By Lisa Hilton–
Step one: somebody plants the cotton plants.
Step two: the plants are tended by field workers until the cotton grows.
Step three: the cotton is harvested. Meanwhile, one million cotton workers are hospitalized that year, due to contact with the strong pesticides and insecticides.
Step four: the cotton is milled into yarn.
Step five: the yarn is milled into fabric.
Step six: a clothing item is designed, and this design is communicated to the factory. An order is placed.
Step seven: hundreds or thousands of duplicates of this design are sewn on hundreds of sewing machines at the factory. Shipping will likely need to take place, and the new cotton item handled by a new set of hands, at each stage from steps three through seven.
Step eight: the order is shipped to a warehouse in the destination country.
Step nine: the order is unpacked, sorted, and re-shipped to the destination stores.
Step ten: the selected items will be unpacked, priced, and displayed at the destination store. Then, the customer walks in, browses the available selection, and makes their choice.
Over the past two years, I’ve had many conversations with people about clothing, and the cost of clothing. I guess it’s a natural by-product of being involved in the industry, and having family in the industry. But what truly amazes me is how opinionated people can be on this topic, regardless of their level of involvement in either the production or the sale of these items. Usually, where I find these conversations tend to lead is in the direction of the average-person/consumer expressing that they feel they are being charged too much for the items they truly want—the higher quality, unique, interesting items that seem harder and harder to come by in a small town like Williams Lake. Why are people feeling this way? A revelation came to me recently, as I pondered a discussion that I’d had with a young friend this past summer.
Consumers tend to see things comparatively, not objectively. They’re not thinking about the stages of production and how many hands these items have to pass through. They’re not thinking about how many times these items need to be packed and shipped, and re-packed and re-shipped, especially with production that’s been outsourced to countries far away. And they’re not thinking about how many working hours it takes to get these items from the fields of their origin to the shelves and the racks of their favourite box store.
What they’re thinking about is how much this item at Walmart compares price-wise to a similar type of item at Gap, MEC, Costco, or wherever. They’re not thinking about the types of environmental, safety, and wage sacrifices that need to be made in order to keep prices at 1927 levels, or lower. They’re not thinking things through, objectively, at all.
Fair Trade is a commitment to think. It is a commitment to do our research, and to truly understand why things cost what they do, and why many things should cost a lot more than what we’ve become used to, especially in a commodity market like clothing. Despite all of our frantic price-comparisons, the assumption that we are good shoppers simply because we’ve found the best product at the cheapest price seems to be a very misplaced judgement. We might have a basic understanding of comparative mathematics, and what that can gain for us at an immediate, personal level, but we often know next to nothing about what these items are truly worth, and what was sacrificed to get them here.
Fair Trade is a commitment to actually care about the people that make our stuff, their homes, their environment, and their future.
I present you with a challenge during this busiest of shopping seasons in our calendar year. Rather than rushing off to your usual Black Friday haunts, whether they be online or elsewhere, take the time on your computer, or on your phone, to Google some things. Google “the Savar building collapse.” Google “Fair Trade,” and why it originated. Google “The True Cost,” a 2015 film directed by Andrew Morgan, and then take the time to watch it on Netflix. Google “The Story of Stuff,” and really pay attention.
Of course we need to buy things, but we should be willing to pay a fair price for these items, and not be sending 90 per cent of them to the landfill in a few years. If we were willing to pay the proper price for things, not the “comparative” price, we would be willing to spend a lot more money for far fewer items.
I believe this approach ultimately leads to the most happiness on a worldwide scale. If people feel they are being paid fairly for their work, and in safe conditions, they are generally happier. If people feel they have higher quality items, and aren’t drowning in a deluge of garbage, they are generally happier. It takes a commitment to both think, and to do our research, even during this busiest of shopping seasons. But if we encourage each other in this, rather than just doing our business as usual, we might actually make this Christmas a brighter and a happier place for the workers of the world and ourselves. That is my Christmas Wish, and my hope is it’s yours, too.