Exchange. Currently we are expanding to Nepal and will have artisans programs in the near future working in creating jewelry.
What do you enjoy the most about working in fair trade? For me it is all about the women. I visit them every year and spend time sitting with them, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, but living life with them in a genuine way. When their kids are sick or if a crisis strikes their families, I know. We have an amazing On-Site Director that keeps us connected on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. In time, these women have become like sisters. To see their lives being transformed, being respected within their families and communities, as well as to see them empowered and rising as leaders, that is what fair trade is all about. It’s more than the bag they make, I truly see fair trade changing artisan lives for the better.
What is your favorite Peace Exchange product? My favorite product is the yoga bag. When not working in fair trade, I teach yoga and never leave home without my yoga bag!
Currently the Peace Exchange offers over 20 handmade products from the Congo. Items such as wine bags, aprons, napkins, table cloths, yoga bags, pj pants, headbands, bowties and much more. For a current list of our products, visit: http://www.thepeaceexchange.com/shop-all/
Do you have any upcoming events or ways for people to get involved or learn more? We currently work along side Fair Trade LA and do a variety of pop-up shops. Our annual fundraiser is a Fair Trade Fashion Show with our partner Bead & Reel. Save the date for July 16, 2016 or reserve your tickets at www.FairTradeFashionShow.com. This is our annual big event to raise awareness about Congo, fair trade, and support for our artisans. Would love to see you at the fashion show!
We are always looking for volunteers and interns. If interested in working with The Peace Exchange email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.ThePeaceExchange.com