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Consumer Brands for Place-Based Fair Trade

March 2, 2014
Peruvian alpaca

Top-quality wool: Peruvian alpaca

Yesterday I met a woman from Boulder, Colorado who told me about a new branding initiative to support the growing fair trade sustainable textiles & handcrafts movement. The same organization/coalition that promoted the “925” stamp for quality silver jewelry in Mexico is creating some sort of stamp of authenticity for Peruvian products made from their regional alpaca and sheep wool.

Then, we naive tourists – especially when visiting these regions ourselves – know to look for and value the products made from quality wool, and thus our dollars go back to the people who produce the real thing. And then ultimately, people from Peru who create these amazing products following age-old traditions may preserve their cultural heritage. Hooray. Success.

For the past many years, I rarely buy synthetic fabrics anyway – not because of the sustainability factor – but because they just don’t feel as good, they fall apart faster, or they simply don’t work (tried an acrylic scarf?).

I’m excited and inspired to see people who are thinking about the concept of place with the concept of fair trade. I’m not sure yet how it will grow in the marketplace or in various tourist destinations. i.e. Will shoppers just care about fair trade alpaca wool, or will they seek out the upcoming Peruvian brand of fair trade wool because they understand the economic and cultural impacts for the Peruvian people in buying those specific products?

Obviously, there will need to be a lot of education of both shop keepers and tourists to make any new brand meaningful, and regulators to enforce its integrity.

As usual, it’s hard to identify the ‘best’ answer or silver bullet. There’s also Fiber Shed, which is all about finding/wearing clothes that are made from local fibers, local dyes and local labor from Your region. Eat local, dress local? At first, it was a bit too idealistic for me, but then I realized it actually does mirror the regional food movement in that it’s all about environmental sustainability and economic development.

I guess we can buy Peruvian alpaca for cultural preservation, and we can also buy locally made designs for our community’s own cultural development. And, then in our extra time (ahem), track all other suppliers by using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition‘s Higg Index┬ácovering the “environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products across the product lifecycle and throughout the value chain.”

I look forward to hearing more how folks in this textile, clothing and handcraft movement support regions around the world economically, while also preserving heritage artisan culture.

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