On June 24, the Runway to Annual Sessions hosted a workshop, Uncovering What Covers Us: Our Clothing facilitated by Yoko Koike Barnes. The workshop explored alternatives to the demand-driven, low-cost, low-wage, mega-corporate fashion production cycle. During the workshop, Yoko screened the documentary film, The True Cost which uncovered the questionable practices within the clothing industry and featured the people who actually sew the clothes.
Yoko is a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. Since 2011, she has been an active advocate of Fair Trade. She is the founder of Fair Trade Philadelphia and worked on forming the CPMM Fair Trade initiative. She is working to engage and unify the Quaker community across the yearly meeting to advocate for fair trade products by offering informative workshops on fair trade ministry. Below Yoko reflects on the Fair Trade issue and explains what she hopes people will take away from her recent workshop highlighting the compelling documentary, The True Cost.
Films offer ways to witness Fair Trade issues first hand
My first encounter with the Fair Trade issue was when I watched another powerful film, The Dark Side of Chocolate. This film opened my eyes to the connection of the sweet taste of chocolate in my mouth to as many as 2 million enslaved child laborers in West Africa. The contrast was stark. Wanting to be part of the solution to such inequality, I joined the global movement of Fair Trade and started a local citizen’s group, Fair Trade Philadelphia.
The missions of the group are to educate citizens about unfair treatment of workers behind the products that nurture our daily lives, and to connect them with ethically sourced businesses.
Through the activities of the group to fulfill these missions, I learned the reality of abusive labor practices against both children and adults, in cocoa farms, banana fields, tea plantations and garment factories, all of them involving people of color in poor nations. Small scale coffee farmers are at the mercy of exploitive middlemen, global market fluctuations, mega-corporations’ profit-above-all approach in the middle of climate change.
Fair Trade in Philadelphia: Fair Trade Ministry at CPMM
I also learned that there are businesses that put People, Planet and Profit in balance. I take it as part of my role to let people know about these businesses. (*Below is the list I sent to those who registered for my workshop.)
At Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, my Fair Trade ministry is under the care of the meeting. We passed a minute that we would not serve coffee, tea and chocolates at meeting functions unless we know they are Fair Trade-certified products. Semi-annually, we make Fair Trade products from an independent co-op, Equal Exchange, available to members and attenders at a discount price.
The true cost brings neither fulfillment nor happiness
The film, The True Cost exposed the reality of ‘fast fashion’ that puts profit above all else. It accelerates the cycle of fashion to an extreme while ignoring human and environmental costs. It shows how people are under the grip of constant urges to purchase cheap clothes. The resulting acceptance of materialism does not lead to fulfillment or happiness.
By viewing The True Cost, I want us to understand what the fashion industry is doing, but more importantly, I want us to reflect on our own culture that supports it. The fashion industry cannot run the show by itself. Without us consumers, they cannot fulfill their enormous profit goal. I want us to see our own power to make a difference.
There is a global movement, Fashion Revolution, that aims at a shift in the fashion world to valuing human lives and implementing environmentally sustainable practices. Though still small, a corner of the fashion industry has started showing the shift. When purchasing clothes, I would like Friends to notice not only the style and price, but also to ask a question, who made the clothes, what their lives are like and what are roles we want to be playing? I believe when Friends unite on bringing a change, we can make a real difference.
Resources from Yoko Barnes’ Workshop: Uncovering What Covers Us: Clothing
Below is the list of relevant websites for those who wish to learn more.
- Fashion Revolution, global movement
- Fair Trade Federation, national organization
- Fair Trade Philadelphia, local organization
- Tonlé ( Zero-Waste Fashion ), clothes
- Maggie’s Organics, socks, clothes, and bedding
- Pact, clothes, and bedding
- Patagonia, outdoor clothes
- MarketPlace Handwork of India, women’s clothes
- Mata Traders, women’s clothes
- Alta Gracia Apparel, college T-shirts
- Ten Thousand Villages, online
- Ten Thousand Villages Philadelphia
- My Fair Trade Lady, Haddon Heights, N.J.
- Eye’s Gallery, Philadelphia
Image Credits: Fair Trade Philadelphia Facebook