An eye-opening evening of sustainable design talk and beautiful fair trade clothes at the People Tree headquarters in London…
Several fair trade fashion groups have emerged within recent years, kicking back against the mainstream fashion system and raising awareness of the social and environmental issues that the fashion industry faces today. The industry has also been criticised for showing a lack of diversity, with groups such as All Walks Beyond the Catwalk fighting for a more positive and empowering form of fashion for everyone (see AVA’s recent talk with AWBTC co-founders Caryn Franklin and Debra Bourne here.) Whether campaigning for a more diverse range of body types on the catwalk or putting pressure on retail giants to clean up their ethical standards, all of these groups recognize that fashion can be an extremely powerful tool for change.
One of the leaders in this fashion revolution is fair trade fashion pioneer People Tree. Founded by Safia Minney, People Tree opened it’s flagship store in Tokyo in 1998 and launched online in the UK in 2001. People Tree creates Fair Trade and organic fashion garments and accessories, working with no less than 50 Fair Trade groups in 15 countries, helping to bring trade, fair wages and a better quality of living to some of the world’s most marginalised communities (you can read more about People Tree’s Fair Trade policy here).
The mention of ‘fair trade fashion’ might conjure up hippy-ish images of hemp dresses and bland, beige t-shirts. However, over the past few years – thanks to businesses like People Tree – Fair Trade fashion has become, well… fashionable.
I first became aware of People Tree in 2009 and, shortly after, saw the PT Spring 2010 collaboration with Emma Watson bring a new, younger audience to the brand and to Fair Trade fashion in general. (You can read an interview with Emma in People Tree’s online magazine.) As well as creating womenswear, menswear and youth collections, People Tree is also known for its collaborations with independent fashion designers, including Bora Aksu, Jessica Ogden, Laura Ashley, Orla Kiely and Zakee Shariff.
Orla Kiely Alpine Grove Flared Dress – available to buy here.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend People Tree’s ‘Sustainable Design, Craft and Textile Talk’ at the PT London headquarters. The first in a series of workshops on fair trade fashion, this was a unique opportunity to see ‘behind the scenes’ of a high profile fair trade fashion brand. Following a very warm welcome, Safia gave a brief history of People Tree before introducing Santo Haque, Director of Swallows Handicraft Centre in Thanapara – a village in rural northern Bangladesh. One of People Tree’s key producers, the Swallows Handicraft Centre was set up to provide opportunities for the women of Thanapara after all the adult males in the village were killed in the war of independence in 1971. During the talk, Santo explained how these men had been the sole providers for their families, and that the aim of the Centre was to train and support these women in the wake of the massacre. Over 250 women are employed at Swallows, working on a range of sewing and weaving projects. They have regular work and are paid twice the minimum wage in Bangladesh, allowing them to earn a steady income for their families. Assistant Director of Swallows, Mrs Gini Ali, states:
“The Fair Trade principles applied by People Tree have created economic stability for Swallows, allowing it to become an independent organisation. This has led to the empowerment of the women of Thanapara.”
The talk was incredibly inspiring and it was clear from the way in which Safia and Santo spoke together that People Tree has an extremely strong relationship with the producers it supports. After the talk we all had a peek at People Tree’s beautiful Spring/Summer 2012 collection – you can check out the PT Summer 2012 e-catalogue here (I already have my eye on several items from the new ‘Aimee‘ collection!). You can also see Emma Watson’s collection here.
If you are interested in sustainable design and Fair Trade fashion, be sure to check out these sites:
‘An invaluable reference guide to the major ethical design themes of our time. With its lively format and succinct overview of concepts, ideas and case studies, this book is essential reading for anyone wishing to grasp the complexities of sustainability and the role of design.’
Stuart Walker, Professor of Design, Lancaster University, UK
‘Design is undergoing a revolution, and this book is an essential guide for tomorrow’s design revolutionaries … This extremely timely book is essential reading for design students in all disciplines.’
Professor Mike Press, University of Dundee, UK
‘Design for Sustainable Change is timely, clear and compelling. It’s the ideal roadmap for any designer seeking an alternative to business as usual.’
John Thackara, Founder of Doors of Perception
You can find out more about AVA’s Design for Sustainable Change: How Design and Designers Can Drive the Sustainability Agenda in a previous blog post here.