Of Peoples and Trees: Fair Trade

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TRACKBACK: London & Durham, UK. 7-14 Mar 2006

Personal recounts from my photoshoot and UK travels with People Tree.

It wasn't too long ago since I returned from the People Tree catalogue and press shoot from the U.K. (5 days ago to be exact). Is it just me or does it already seem like months have passed? It was a fortuitous time to be in the U.K. It was actually during Fairtrade Fortnight, a two-week celebration of fair trade throughout Europe.

Trade...how boring, right? Even sounds boring + in seems like such a remote topic. Not as "glamorous" as Bird Flu or AIDS or...fashion. Does it have anything to do with me? Well, what if it is linked to your consumer habits? I haven't read a comprehensive study that directly connects global health, poverty and poverty alleviation with trade (haven't really sought one out yet), but its easy to understand that it is, in fact, linked. Global health ---- poverty ---- trade ---- government laws & consumer buying habits.

The case of fair trade. It is by far a footnote on the international trade scene, which means there is so much to do! But what do we know about it? While speaking at the WTO Ministerial this past December in Hong Kong, it is clear to me that even some of the world delegates are unfamiliar with the term, let alone the concept. (And these are the people making the decisions of what trade (what and how we buy) will look like in the next 10-20 years)? S.O.S. World of Good has a great definition of fair trade that you can access here. Safia Minney, the founder of People Tree, a force of nature, and a wonderful friend and kindred spirit, also highlights some of the more unforseen pieces of fair trade (in her fashion label) accessed at her blog. But we also know that it helps the groups of marginalized people that are attached to the label. Therefore, providing an interesting case study on global health, poverty alleviation, and family & consumer sciences (among many other disciplines).

Regardless, it was great to be shooting for People Tree and knowing that my work on fair trade issues and fashion in the States is in line with someone half way across the world. Safia, to be working with you and your team is a pleasure, a breath of fresh air...

March 8, 2006

I arrived early at People Tree’s London headquarters on March 8th – funn
y, since I came across a mention of People Tree and other ethical products in a Financial Times article that same day on the plane. Though it was chilly, wet and gray, I fell asleep on the way there from the airport. I still couldn’t shake the Singapore jet lag that I came down with just a few days prior.

The Office
Rachael, Steve and the rest of the PR and Marketing staff were on overdrive. In addition to
Fairtrade Fortnight, it was announced just a few days prior that Top Shop, a trend-setting UK Department store would be selling some of People Tree’s signature styles until the end of this month (hopefully longer). Fashionable fair trade items have hit an all time high in the London market, thanks to highly aware and educated journalists as well as a barrage of conscious consumers. “There is a substantial amount of more responsive press here in Europe [compared to the United States],” I said to Steve, a Chicago native who has been assisting Safia and her team on the marketing arm of People Tree. He agreed. Well written features and articles in Eve, The Ecologist, The Observer, New Consumer, Ethical Consumer, (for which I was photographed), The Sunday Times, Marie Claire UK, and a full piece highlighted on TV alongside Bono’s Project Red/Global Fund Initiative. “The U.S. and the rest of the world just needs to catch up with some of the more forward-thinking initiatives that encompass the global issues – the big picture of fashion and trade.”

Dreaming up Business
Spoke at length with Safia and Steve on the geography of consumer demand for products such as People Tree in the U.S. Discussed successful fair trade business models that have begun emerging in the last few years; talked about marketing to the U.S. consumer, the upcoming fashion shows…But here for a photo shoot, so need some beauty rest. I fall asleep in the backroom after a hot shower, hit REM pretty fast, whaddyaknow…dreamt about Africa, more specifically Mozambique, and the line of fair trade products [
A.D. Schwarz] I will be helping launch next month. The dream was more riveting than that, but was woken up by Safia from my dream-like stupor.

The Road to Durham
Or should I say “Track to Durham,” considering we took a train through the blackness of night to the quaint town, blessed with rolling countryside and dirt roads. I met the rest of the team: Eni for hair and makeup; Rebecca – the other model; Hiro
– the photographer; reunited with others (namely Yuri San) that I had met while at the WTO Ministerial and Fair Trade Fashion Show in Hong Kong this past December. The soda tastes a bit different here…more syrupy, less bubbly. Ate salmon and buttery risotto with wild mushrooms…food tastes different too…mighty tasty. Off to Safia’s in-laws farmhouse where the shoot will be tomorrow.

March 9, 2006

Ol’ Country: Horn’s House
Up at 8 AM. Wrapped in organic cotton pants and sweatshirt by
Deity Aton, scuffling around in merino wool knee-highs…the chilliness seems to seep through to your bones if you let it get to you. Porridge and hot tea to ward off the fogginess from early morn wakeups…

The clothes, mainly all hand-woven, hand-embroidered and made of organic cotton from close to a dozen cooperatives. (People Tree works with up to 70 different cooperatives across 20 different countries).

First shot: Thick cowl neck natural white alpaca sweater made in Peru. Navy and aubergine A-line pleated skirt

Second shot: Aubergine V-neck cotton dress with white embroidery detailing

Third shot: Boat-neck red organic cotton long-sleeve with vertically-strip chocolate and red strip wide-leg pants

Fourth shot: Sky blue (well not the sky today) organic cotton boat-neck shirt with a super-soft black string scarf and black alpaca slouch cap.

Fifth shot: In the kitchen in an organic cotton full-length nightie sewing a scarf

Sixth shot: Getting down to my skivvies. Black organic cotton briefs and off-the-shoulder v-neck matching long sleeve

(Maybe I'll upload some images when they come in...)

Time to Wind Down
I don’t wear watches – they never seemed to suit me anyway. I easily lose track of time here. Despite the lack of a watch in NYC too, I always seem to know what time it is – you just can’t run away from it. Time just seems to follow you like a shadow there. But here in Durham, it’s difficult to imagine that another world exists, that time actually passes.

The eight of us sit down for a hearty, home-cooked meal of salted ham, rice and lentils, orange squash soup, winter vegetable stew, and apple pie with fresh, unpasteurized cream. I sneak the cat a piece of ham. Weather remained gray and chilly. Had to run between the misty raindrops for one look…the weatherman calls for a similar day tomorrow…We’ll be off to Brancepeth Castle tomorrow for the shoot. Early call. 7 AM.

March 10, 2006

Brancepeth Castle
Austere w
alls loomed from the street. The castle was both grand and massive (and by far one of the chilliest places I have ever shot in). We shot, however, in some extraordinary pieces that warm your soul: a silk piece with silver and green metallic string embroidered knots and beads from India shot on the master staircase; a lux organic cotton wrap dress from India; an Agrocel organic cotton woven blend business suit from Bangladesh. It takes 1 person to run 4 mechanical looms (+ not to mention a heck of a lot of CO2 being belched into the atmosphere), which has replaced the traditional skills of thousands of workers across the world (and contributed to more global warming)...Now do you see the close connection between Solar Power/alternative energy and fashion?? (hint, hint all of you people at Piper Jaffray-sponsored Clean Tech investor's conference!). People Tree has revived that talent of the hand loom, that craft among the women of Bangladesh.

Safia and I have an interview with New Castle’s local newspaper on our work in fair trade and fashion. Must admit, enjoyed talking to the two reporters. They asked excellent questions and were well-informed of the issues.

MARCH 11, 2006

Hay is for Horses
Oh if only I had pictures of this! We treaded through 20 centimeters of muddy fields early today for some of my final shots. The neighbors brought out their 2 horses for a classically wonderful shot, having me hold two horses in the middle of the hay field.
Peruvian, natural color alpaca was the theme for outdoors (did you know that non-white alapacas are being killed because people find no use for them in textiles because you can't dye their wool? YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! There is an endless amount of natural color already there ranging from oranges to grays to slates to deep navy blues to chocolate browns and blacks).

In the bone-chilling weather, my body was warm wherever there was alpaca: knitted sweater, shawls, hat, gloves…all from the alpaca’s native land: Peru. A must-have from People Tree: Alpaca knit fingerless gloves. Check them out this season. I'll definitely be purchasing a few pairs.

MARCH 12, 2006

My Day Off
I spent most of the day catching up on some much needed sleep as well as working on business plans and on brand design considerations for the
A.D. Schwarz line, which will be launched soon enough. Spent some time on the road again, this time to Safia's mothers house. It was great to meet her family - you can see where a number of values start. Straight from home.

MARCH 13, 2006

Back at the U.K. Office
Headed back to the office and took off with a friend to see the
TOPSHOP stand featuring People Tree. Lo and behold my Japanese counterpart and I got stopped by a 14-year old girl and her friend who were "doing a report on fair trade for school" and asked us a 4-page questionnaire on our buying habits, fair trade pricing, and other things. Living proof, that people who are educated on these issues and give a shit are largely from our generation...The 80s and 90s babies!

Left: Safia Minney at Top Shop

MARCH 14, 2006

Back to New York
It's the long flight home. Perhaps when I pick up the Financial Times this time, I'll see another article about fair trade. No, not today? No worries, everything will soon shall come.

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